“On The Day Dante Journeyed Through Beirut:” A Canto from Inferno 2.0 by Khaled Rajeh

To Ramlet el Bayda I chose to embark

With Jad, my trusty homegrown guide,

Who had spent three hours trying to park.

The parking spot we found was quite wide,

But not, strictly speaking, lawful,

“We’ll just leave my number on the windscreen inside.”

I was met with a stench so awful

As soon as we stepped out of the Fiat,

It was a moldering box of falafel.

“That’s odd” I said to Jad in his straw hat,

“How one could abandon such a thing,

Must have left it out for a cat.”

My guide led the way and started to sing

But I was too flushed and sweaty to join in,

Long gone were the cool days of spring.

First to block our path was a large green trash bin

That across the whole sidewalk overflowed,

And piled bags all the way up to my chin!

After that we came across an uncrossable road,

Where two-ton heaps of steel were zipping by our side,

Restrained neither by traffic laws nor penal code.

Sixty six times in the next six seconds we almost died,

When Jad put a hand up and led me through,

Drivers seemed happy to assist our clear suicide.

Then I felt something give way under my shoe,

“Oh, we don’t clean up after our dogs either,” Jad said,

“I can’t keep my eyes on the ground for you.”

I felt a heavy throb in the back of my head,

I desperately needed to rehydrate,

All the moisture within my body had fled.

The last drops in my bottle were too few to satiate,

And I had already hauled a huge empty-bottle stash,

“Might I ever find a recycling bin in this state?”

“A recycling bin? Oh, don’t be so brash,

You know you can discard it wherever you may,

This whole city’s a big pile of trash!”

The next sight I beheld no canto can convey,

It left me behind my guide immobile,

Disguising my distressful dismay.

Three shirtless kids were digging through a pile

Of black and blue bags by the side of the street,

“What are you looking for?” I tried to smile.

One kid jumped onto his bare feet

And the two others followed him towards me,

“We were just looking for something to eat.”

“But we find a lot of cool stuff too,” said he,

“Like Legos or Transformers or a G.I. Joe,

But they’re always missing a limb or three.”

What to say to them I did not know,

Till Jad said “say nothing” and moved me along,

“Else they’ll follow you wherever you go.”

The stench was still growing strong

As we moved closer to our destination,

How can the air here be worse than Hong Kong?

What I then beheld resolved my speculation,

I asked Jad why our trail was cut by a train of tires,

He answered, “Just another demonstration.”

“These things often go out in massive fires,

That scatter black clouds all over the city

And benefit no one but pneumatic suppliers.”

“But is there no environmental committee

That keeps tabs on all this?” I asked Jad,

“Or a government with the least bit of pity?”

A government, he said, he was certain they had,

But an environmental committee he was not,

“One must not let such issues drive one so mad.”

But the fact that the city is being left to rot

Was most definitely driving me insane,

“Soon there would be not one unlittered spot!”

“That day shall come, and it will be to our gain,

When the stench rises to the highest penthouse,

And from action our leaders can no longer abstain.”

“Thus a final solution they shall be forced to espouse,

Disregarding to whose pockets the profit then goes,

And no longer would anyone their trash with petrol douse.”

Oh, I thought, my guide actually knows

A rational remedy for this reeking hell,

To fight its fire with fire, I suppose.

Soon it will collapse in on itself, and well,

That only could prompt the first sustainable action,

A nationwide incentive to rid the state of its smell.

After having that thought, my first reaction

Was to reach for the empty-bottle stash on my back,

And begin my litterary benefaction.

I left one bottle in a narrow crack

And another in the tip of a traffic cone,

The rest I dumped right onto the tarmac.

Some tissues from my pocket I had pulled out and thrown,

Watching the wind carry them afar,

And stuck my gum to the speaker-end of a payphone.

“Did you just?” my guide said with a look quite bizarre,

“What’s the fuss?” I said as I took off my left sock,

“You’re becoming more Lebanese than we are!”

I chucked that one sock across a whole block

And alas, still possessed by this Satanic force,

Took a quick piss on the sidewalk.

I had felt not a tinge of shame or remorse

When my guide yelled, “The great Lord has answered our prayer!

We’ve arrived at the beach, the end of our course!”

Only to discover there was now a building there.


“The Paradox of Lebanese Activism” by Khaled Rajeh


He erected his tent in Martyrs’ Square,

Amidst cries against fraud and pollution,

As he waved his placard in grave despair,

“Hear ye, brethren, I have THE solution!”


Some minutes later he amassed a crowd,

Who starkly startled had started to stare

At the man who grew so awfully loud,

A hair-raising silence hung in the air…


“Whether you follow the Bible,” he cried,

“Or whether you’d rather not pray,

Whether you demand three more than one bride,

Or three cups of maté a day.”


“The holy figures you live to obey,

Through feeding your kids divine primacy,

Have long turned their faces in sheer dismay

At your eighteen sects of plain lunacy.”


“Politicians chase nothing but power

By stressing the lines of our difference;

We must not keep this up one more hour,

And start to promote Complete Tolerance!”


“We’ll teach our kids before they know their name,

About the Muslims and Christians and Druze;

We’ll teach them we are all one and the same,

their own universal truth they can choose!”


“We’ll hang up banners and write on the walls,

That not anyone from now on shall hate;

On billboards and bridges and bathroom stalls

Intol’rance we’ll no longer tolerate!”


By then he had garnered many a friend,

Who joined his chants with utmost elation,

All fiercely determined to put an end

To all the divides that scar their nation.


Cursing the State they hurled stones left and right,

“Down with the intolerant! Down with the intolerant!”

They forced all others fully out of sight,

And then swiftly proceeded to burn down the Parliament.


“A Cosmic Reality Check” by Khaled Rajeh

Sandwiched between Hydra-Centaurus and Pavo-Indus, the Virgo Supercluster, one of several lobes of one of several million larger superclusters in the observable universe, spans around 110 million light-years in diameter.

On the outskirts of this supercluster, in a short filament extending from the Fornax to the Virgo Cluster, lies the Local Group, whose volume is very approximately one seven-thousandth that of the Virgo Supercluster.

Accounting for a mere one fifteen-millionth of the Local Group’s size, the Milky Way contains 200-400 billion identifiable stars and over 100 billion planets within the 100,000-120,000 light-years of its boundaries.

Orbiting this galaxy’s center once every 220-250 million years, at around 828,000 km/h, is a relatively infinitesimal yellow star.

Held in this star’s gravitational field, and about 1,300,000 times less voluminous, is a gas covered blue-green planet whose dominant carbon-based life forms still largely believe that this whole universe was specifically designed for the sole purpose of having them in it.

“A Foreigner’s Guide To Lebanese Traffic Laws” by Khaled Rajeh

To a foreigner, an ordinary Lebanese road might often seem like an entirely disarrayed muddle of addling disruption and unadulterated havoc; but to a native that has spent enough time on the road to acquire a thorough understanding of the widely criticized Lebanese traffic laws, it always does.

I have therefore devised–after extremely meticulous scrutiny of traffic flow–a brief list that might be of help to any newcomers/tourists in Lebanon:

  • All lane markings, traffic signs, and traffic lights are purely ornamental and should not restrict your sense of adventure. If you, however, do happen to stop at a red light for any reason whatsoever, nearby drivers are never reluctant to publicly express their disfavor toward you.
  • Contrary to popular belief, our road surfaces are actually strategically designed to keep you soundly watchful at all times. A lapse of concentration might lead to fairly damaged suspensions and/or cervical vertebrae. Also, our drainage wells are constructed for the sole purpose of encouraging staying indoors on rainy days, so you won’t catch a cold.
  • Never fully expect to drive to a desired destination without inadvertently passing through your initial location multiple times.
  • One of the most commonly practiced extreme sports in Lebanon is road-crossing. If you happen to spot a pedestrian crossing a road, accelerating towards him/her at full speed, to augment the overall thrill of the experience, is highly appreciated.
  • Never fully expect to drive to a desired destination without repeatedly stopping to ask for directions that may often lead you to your initial location.
  • There are currently eight “Lebanon’s number one” radio stations on air. When in the right place, during the right weather conditions, with the right radio system and the odds in your favor, there is a slight possibility that you might just be able to listen to one of them.
  • Never fully expect to drive to a desired destination.
  • You are entitled, as a driver within Lebanese borders, to occupy two parking spaces. In the absence of parking spaces, you may park on a sidewalk. If the sidewalk is already occupied, feel free to park in the middle of the road. The Lebanese are free spirited, inventive, and appreciative of diverse viewpoints; there are no limitations as to how/where you can drive/park.

“So a Mongolian Walks Into a Bar” by Khaled Rajeh

A questionable figure stood peculiarly still in the doorway, as if examining, or rather marveling at, every little detail of the bar. How there were no instruments in sight to account for the loud music, how the lamps were supernaturally lit with no visible flame, and how a picture hung on the wall somehow morphed into different shapes and colors, displaying a series of moving images. The questionable figure was dressed rather peculiarly. With what appeared to be a bath mat over his shoulders, a quilt around his waist, and a hanging vase on his head, he looked like a fugitive that had broken into a house to change out of his prison uniform, but couldn’t find any clothes, so made use of whatever was laying about.

It was almost as if he had been untwined from his position in space and time, and flung forward an epoch or two, particularly because untwined from his position in space and time, and flung forward an epoch or two, was precisely what this man had been.

The most questionable aspect of this peculiar matter was that this man had in fact been Genghis Khan. (What Genghis Khan was doing in the 21st century and how his thoughts and actions were thoroughly depicted remain two of life’s greatest mysteries. Mainly because many experts falsely speculate that this whole story was actually made up by an absurdly sanguine fifteen-year-old Simon Rich wannabe with an unquenchable thirst for online popularity.)

Genghis Khan carefully edged his way to a nearby table and took a seat. He looked around in bewilderment. A man on the table to his right seemed to be engaged in a highly contentious argument, his tone growing more belligerent after every four-second pause he took to stare mightily into the distance. Another man, seated opposite to him, looked as though he found his companion’s burdensome rage rather amusing, giggling and mentioning something about a Thanksgiving dinner at his mother-in-law’s. This went on for a couple of minutes, and no matter how hard Genghis Khan tried to decipher what in the Mongol Empire had been going on between these two men, it was simply beyond his cognitive span. His first explanation was that if these cyborgs were able to contrive those fancy moving paintings, and the incomprehensible horseless carriages outside, they must have reshaped the basics of social interaction. He then surmised that it might have had something to do with the rectangular hand-held devices pressed to one ear, but instantly dismissed that theory as utter bollocks.

As Genghis Khan sat there, feeling entirely desolate and betrayed, an attractive, young-looking American blonde, that seemed as though she must have had a drink or seventeen too many, outrageously committed the abominable and often brutally punishable act of making eye contact without formally requesting permission to do so. Oh how he’d love to set fire to her village and enslave its women. If only he’d known where in the world, if not a whole nother, his men were.

“I like your boots, genuine leather?” Inquired the underdressed little outlaw.

“Imported straight from Kazakhstan. They weren’t as waterproof as the Kazakhs promised though.”

“Oh, pity.”

“So I torched their nation.”

The blonde giggled awkwardly, stuck out a hand, and said, “I’m Sam.”

He looked at her outstretched arm, at her, then back at her arm.

She looked at it at too, then at him.

He was looking at her again.

Slowly and shyly, she lowered it and grabbed a seat.

“So,” she tried to say, after four unusually long seconds of silence, “what do you do?”

“I’m Genghis Khan!” Said Genghis Khan.

“Nice to meet you,” replied Sam kindly, “so what do you do?”

Could anyone get drunk enough not to recognize Genghis Khan? Thought Genghis Khan. Shit, I’ve impregnated more women than any other man in recorded history, I’m probably her father!

“I’m an uncompromisingly direct real estate broker,” uttered Genghis Khan. “Can you picture that stretch of land between Baghdad and Korea on a map?”

“Uhm, I guess.”

“I own that.”

She laughed sarcastically. “Isn’t that, like, half of the globe?”

“Yes. A human lifetime isn’t a sufficient period of time to take over both halves of the globe, I once realized. Or will realize, I’m quite confused. Last thing I remember was dying shortly after coming to that realization. And the last time I checked, people don’t usually return after being proclaimed clinically dead by the finest physician in my half of the globe, locked up in a two ton sarcophagus, and buried somewhere deep under the Onon river. Do you have anything to do with this? You were assigned by the Jin army, weren’t you? Huh?”

“Whoa, someone’s had too much to drink,” muttered Sam.

Genghis Khan snatched Sam’s glass out her hand. He desperately needed a drink to wrap his head around the preposterous state of affairs he was thrown into. He kicked his feet up, leant back, and took a loud, passionate sip.

He was, after all, Genghis Khan.

Discussion Question: Should Sam fuck Genghis Khan? Why or why not?

“The Man Who Knew The Secret To Happiness” by Khaled Rajeh

He stood at 5’6, weighed around two-fifty pounds, lived with his mother, worked a nine-to-five job, drove a Fiesta, and devoted a substantial proportion of his salary to Netflix subscriptions and pizza deliveries. He wasn’t, however, your average Englishman, for he knew something no one else did. He knew The Secret To Happiness.

It occurred to him on the 2nd of October, 2010, while Manchester United’s goalless draw at the Stadium of Light was on. He wasn’t a fan of either team–or of anything involving a bunch of men playing with balls–but he had to keep himself busy so the two minutes his microwave popcorn took to get ready wouldn’t feel like hours.

“That was a brilliantly timed tackle by Paul Scholes,” uttered the commentator, much to the surprise of anyone who has ever heard of Paul Scholes. And due to the (yet incalculable, unsubstantiated, and inconceivable) force a statement of such absurdity could possess, that particular line by the commentator, against all odds, had managed to slice straight through the man who would then soon know The Secret To Happiness’s rather diminutive mental realms and sink deep into his subconscious to trigger an unprecedented chain of thought that would consequently bring forth The Secret To Happiness. It was so staggeringly simple, it could easily have been taught to a third grade class. And not long after that epiphany, he realized that what he had discovered was big. Really big. So big, he simply couldn’t resist the overwhelming urge to tell someone about it. He thought of phoning his best-friend, Eric, but then thought twice, what he had failed to do with most of his life defining decisions. What if Eric turns out to be a back-stabbing prick and steals all the credit? After all, Eric was the sort of self-centered whoreson who parks the bus on FIFA when 1-0 up.

He then considered writing a book on the subject, but could only conjure up a page and a half. The Secret To Happiness was fairly simple. There wasn’t much to say. Besides, it was already difficult enough to give an editor a mere glimpse of the idea, and not have your body wind up on a riverbank shortly afterwards while worldwide sales of “The Real Secret To Happiness Yes It’s Real This Time I Swear Look!” soar. As do the editor that claimed authorship’s hopes of finally achieving his lifelong dream–one commonly shared amongst editors–of finding a girlfriend.

Posting The Secret To Happiness on Facebook, he thought, was the only reasonable solution. The most sought after bit of knowledge in the world. Millions of books published, dollars invested in research, and lives inefficaciously spent trying to decipher it, and The Secret To Happiness was somehow discovered by a financially unstable, chronically single bloke who had never really bothered to put much thought into it anyway. For once, he felt genuinely proud of himself. Until a rather disturbing thought interrupted. After his Facebook post blisteringly disseminates across the globe to invade minds of all ages, extreme euphoria would permanently engulf our world. The poor would be perfectly satisfied being poor, the rich wouldn’t mind going poor, and Eastenders fans would remain Eastenders fans, creating a population of slothful wastes-of-space that did nothing but tweet corny epigrams in-between naps, thus making human development of any type virtually impossible.

The world’s population would then naturally adjust to its general state of sheer delight, but what if experiencing happiness afterwards is beyond our emotional capabilities, and the human race slips into an abyss of incurable depression? Sure, he’d be a highly acclaimed icon for a while, but then forever be the most despised villain in human history. Possibly even more than Simon Cowell…

But for now, his popcorn was ready.

The man who knew The Secret To Happiness committed suicide three days later.