Stepping inside one of the spotless modern malls is all it takes to forget the bullet-riddled façades and abandoned shells which still stand witness to the civil war. Beirut has imported this US concept whole and wholeheartedly, right down to the western prices. It is the perfect antidote to realism, the great escape from petty power politics for the world weary. The gleaming shop windows, pristine marble floors and vigorous air conditioning smooth away the discomfort of the grime, the dust, the poverty and the heat outside. Here the high-street stores of London, Paris and Rome ply their western wares to well-off locals and Saudi tourists until late in the evening seven days a week.
Behind each family in the bright shining mall trails a Filipina or a Sri Lankan, or maybe an African girl. She carries the designer brand purchases or pushes the pram, wipes chocolate from chubby grubby fingers, mops the noses of snotty kids, or all of the above. She waits – apathetically more than patiently – outside stores with the rest of the excess baggage while her Madame tries and buys inside. As she listlessly observes her employer-consumer, she plans for her turn. On Sunday, so long as she is allowed out, she will shed her ill-fitting uniform and join the crowds on the streets of Dora, with a gaggle of girlfriends, dolled up in her brightest colours, perched on flimsy heels, to go to church in the morning and shopping in the afternoon.