Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Soulmates for life

Yorki and Zepure Mansour
It's difficult to continue the journey at Mich Café without introducing two extraordinary people who form part of my life for longer than I can remember. The term “friends,” would be inadequate. I am at a loss to find a description of what we share, and I have stopped trying.

Those who know me well will have guessed that I am referring to Yorki and Zepure Mansour, a couple who over the years cemented my faith in humanity, love, friendship and so many other values.

Yorki, a civil engineer, owns SET Aluminum, based in Mar Elias in Beirut. He is also Treasurer of the Engineering Chapter of the AUB Alumni Association. Zepure, née Hamparian, is the Coordinator of Radiologic Technology Training Program at the American University of Beirut Medical Center.

Our tripartite journey began in 1974 when my mum Vicky and I moved to our new flat in Beirut, on Tal3et Kasr Salha, now Tal3et Hariri in Koreitem (see What’s home? Oct. 26 post).

We were among the first to move into the new building, on the fifth floor, and were curious to catch a glimpse of new tenants likely to occupy the other flats. The owners were on the seventh and last floor. On the same landing as us was a newly married couple, Suheil and Hoda Hindi. On the fourth floor there was, and still is, the Ariss household, who own the pharmacy in the adjoining street… And on the third, there was another newly wed couple: Yorki and Zepure (who I name Ziz and my sister Asma calls Zep!). We all ran into each other at one time or another, but it was pre-civil war and we were all on the go.

But then, my cat went missing. The next day there was a knock on the door. It was Yorki carrying the cat. It got mixed up with the floors and ended up in their flat. When Ziz got into bed that night, she had the fright of her life to feel something furry at her feet! It was late, so they kept the cat for the night and that’s how our friendship started.

December 16, 1983: With Zepure, Yorki and Vicky
There are so many things that cement a lifelong rapport and friendship. The Lebanon civil war that broke out in 1975 is one of them. It brought neighbors together. Because of reduced mobility at night and often in daytime, we would gather in any one flat to eat, drink, play cards and just trying to kill time and reduce the fear. Most days this would start around 5 p.m. We all rushed home for tea with Vicky. After that, we would share the grocery shopping and start preparing the communal dinner and decide, depending on the intensity of the shelling, on what floor to spend the evening. If and when there was electricity, we would watch a video.

The three of us were inseparable and sort of joined by the hip. We shared each other’s families. But like many others we never missed a chance to go out and have fun. We all lived on very high levels of adrenaline, heightened by fear and the idea that a stray shell or bullet could kill you anytime.

The Commodore Hotel was a favorite because it was within walking distance and always had electricity and ice. The Cellar, a very popular pub/restaurant just a street away was also a preference as was Jack's Hideaway, a disco. We partied like there was no tomorrow and often ended up as merrymakers dancing on the tables of whatever establishment we were at. All this of course to Vicky’s exasperation! She would invariably hear us from two streets down and then tell us off from the balcony for being rowdy. This of course triggered more giggles.

With Yorki in London
The beach was another outlet to vent our frustration. We went to the beach at any opportunity and every now and then dodged bullets going in and out of the water. We watched the U.S. Navy ships anchored off the coast and mushrooms of smoke from explosions in the vicinity.

If we had to stay home, it was still merriment. We had to celebrate a life we knew could be gone in a bang! Sunday lunches lasted seven to eight hours with both Yorki and Ziz’s extended families. Dinners lasted into the early hours of the next morning or until we felt saturated with drinks and ready to fall asleep without more ado.

Sickness and drama in 1984 brought the three of us even closer together when Vicky suffered a ruptured aneurism. I was out of the country at the time and Beirut airport was closed. It took me 48 hours to get back, during which time Yorki and Ziz had taken over. We spent more than two months at the American University Hospital (AUH), five weeks of which Vicky was in a coma (but that’s for another blog post).

In Beirut last November 1
It is thanks to Ziz that I got through this extremely difficult ordeal. Everyone at AUH thought Vicky was her mother from all the LTC she showered on her. Vicky then had six months of recovery at home, which was harrowing. I was fired from my job due to my absence. It was thanks to Yorki and Zepure and the few family and neighbors left in the country at the time that both Vicky and I were able to keep our sanity.

Sickness and times in need are the best tests for relations, and ours was tested to the limit and came out smelling of jasmine!

Zepure with her students on graduation day last week
With no work in Beirut, I had to move to London in January 1985, leaving behind an ailing Vicky in the only knowledge that Yorki and Zepure were there as well as Vicky’s sister Aunt Emily and their brothers (see What’s home? Oct. 26 post).

Zepure's team: Hanane Merhi, Marlen Salbashian and Salam Al Hamra
Luckily in the next few years Zepure attended a conference in the US each November. She would stop over in London, where we had fun shopping for Christmas presents. We always tried to be back in Beirut on December 16, Vicky’s birthday and Ziz and Yorki’s wedding anniversary. Yorki sometimes made the trip too and we also met in Milan once and had a great weekend visiting the sites and Lake Como. On other occasions, we met in Cannes at Asma’s.

It is difficult to describe or give true meaning to the amazing journey we traveled and continue to share. And I am sure you will hear a lot more about it.

For now, as I plan to visit Beirut for a couple of weeks, I look forward to being with Yorki and Ziz, my compass point and anchors. See you next Tuesday everyone!