Tales and Encounters
Barbar Take-Out on Spears Street
“Yesterday, this guy ordered a falafel sandwich. I was just about to roll up the sandwich when he makes me stop. ‘Wait, wait! I don’t want any parsley with it!’ he says. ‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘there’s no more parsley left in Beirut.’
“Is there really somebody who chooses to eat their falafel without parsely?”
Fatima in Nasra School, Achrafieh
Fatima is 10. Her head is shaved, because the whole family got lice at the first school they stayed in, coming up from the South.
“Hello, what’s the situation?” Fatima asks, holding my phone upside down to her ear.
“This is Fatima Hashem, reporting live from Beirut. We have one hundred people here in the school. They’re sleeping on the floor, on mattresses. Last night I couldn’t sleep because it was hot. So I went outside. Then Mama came out and told me not to go outside anymore at night. So tonight I get to sleep next to the window.”
Walid, volunteer at Nasra School in Achrafieh
“My uncle is staying with us. He had a building in Tyre, and three stores in the same center in Dahieh. First they bombed his building in Tyre, then the same day they bombed the building in Dahieh, and it collapsed. ‘It’s ok,’ he told me, ‘I still have all the keys’.”
Oum Hussein in Nasra School, Achrafieh
I’m sorting donated clothing. Of 15 bags of clothing, half isn’t usable. Oum Walid, mother of four, is heavily veiled. Oum Hussein: “Do you have anything long?”
I hold up a woman’s business suit.
“No, something I would wear.”
I find tracksuit pants and matching top.
“No, something suitable for me, like a jalibaya” she says.
We search and search. Finally, Oum Hussein asks, “all these clothes, where are they from?”
“From the neighborhood,” I say. (Achrafieh is a Christian part of town.)
“Nevermind,” says Oum Hussein. “We’re lucky they didn’t give us all their miniskirts, as well.”
Hassan in Nasra School, Achrafieh, talking to volunteer Yehyia
Yehyia: “We’re going to buy some toys. What do you want?”
Hassan: “Get a soccer ball. And tennis. And dolls for the girls. And a rifle.”
Yehyia: “A rifle? Why?”
Hassan: “Because Baba is worried because he left his behind.”
Mahmoud, volunteer at Karm el Zeitoun School, Achrafieh
“There’s this little girl, Zeinab. She acts like the boss of everyone, always dragging her little sister around. So I was leaving yesterday, and I told her to take care of herself, and to take care of her sister.
“She tells me: ‘No, you take care of us and I take care of my sister’.”
Hussein in Nasra School, Achrafieh
“My fiancé just called. It’s the first time since three days ago. Her parents took her with them to the Bekaa. We were only engaged for 2 months. They left the same day the Israelis bombed the road in Chtaura. I spent three days not knowing anything. And now she calls. And after 2 minutes, her uncle takes the phone. He wants to know if there are any dollars left in Beirut.”
Ali in West Beirut
Ali is 4. He just moved in next door. We met for the first time in front of the elevator. “I’m going downstairs!” he announced.
“Really? Me, too,” I said.
“Baba said not to use the elevator!” So we walk the stairs together.
“Are you going outside?” I ask.
“Baba said not to use the elevator, not to play on the balcony, and not to go outside,” he says.
“So what are you doing now?”
“I’m going up and down the stairs!”
Fatima in Nasra School, Achrafieh
“I’m going to call Baba,” she says. She takes my phone, and dials randomly on the back of the it. “Five, five, six, one, seven, two – That’s his real number,” she tells me.
“Hallo, Baba, this is your daughter Fatima.
“Is the store still open in Shebaa? Are you coming to Beirut soon? Make sure you stay on the small roads.
“And Baba! They called. They’re getting us a new apartment. It has four balconies, so you don’t have to go outside to smoke anymore.”
July 20, 2006