More tales and encounters
Fruits, however –watermelons, peaches, plums, grapes, nectarines, melons and bananas – were in abundance, and are being sold at normal prices.
“What’s the deal with the fruit? What’s wrong with it?” I ask.
“Nobody’s buying it.”
“Not even the watermelons?”
“They’re not buying fruit these days. They’re saving their money for the vegetables.”
Two nights ago, after Israel announced it was going to start bombing Beirut again, the number of people in the apartment above us doubled. Extended family from Hay el Sellum (a neighborhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs) showed up, bringing with them neighbors with nowhere else to go. They had all been staying at a school in Beirut, but once it seemed safe to go back to their homes last week, they did. And now there’s no more room in the schools in Beirut.
“It’s not really that crowded in the apartment,” Imm Faroukh tells me. “We just spread sheets across the whole living room floor and lined up, like we were fish for sale.”
“It’s shit,” her son Hussein tells me. “I got woken up at 4.30 in the morning.”
“Why? From the bombing?”
“No. It was finally my turn to use the shower.”
Marie comes from Bikfaya. (Bikfaya, among other things, hosts the official residence of the Maronite Patriarch.) In the last elections, she voted for the Phalange, a right-wing Christian political party and one-time militia. She always votes for the Phalange. Her family has supported the Phalange since Pierre Gemayel founded it in the mid 1930s.
K got to know Marie when they were both studying agriculture outside of Lebanon. “She’s a bit different,” he warned me before introducing us. “She’s not like the Beiruti arty NGO types. She’s from Bikfaya – you know – Gemayel and all that…” When I met her, I was struck both by the size of the cross she wears, and by how genuinely nice she is.
Since the war started, Marie’s called fairly regularly, checking in on us. “You’ll never guess what Marie is doing these days,” K told me yesterday, getting off the phone. “She’s volunteering at a school near her house. She says they have 200 refugees from the South, Shi’ites, and she goes every day to help out.”
So we’re having a quick beer with a guy called Angry. No, really – he answers to Ghadban (“angry” in Arabic, or “the angry one”). He’s one of West Beirut’s regulars, a pack of cigarettes and a whiskey on hand at all times. He was a fighter with the Communists during the civil war –when the Communists led the resistance against Israel’s earlier invasions – and speaks casually of the geography of Bint Jbeil and Aitaroun, or how to actually blow up a Merkava tank (apparently it’s much harder than you might think). I’ve never had the courage to find out if Ghadban is his nom de guerre, or if his mother was just really pissed off when she had him.
I open the conversation with the common, cavalier comment everyone’s saying these days: “Khallas, zi’it min hayda harb” (I’m so bored of this war).
Ghadban looks at me, unimpressed. “I was bored of this war before it started,” he says.
“It’s my first one,” I apologize.
“This is my fifth. I’m full. I’ve eaten too many wars and now I’m full.”
“Until two weeks ago,” Ghadban tells us, “I hadn’t spoken with my eldest son for 3 years. He left the country to work outside, and I didn’t want him to leave. I told him, ‘I didn’t fight all those years for our home so you could just leave the country and make money,’ but he didn’t listen, and I was upset. So we didn’t speak. For three years.
“Once all this started, he began calling the house everyday. At first, we still didn’t speak. Then, one day, I had enough. Fuck it. I called him up.
“‘Hey,’ I said, ‘I’m sending your younger brother to live with you. He’ll be flying in from Damascus.’
“So now both my children are out of the country. It’s better. This fucking war. They’ve fucked it all up.”
August 6, 2006