The tiles on the floor look particularly dirty today, their neo-Levantine motif smeared with the remnants of rain and mud from a particularly gloomy fall day. The uncomfortable orange plastic of my chair is as unwelcoming as the neon glow that fills the room, and it squirms and squeaks under my considerable weight. I’m sitting at the end of the third row, away from the window, like I always do. The light that hasn’t been fixed since last semester flickers reassuringly above me. It’s dark outside. Who takes a class this late on a Thursday, I ask myself.
I look around the room. I don’t really recognize anyone, and since I basically reside on the pigeon shit-covered ledge by Nicely Hall, that must mean they’re all from lower campus or just people I haven’t bothered meeting yet. I see some bags under a group of eyes, and decide that they must all be graphic design students. They must have drawn a map to get up here. Not because they needed it, but because they thought it would be cool to spend an overnight doing it. They think this class will be an easy grade, a foray into the petty world of the upper campus, full of lazy politics and sociology students like myself. They’re probably wrong.
The cheap clock above the cheap blackboard says it’s 7:10pm. Where is this guy? The self-important bozo next to me starts huffing and puffing audibly. He’s obviously far too important to be here at this hour, professorless. Then, amidst the idle chatter and checking of phones, someone finally walks in.
He doesn’t seem to notice us, rushes furtively to his desk and places a tattered brown bag on the chair behind it. He turns around swiftly, his diminutive frame comical in the large and cold classroom. His helmet of white hair remains motionless as he tilts his head forward to peer at us over his tiny oval glasses. He smiles, starts talking in bursts of excited, lucid and fascinating sentences. And we’re all hooked for the semester to come.
The man at the front of the class in the mustard-coloured corduroy blazer with the giant intellect is Samir Khalaf, and my lengthy and rather pointless introduction takes place in the AUB classroom where I had the pleasure of meeting him 10 years ago. A lot has changed in those ten years, and Khalaf addresses these changes deftly in a new book, Lebanon Adrift: From Battleground to Playground. It’s a terribly important book that deserves to be read but, since it’s dense and academic, most of you won’t. So here are the Cliff Notes….