Tag Archives: lebanon

The only difference is the Sounds

From Kafar rouman to Venice

Theoretically speaking we are always considered locked up. We always seek for freedom, we always consider ourselves prisoned, our souls trapped within our bodies, and bounded by our abilities and limitations.

When it comes to being locked down, restricted from leaving our homes and forced to maintain social distance was something we only saw in fiction movies and read in books. We have read about the plague, cholera, and the Spanish flu. But we have never thought that the day would come, in our modern days, where we will be facing the same destiny and taking the same procurations, like those done a hundred years, to protect ourselves.

I remember reading “Death in Venice” during my B.A studies and ironically when I arrived at Venice in September 2019, to continue my Master’s degree, images of the novella were stuck in my head. Images of the city’s description as the cholera was spreading and I never thought that I will actually witness and experience a similar situation.

The idea of being locked down, looking for a safe space, protecting yourself and fearing of what will happen tomorrow is not something new to me, but this time the context is different.

I was brought up in south Lebanon, in a town called “Kafar rouman”, a town that was half occupied during my early childhood years. I have images and memories in my head of the 8 years old girl not allowed to go out because it is not safe, images of when at school we were taken out from our classes to a safe shelter, images of my mom driving the car fast to get us home the soonest… Followed by memories and images of that day, the day when the occupation ended, on the 25th of May 2000. Images of my brother, my mom and I along with my cousins in my grandparent’s car, as grandpa drove us to a new place, to a new discovery, new land for us kids, as he and my grandma explained that it’s part of our town as well and today it is back to the people…images that made no sense until I was older until I really understood the significance of those memories.

Those images that ended with a happy memory in the 8 years old girl’s mind, were experienced later where I was more conscious and aware of what’s going on, where lockdown had the immense taste of fear. By the age of fourteen, Israeli war happened again and this time I did understand the images at the moment of its occurrence. South Lebanon was one of the main targets in this war, my family and I were still living in our house in the town.

It was summer 2006, we were planning for a nice summer ahead, a time for family, at the worst we worried about was the weather and heatwaves. The last thing we thought about was that we will be living the fear and stress of war.

Out of a sudden, the happy summer ahead, turned to news of death, fear, damage, and destruction. At first, it was all in the nearby towns, our town was somehow safe and we would gather at my grandparent’s house all of us aunts, cousins, and family members to follow the news…

It was on the third or fourth day, I can’t actually remember when the first nearest strike happened. My mom was talking on the phone. I finished my breakfast and walked to the living room when it happened. I was still standing in the doorway. The whole house waggled. From where I stood, I saw the black clouds, just over there over the hill on the other side in the nearby town…

Just like this, the war started for me! In no time the house was full. Friends and family members. Giving that our house was considered to be in a safe neighborhood, some of the family members from my grandparents, aunts, and cousins, moved to our house.

That was my first lockdown, even if the neighborhood was safe, the drone (MK surveying plane) was always in the air and it is better to stay in. For seventeen days, our house, my home, that other family members took shelter in, was no longer safe for me, I was even scared to go into my room as it has windows to the outside, fear was in the air, and the terrible part was the sounds, the sound of the aircraft in the air, the sound of the artilleries at night when I could hear it fired and landing, the sounds were the worst part.

Under lockdown, we tried to keep a good spirit within the safety of a home, my cousin wearing all her brand new dresses that she bought for the summer, my brother buying whatever he found at the neighborhood’s small shop and joking that this candy goes back to World War Two (WWII), food lots of food as the electricity was off it was better to cook the food storage we had, it was a war with fancy food, which I barely ate out of fear, and at last playing cards. A table placed exactly in the middle of the house where my brother, cousins and our neighbor would sit playing cards to distract themselves from the outside sounds. At night we would turn on the TV while keeping all the lights off, to dissolute the drone (MK surveying plane) and to save our minimum energy resources to watch the news.

Today, in the year 2020, at the age of 27, in Venice-Italy miles and miles away from home. I am under lockdown once again. A silent lockdown this time, where the enemy is quiet and targeting everyone, anywhere and at any moment. Coronavirus’s war started for me on the 24th of February when the university closed and we were asked to stay home, for the first-week life was semi-normal, everything was still open and operating until the North area, including Venice, became under lockdown and then in two days, the whole country was under lockdown.

At this time, I cannot but link to my early teenage years’ experience, under lockdown there is stress and fear, and people trying to distract themselves as much as possible through playing cards, board games, and cooking. Once again, I am hearing about people, about humans, referred to and reduced to numbers, numbers of those affected, numbers of those recovered, and numbers of those who died…These victims are reduced from being individuals with lives and identities, from being parts of families, into becoming numbers only numbers.

Back home I feared to stand by the window or to look outside. Here the window is the only thing assuring that there is life out there, there is life behind those walls. There is that pigeon by the window flying with its friends from one building to another. Enjoying his daily rituals and not being restricted to social distancing and lockdown.

My whole life here is reduced to a screen, a screen that connects me to work, to my studies, to my family and friends. It is all through one screen and once it is off the room is silent. The silence that brings me back to myself and my memories and to everything I have passed and still passing through.

It makes me think how weird things happen, the other day I had to go out to the supermarket and to the bank. The bank is a 15 minutes’ walk from my house, which on a normal day I wouldn’t even count. I put my mask on, and my gloves and head out to the street. The restaurants, coffee shops, and the bars were all closed, the crowded sidewalk was empty, the empty bus alone drove the deserted streets. The wind was so strong, and I covered my head with the jacket’s hat. I could only hear the sound of my breath while really few people passing by to head to the supermarket or walk their dogs. This moment took me back to 2006, on the day we decided to leave our house and head to a nearby safe city Saida. Well, basically my Mom and my brother were not afraid. It was me who was unable to take it all. After constant calls from my father who works abroad, my elder brother who lives with his family abroad, and my sister who was already in a safer place in the mountains working in aiding displaced people, who reached the area, the decision was made.

We were four to five cars as I remember, it was agreed to keep distance between each car and the other just in case a strike happens, ironically, we won’t all die. In our car Mom was driving, my brother sitting in the front seat, and I was in the back next to, as much as we could take from, our important stuff. We had to take an alternative way as the main highways were inaccessible and assaulted by the air forces. At some point, we lost the others and my mom didn’t know the directions, as the attacks have changed the landmarks of the places. We didn’t have a cellphone, as mom wasn’t a fan of it, well my brother and I were teenagers and phones weren’t a thing yet. Our only solution was to take the exit back to the main highway. We headed back to the highway, where there was a space for exactly one car to pass as the rest of the road was destroyed. The road was deserted except for us and above us, we can hear the air forces. My mom asked us to display a white sign to show that we were peaceful. My brother though was debating that he loves that white shirt. Which was freaking old and he finally hangs it outside the window. In the middle of all that, my brother’s coldness hit it is best when he is like “this actually reminds me of a movie I’ve watched, where the guy was at a hospital and he came out and everyone was dead because of a virus!”. I remember shouting at him to stop talking. I remember those couple of minutes before reaching the crowded city as hours. Everything that we lived back then seems to be prolonged. Same as my 15 minutes’ walk to the bank that felt like hours.

Ironically, here I am in a city where people are keeping distancing and staying at home because of a virus. Here I am walking in the usually crowded places with rarely a few people. Listening to the sound of my own breath. Here I am contacting my family and friends each in a different country but under the same isolation.

Life in the quarantine is similar to that of a warzone. The only difference is the sounds.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-29 at 8.46.25 PM (1)
Ready to go out!

Land of Contradictions

It doesn’t matter how small Lebanon is, being a country that is barely shown on the world map, still as small as this land in the whole globe, it happens to hide as many diversities and contradictions as possible.

This small land attracts tourists for its history, they come here for Byblos, Baalbek, Jeita, Rouche, and for the beauty of its mountains and sea. They come for the food and the nightlife. They come to the joy that this country brings.

This country that is hiding behind the beauty a misery and suffer of the Palestine nation with 70 years of refugee life. At the corner of the city and away from the fancy restaurants and touristic places, there is life. Life of people fighting to get the minimum of their human rights. People whose only fault is being born a refugee.

A small land, where displaced refugees, from Syria has in its valleys and rural areas their only safe escape. For several years now, they found themselves in tents with nothing more to lose other than their own lives.

A small country where its own people are suffering every day. Suffering to get the minimum rights of women, fighting to protect their children, fighting to have their rights for a better life, fighting for better services, fighting for a better tomorrow and better country.

Still above this all, there are people living in their elite areas, having their prestigious life away from the suffer of this nation. Not even knowing that there are refugees in this country, not knowing any of their suffer. They have isolated themselves in their shallow society away from this country itself.

It is a small land, land of contradictions, land of happiness and misery all at the same time. Land of history and secrets, but as much as you love it, it keeps on disappointing you every day. It leads you to despair and isolation as it gets worse day after day. The gap between the reality and how you dream this country would be only gets bigger and bigger. The land you want is only in the world of dreams.

“Land of Contradictions” by Nour Al amine/ Drawing by Mohammad El Baba

Beirut after Midnight

Beirut is the capital city of Lebanon, the Middle Eastern country. Beirut during the day is a busy crowded city; from the early hours of the morning the streets fill up with people, rushing to schools, offices and wherever they might be going. Throughout the day it is always hard to get to an appointment on time; unless you leave before at least an hour from the scheduled time. Beirut after midnight though is a whole different world with all its contradictions and magic in some way.

The clock announces midnight, through the windows you can see lights turning off; one after the other, people are hasting to bed after a long working day.  Few lights are flashing out from a student’s room that is staying up late to study; some are just up finishing a movie on T.V, or just laying in bed finishing a book. Out it is all quiet, the neighborhood’s streets are empty except for flashing road lights and few homeless kittens and dogs out there.

In the parallel street laughter have risen above the silence of the night, the voices direct you into a small humble coffee shop. There a bunch of jobless guys gather every night, playing cards, smoking “Hookah”, laughing over a desperate wasted life. Those were not lucky enough to find jobs and opportunities they aspire. For a second, they are distracted from their game to salute their neighbor, the taxi driver, who works all night long till the early hours of the morning, as many others in this city.

He drives away from the suburbs neighborhoods’ of Beirut with its simple life; its citizens whom are struggling to live a regular life and fulfill their dreams. He drives along the streets reaching Cola intersection. A point where during the day is crowded with people, taxis, and buses; it is the starting point towards almost all the different regions in Lebanon. Now it is almost quiet except for few cars, there the first passenger for tonight hops in. The taxi drives away reaching the cornice.

The passenger gets out meeting his friends.  There upon the sound of the striking waves under the moonlight, on the scattered benches all along the sidewalk sat youth having late coffee. Spilling all their secrets and pain to the striking waves that would take it away to the deep of the ocean, others just wrapping up the day’s events and planning for a better tomorrow. The deep conversations and flying dreams are cutoff by a small boy, with his innocent features, and dreamy sad eyes looking up at them, “Flower” he says as he lifts a flower in their direction,        “ No, go away” they dismiss him and carry on with their conversation. Rarely any of the guys buy flowers; he walks away in disappointment when a man from across the street waves at him to come. He is an older man selling flowers as well at the traffic light, the small kid is by his side now, “the business is slow tonight, go try another street and we’ll meet here later” , the older man says as the kid walks away in the opposite direction.

The little kid carries his flowers as he walks through the dark passages all the way reaching Hamra Street. The stores on both sides of the street are already closed, the little kid walks under the sparkling street lights, stopping every now and then to offer his flowers to the passengers in the passing cars. He follows the sound of music coming from the nearest pub, he reaches the front door. The little boy stands there in front of the entrance, near the smokers, gazing at people inside drinking, dancing, laughing joyfully and singing along with the songs, their faces filling with happiness and their eyes sparkling with pleasure. He stands their imaging his future as one of those people drinking and singing freely and happily, he can hear his stomach roars from huger as he gazes at the food on the table inside. “Give me all the flowers” a voice comes from a couple standing just beside him, he moves his gaze from the food to their faces smiling at him as they look tenderly at his pale face, he hands them the flowers as they give him the money when suddenly his stomach roars again loudly, “Are you hungry?” they ask as he raises his head and nods quietly; “Come with us, we’ll get you something to eat”.

The three of them walk away from the music into the empty streets being interrupted by music along the way coming from different scattered pubs in Hamra. In a parallel street, they reach one of the 24/24 restaurants “Barbar”, the little boy stood aside as they adhered to order sandwiches. He stood there trying to guess the names of food placed behind the glass in front of him. “The delivery order is done” the employee shouts from behind as immediately a young man steps and grabs the bags from him. He takes it and walks toward his motorcycle, places them carefully in the bag behind him and takes off.

He drives his motorcycle all the way to the city’s downtown exactly to Beirut Souks. He hands the delivery to a security guard and takes off. The security guard, a young man in his twenties holds the bags and sits on one of the stairs, he takes his sandwich and coke out of the bag, he eats silently as he stares around at the fancy buildings surrounding him, and he thinks about all the branded stores in this place that he cannot afford, he cannot even buy a silly sock from it. He finishes his food and searches his pockets till he finds a piece of paper, he holds it up, and moves on walking around the alleys of the Souks. The paper has few notes for his exam later today; he reads it while he walks around stopping every few minutes to talk to other guards.

Morning lights start to appear the security guard sleepily walks down the street, over there at the corner of the street stands a young beautiful girl. She is in her twenties as well; she works as a receptionist in one of the hotels around. They attend the same university, she looks glad to see him. He stands there by her side smiling at her when another young man interrupts them. He is the bartender in a pub around, just finished his shift as well; he is the guard’s friend and neighbor.

The fellows walk together to catch the bus, while the late pub and nightclubs attendees pass by them in their cars. The attendees are heading to have an early breakfast before going home to sleep the whole day before the next party. As these three barely get time to rest before getting to their universities while others are just waking up to start a new fresh working day.

The bus arrives and they get in and slide beside a young woman. She smiles at their sight, she is a nurse they met in the bus a while ago, and they ran into her whenever she is on night-shift. “Good morning” she says to them in an attempt to sound normal, but she looks very tired, must have been a really rough night.“What’s wrong?”They ask and she answers as pain appears in her eyes: “I just hate night shifts, awful things happen!” she shocks “last night a very sweet old man passed away, he was so nice and none of his family was by his side the moment he died” ,she stops looks at them, she wipes an escaping tear going down her cheek, “ I’m sorry, I ruined your morning , but he has been in the hospital for months now, I guess I just got used to have him around”.  “It’s okay, you don’t have to apologize”, said the girl.

 For the rest of the ride, they sat silently; they were too tired to talk. First, the nurse got out, and then the girl, as the guard gawked at her all the way until she was out of sight. “Just tell her you love her already!” snaps the bartender, he raise his eyebrows at him “No, too soon”.

“What are you waiting for, Till she falls for someone else?”The boy said as the two of them step at the corner street down their neighborhood.

“Till I have something to offer for her” says walking ahead of his friend.

You have your love to offer!” he snaps back.

Not enough, end of story” the guard says as his face turns serious now.

A car passes by them slows a bit and a young man strikes his head out the window “Bye Guys, I will miss you, take care okay”. They look up at him shouting back at him, that’s their neighbor, he is on his way to the airport, he is travelling away to chase after his dreams and ambitions. The driver shouts at him to get his head in as the car moves further from the boys.

The ambitious boy gets back straight in his seat and rolls the window up. They- the boy and his parents- drive towards the airport; the place of the city that never sleeps. All around the day and night, people moving around crying for the departure of a person, and smiling at the arrival of the other accompanied with some tears of joy. Airplanes going forth and back, teams changing but the lights are never off. The car drives into the parking lot, the boy looks around and out of the sudden he is overwhelmed by all this.

He steps out of the car with his parents by his side. They step towards the entrance as he drags his bag by his side this is it, this is goodbye. As they walk out the parking lot he notices people gathering around to place the luggage in the car, laughing with tears of joy in their eyes. While his mom grabs into his arm with teary eyes that express all her pain for letting him go away.

It is time for goodbye for real now; he waves for his parents from behind the glass, and disappears behind the doors. Within minutes, he boards in; he finds his seat besides the window. He thinks to himself this should be the happiest day of my life, it is everything I have ever wanted, I am flying away, I am leaving this city, but actually he is unease. The only thing he could think of is Beirut, the beautiful Beirut, the nights he spent in it with his friends from the drinks they had in a cozy pub, the crazy nights they spent dancing till the morning, the nights they spent on the cornice aspiring and dreaming, dreaming of this moment in specific, the moment they’d leave, but now it is all mixed up and he can’t comprehend it.

It’s around 8:30 a.m. when the plane takes off, flying above the city as it fully recovered from the darkness of the night. The streets are crowded with hurrying people, workers and students. It is Beirut this magical city that enchants you into loving it in everything in it. It is the city of extreme contradictions, Beirut with its beauty and ugliness. It makes you laugh and cry at the same time. You can’t run away from its love, even the ugliness and brutality of it you love. It takes away your dreams and gives you much space of an imagination to escape from it and aspire freely away from its interference.

Life in Beirut is an everyday adventure, it is an everyday story, it is the crushing of a dream by day and the reborn of another after midnight under the moon light and twinkling stars of Beirut. It is the reborn of a dream upon the sound of the waves, upon the clinking of the cups, under the sparkling of the traffic light, and over the ticking clock announcing the end of a shift.

This is Beirut and you can’t but love it as it is….

Beirut

When a Mexican Series Becomes Real

Achieving your ambitions, dreams, and having a suitable life in a country like Lebanon is not an easy thing.  You find yourself struggling to overcome the social, economical, and political barriers, all of which integrated in a manner that you stuck in the middle and eventually find yourself escaping to a total different country. Immigration is then the only solution to an ambitious independent person in a search for a suitable fulfilled life.

The immigration phenomenon from Lebanon towards the massive countries of the world is not a new thing. It has always been there as ugly as the truth might be that this country fails in evolving and providing the minimal needs for a suitable life. In the 20th century a large number of youth got in ships and left towards Mexico, El –Salvador, America, Brazil, Australia, and  other countries in chase for a better life.Marcoplatefront

In approximately 1922 a young man, “Hassan Fayad Ismael”, accompanied by his brother “Ahmad”, got in one of the ships leaving behind a wife and three little girls “Fahima, Kamillah, and Mariam”. He left like many others in chase of the unknown.

The three girls never knew their father, they were very young when he left and he was never able to come back.  Time passed and each of the girls grew up and got married and had her own family, by then they knew little about their father through letters brought by a friend of his.

Fahima Ismael always spoke about her father mentioning how he left them when they were very young and how her mom suffered in raising them up. Despite everything she hung a picture of her father, which he had sent with the one of the letters, accompanied with his second wife and fourteen kids in her house. In her turn she had nine kids (4 girls and 5 boys) and their elder is Ibrahim Noureddine.

Ibrahim Noureddine happens to be my grandpa from my mother’s side, and the story of his grandpa whom left to Mexico long ago in the past century, is one that you never get bored with. We were raised with this story and mystery of our great grandpa whom left to Mexico and never came back despite the letters that the family received up until his friend who used to bring it died. Each time our grandpa retell the story, saying that he has fourteen Aunt and Uncle in Mexico, we wondered how they looked like.  It became to an extent that whenever a Mexican Series was aired on Lebanese channels we would joke that one of the actors might be our relative.

It was always a mysterious story, somehow a missing root in the great family’s tree. We grew up and scattered around this world and my grandpa still dreams of getting to know his extended family. Time passed and on new year’s vacation back in 2008, and while my elder brother “Ahmad” was visiting Lebanon from USA, with his family, the story was brought up again and this time my grandpa brought up some papers that showed how the great grandpa’s name was written in Spanish; it showed that the family name was changed from Ismael to Fallad (Fayad in Spanish) , and there the promise was made by Ahmad and his wife Erica that they are going to find the rest of the family.

When in Dallas, TX, Ahmad and Erica started their online search for the extended family members. They came across a name and an address within the same area where they lived, they called the number stated online. Well here luck strikes because they were able to get another number which happens to be to one of the Uncle’s kids, Uncle Miguel, Miguel was actually visiting his son that day and so Ahmad and his family paid them a visit that night and there the first encounter with the extended family was made.

A few was revealed about the great grandpa’s mysterious story, other than the fact that a connection was established again. Ahmad kept on communicating with the cousins, well actually my grandpa’s cousins, but not with the other members whom happen to be in Mexico due to language barriers; they only speak Spanish.

By March 2016, Ahmad decided to visit Mexico, with his family, there the Fallad family was more than happy to finally meet one of their Lebanese relatives. There during two days visit the mystery of our great grandpa was revealed and my grandpa’s dream was somehow becoming real.

The mystery unfolds and here is what Ahmad found out from the family in Mexico. It turns out our great grandpa was 23 years old when he arrived to Mexico. The first stop though for the ship was in another country which might be El Salvador, he didn’t like the country and he went right away to the ship. Then he landed in Mexico in Veracruz, a port city in Mexico, where he stayed for a little while before moving to Torreon; where there is a large Lebanese community.

When he first arrived he didn’t know a word of Spanish, according to his daughter Fatimah and he had suffered a lot. He didn’t even know how to ask for a glass of water. Back in Lebanon he owned a lot of lands in his hometown but in Mexico he had to start from null, at first he sold gum on the street to make a living. After that When he moved to Torreon, he learned from other Lebanese about business and became a trader.

A while later he wanted to move somewhere else where he could start his own business away from the competition. Accompanied with his brother Ahmad, who is known as now as Manuel, they took the train, got off in Nuevo Ideal. Nuevo Ideal the current village where most of his properties are and the one Ahmad visited with his family in search for the missing story.
There he started as a textile merchant selling door to door. That is how he met his second wife who lived on a ranch. Then he opened a store for all kinds of miscellaneous stuff he named it: “Manola Miscellaneous” and he opened a hotel as well.
His store and house where in one large building that consisted of three parts; his house, a large store in the middle, and then his brother’s house. That house is where he lived with his family until the day he died.
The store was opened before he got married, after getting married and being in business for a little while, he built a fortune and bought a very large piece of land with his brother where he started a ranch; the farm had cows, sheep, goats, chicken, and pigs and he planted Apple trees, fig trees, and all other kinds of crops.
He built a house on the ranch/farm and started splitting his time between the ranch and the original house with his eastern mentality girls were not allowed to sleep at the ranch. He preferred life on the ranch and spent most of his time there and every night at 11 pm in Mexico timing the radio in his room would be turned on Arabic news as he listened to the morning newscast according to Lebanon’s timing.

In the municipal office in the city, he is listed as the first outsider to the village to come as a merchant. He was very successful, build a fortune in the town, had a lovely family 14 kids from his wife, plus 3 others from another woman in a nearby town. He was known for his generosity as he donated land to the city where they build a large space that is the center of the village besides a land to build a church. He was loving, caring, and stood up for the poor although he was very strict with his family as he used to pick up his grandchildren from the school and take them straight home. He didn’t eat out or allow his kids to eat out. His father was poisoned (from what they’ve heard) so he didn’t trust to eat anywhere. He taught his wife how to make Lebanese food from Kibbeh, Malfouf, Mjadarra and other dishes. He was a very hard worker, owned many lands that he marked with Palm trees.
Despite everything, despite all his success he never felt that he could fit in. His Spanish was choppy and he couldn’t communicate very clearly. He was very private and didn’t talk a lot.

He kept his Arabian roots by keeping a drawing of a mosque or something like it in his house. A large one from what the family remembers which could be Mecca or al Akssa, and he kept his own Quran. He told his family but being originally Lebanese and most of his kids hold Arabic names which extended to their kids as well.

His family is not sure why he never came back since he was very private, but they said that his last memory of Lebanon is that of his mom standing at the port praying with her hands up when he sailed off; He talked about her a lot!

In 1974, he renewed his Lebanese passport and was going to come back but the Lebanese Civil War took off and he wasn’t able to. After that he got sick; suffered from problems with his throat and esophagus for many years, had multiple surgeries, and at some point the food would go down the wrong pipe. His lungs filled with water from all the issues which caused his death
and when he was on his deathbed he told them that he could see his mother coming to get him.

He died on 18 Feb 1978, with a total of 20 kids (9 boys and 11 girls). He couldn’t be united again with his family in Lebanon; ironically generations had passed until the family was reconnected again due to his grandchild’s grandchild effort and the mystery was solved for both parts of the family in Mexico and Lebanon. He lived a stranger and died a stranger in a strange country, like many others who left and were never able to come back.

storyThis isn’t a story of one man; it’s a story of a nation, a story of separated families, and a common story in every Lebanese house in search for an identity and in chase of a dream….