When I was a child, I went to a Lebanese school in Riyadh, which meant that I was the only kid in class that “ah”-ed instead of “eh”-ed (for the none Arabs, “ah” is Jordanian for yes while “eh” is Lebanese for yes). Other than that, I didn’t really feel like there was much of a difference between me and my Lebanese classmates until the around the end of 4th grade, when a classmate gave me a card that read “I hope you have a nice summer in Lebanon and I’m glad that you won’t die from the war because it’s over now.”
I rememeber looking at her words with horror, “Die? War?” That day, my father told me that a terrible civil war in Lebanon has just finished and things are still unstable.
I know it’s ironic as I have always lived in the Middle East and because I’m of Palestinian origin, but I have never experienced a war in my life. Well, that is unless you count the short period we spent in Riyadh during the Gulf War, but my parents shipped us off to Amman almost immediately so my only memories are of a red screen popping up while watching cartoons.
My first memories of Lebanese TV are from around ’95- and the TV image of Lebanon is that it is a happy, liberal, creative, and slightly shallow country full of belles and too much French for me to understand. As I grew older, my image of Lebanon changed to become that of “Lebanon, the center of culture in the Arab world” (and this time not from TV because I stopped watching TV around ’99, but rather, from the books that were all published in Lebanon and the university brochures) .
This image of Lebanon created by popular culture had pushed my only memory related to the Lebanese civil war way back into my subconscious so that I almost didn’t remember that it ever existed.
I boarded a flight to Beirut expecting to see beautiful Levantine architecture and a lot of the famous cultural activities going on around town such as bazaars, bookfairs, festivals, and events. Beirut is famous for being beautiful, and how many times have I heard people sigh and utter “Oheboki ya Lobnan”?
But I saw war.
It was a shock because I was not prepared to see war. I was not prepared to see bombed out and derelict buildings standing tall and straight as a depressing reminder of a gruesome and near past. I was not prepared to see the still-inhabited houses decorated with a horrifying amount of bulletholes. I was not prepared to see a city ripped apart by hate.
Of course I’ve read about the war before, but I never fully comprehended what I read because the image Lebanon markets itself with is too polished and shiny, so the first thing I did when I got back home was do some research. The history I read made my heart ache, the pictures I found horrified me.
How sad are these pictures?
Ahh, Beirut. People asked me why I wrote that Beirut broke my heart. I have never met a visitor to Beirut who did not praise the sahar, the nightlife, the shopping, the beauty.
Is it just me? Why does Beirut haunt me so? I do not consider myself much of a sensitive person, so why is it that when I close my eyes I only remember the destruction?
هي من روحِ الشعب خمرٌ هي من عرقِهِ خبزٌ و ياسمين فكيف صار طعمها طعم نارٍ و دخانِ
لبيروت مجدٌ من رمادٍ لبيروت من دمٍ لولدٍ حُملَ فوق يدها أطفأت مدينتي قنديلها
أغلقت بابها أصبحت في السماء وحدها … وحدها و ليلُ
أنتِ لي أنتِ لي أه عانقيني أنتِ لي رايتي و حجرُ الغدِ و موج سفرٍ
أزهرت جراح شعبي أزهرت .. دمعة الأمهات .. أنتِ بيروت لي أنتِ لي أه عانقي
Fayrouz. I love Fayrouz. She is a treasure.
It took me a while to get myself to write this post.
That aside, Lebanon is surely beautiful. I love the mountains, they practically fall into the sea! I absolutely hate the matchbox apartment architecture of Beirut, what happened to stone? Sayda, or Sidon if you prefer, is underrated, what a beautiful city! The old town reminded me of Nablus and Damascus. I thought that Byblos is way overrated. The sun is particularly hard in Lebanon, my freckles doubled.
Here are some pictures I snapped during the trip. Like usual, clicking on each will take you to a bigger version of the image and a little caption about each.
Cheers to Lebanese readers.