Monday, 26 March 2012

The Party of God, paintball and a genuine appreciation for Almaza

Around two years ago I was sat with a group of friends in Gemmayze’s Le Rouge. It was an eclectic group, it usually is. One of us had flown in from out of town for a few days and was being unusually noncommittal when we invited him out for a few drinks the following night.

After some gentle persuasion he spilt the beans, he was in town for a story a friend was writing for GQ. Now, GQ’s a great magazine and everyone’s curiosity was peaked. Gradually, the story came out.

A friend of his had somehow managed to arrange a paintball match between a group of American journalists and a team of Hezbollah fighters, in the name of, a., the story, and b., the general furthering of American-Lebanese relations through sporting violence.

My friend was the key in arranging this little get together.

I first met Andrew Exum during the foreigner’s orientation sessions at AUB in 2004. He came across a little, read very, brash. We were asked to introduce ourselves and he stood up, “Hi, my name’s Andrew and I work for the C.I.A.” The Americans all laughed, the Arabs didn’t.

The next I heard of him was an interview with Maingate, AUB’s student rag. It was then that I, along with the rest of the school, learnt that he was an ex-US Army Ranger Captain, had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he had a gallantry award, and that he’d authored a book. Oh, and he was attending CAMES, the centre for all the strange foreigners who come to AUB to learn about Middle Eastern politics, as was I.

Despite the odd start, the CIA joke wasn’t well received, Andrew soon became a close friend of mine. He favored public humiliation for anyone who failed to correctly conjugate their verbs in Monday morning’s Arabic flagellation class; he got into a heated argument with the head of AUB’s history department over small unit tactics; he called out Robert Fisk during a brown bag session over a typically unsupportable statement. I’ve lost count of the number of nights spent drinking Maker’s Mark, debating the qualities of Almaza or commiserating with him after Scotland got annihilated at the rugby. Again.

Exum (left) and some other drunken fool on my
balcony, Hamra, 2004, Almaza present and correct

In any case, he’s one of the good guys. A sharp, critical thinker when it comes to his day job, working on policy recommendations, a great, funny writer when it comes to his blog and above all, a lover of all things Lebanese. And one of my best men at my wedding.

Oh, and a great paintballer by all accounts.

Obviously, the article isn't to be taken too seriously.

Thanks to Joe for the heads up.

(GQ initially commissioned the piece.)