We are past the dizzy peaks of nearly 40 degrees Celsius experienced in August, but the air across the tin roofing still shimmers and I’m sure if there were any proper tarmac to speak of in Beirut it would be melting.
This summer I’ve been frugal with the air conditioning, aware that many across the country are undergoing long power cuts, their energy sapped by the capital and its visitors, as it masquerades as a first-world city. But not any more.
Nearly a month ago our taps ran dry. The tanks on the roof were empty. The municipal supply is now a mere trickle lasting just a few hours every other night. Just enough time to fill a few bottles, then that’s it for two days.
The sink soon fills with dirty dishes, so we decide to get out of the mess and eat out. The air is so warm and humid it feels like wading through a swimming pool. As we dodge the holes in the road (never refilled), avoid slithering two storeys down into some half-built underground car park (never cordoned off) and squeeze past the cars which have been thoughtfully scattered along the pavement (by “valet parking”), we literally stumble across a revelation: several plastic bottles on the pavement full of water. They are being fed by the plastic tubes taped to them which channel the distilled water from air conditioning units. There are even some hung from trees, like an inverse IV drip but with more spillage.
On returning I immediately stationed the buckets under our AC units on the balcony. The next day a small deluge alerted me to the need for an overflow facility but now my deus ex machina is running smoothly. When I see how quickly the buckets fill up, I realise why the air feels thick to walk through. At this rate we can flush more than once a day.
So I end up pitting one dwindling resource against another. Unfortunately burning fossil fuels and bleeding the planet dry of water isn’t quite enough to keep washing the dishes. Act two – enter another villain-saviour: disposable plates and even cutlery, you know, those horrible plastic forks with the puny prongs which snap off in the softest of grilled aubergines.
While I rarely long for the certainty of Paris with its constant power supply and water, well, on tap, I sometimes think wistfully of the different coloured bins in the courtyard which meant that it mattered when I bought glass instead of plastic, when I flattened the Tetra paks, and when I used my own bags to go shopping.
Tonight I’ll leave the buckets out and hope to fill them with some of that overdue torrential rain instead. Act three and the denouement are apparently still a good way off.