Archive for January, 2010


Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Dear Gracious Readers,

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Thank you and enjoy the latest post below, “This Is the Year”!


“This Is the Year”

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

It is a new year and predictions of an impending spring or summer war with Israel are swirling, as is customary at the dawn of a bright new year for us veterans of war, pessimists, newbies, and conspiracy theorists here in Lebanon. The predictions are not restricted to hearsay, but also formal discussion.  Each peaceful new year brings fresh and increased money, backpackers, longings from the diaspora, multi-apartment building complexes, memories, pubs, dancing limbs, plans and commensurately an increased paranoia that the house of cards will fall and splay. This year, people swear about an impending war, as if for the first time: “I never believe it, but I think this is the year.”

Has the Lebanese-Israeli-Iran politics/news changed much in the last few years? I mean, I quit reading Lebanese news regularly after the tent city came down in 2008. But every time I take a gander, it seems like I just took a bathroom break and came back; I can keep up with the news like one keeps up with Days of Our Lives: same characters, who are at each others’ throats, have come back from the dead or from prison, or are cheating on their partners! Iran continues its nuclear technology campaign; Hizbollah continues to expand its capabilities; the Lebanese government…whatever. Of course, the script is loaded with new dialogue and suspense-building rhetoric! Nasrallah threatens that if Lebanon or Iran is attacked, the retaliation will “change the face of the Middle East region.” And supposedly, June 2010 is the deadline for Israel’s patience with Iran. Meanwhile, Lebanon has been told on several occasions and in so many ways by Israel that next time they’re bothered, all of Lebanon will pay – for their support and tolerance of the Party of God.

In July 2006, during the 33-day war between Israel and Lebanon, I was in Chicago. I was teaching by day and working at a Middle Eastern restaurant/night club by night. Through the haze of shisha smoke, I watched people dance to “Raje3, raje3 yit3amar, raje3 Libnan…” while it was being bombed away in real life. And people came up and offered their condolences or told me how their family was from Bint Jbail where the intense bombing occurred. The music bang- banged in my head. I would come home in the wee hours and turn on CNN, which showed footage of frenzied anchormen in Israeli scenes of people wheeled into emergency vehicles. And the rest was aerial views of Lebanon going up in smoke. I wasn’t the only one who cried from a distance for our country. I believe that the war of July 2006 was not preceded with the paranoia that has persisted since. Whereas that war was “restrained” to targeting infrastructure and Hizbollah, the next promises less restraint. Yes, there are reasons to worry.

But while the separate parties broadcast their defenses, our individual defense strategies kick up like party shoes. Whether we claim “This is the year” or “No way, that’s what everyone says every year,” the reality is that it’s very possible that we may soon be sitting under an assault that surpasses July 2006 or inside a regional war that may actually change the face of the region. And change the face of our lives as we know them. And which no doubt, a la Pat Robertson, The Party of God or/and the Israelis (depending on who comes out on top), will surely attribute it to GOD’s divine will. This is what we’re dealing with…

Will this year be the year? I hope it’s never the year. We are a people, a land. We are people in a beautiful land with families and homes and history and lives. With breakfast, bike rides, and tetas. And people say “This is the year” like it’s normal! Like everyone is used to it!  And so do you get it when I say I’ve become the typical Leb because despite the grim possibilities and the fear-mongering and the U.S. terror list and the wagging ragging fingers, I’ll be hitting Dany’s tonight and maybe head over to Walima for a tango dance…

My Brothers

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I do not believe that a taxi driver has made an appearance in this blog. Alas, just as in any lane of traffic, he has forced himself into this one.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was on my way to the village. Luckily it wasn’t raining in the way that flips your umbrella into a large spasming tulip, but it was still an early dark evening with heavy holiday traffic, and I was burdened with several different-sized bags whose handles laced through my fingers or bottoms rested on top of other bags. I and another woman hailed down every taxi that drove by; in turn, we shouted our destinations, which happened to be close in proximity. Yet, taxi after taxi rejected us until finally one hit the breaks in the middle of traffic and gruffly gestured us in.

The regular indiscriminate act of hailing any taxi and getting in will never be so regular and indiscriminate again.

“Sir, I have a lot of bags…could you please pull over to the side?”

The walrus driving the taxi did not reply. Standing outside of the car, leaning closer in, I tried again. Perhaps he didn’t hear. I wouldn’t know, because after raising my voice, he still did not reply. I sighed and began putting my bags into the front seat, one by one, and then my leg…

“Leave them outside and I’ll put them in the trunk,” he finally spoke, meanwhile not budging.

We were still in the middle of the street. Okkkkay, I thought. So, I pulled my leg back out of the car and began to pull my bags out as well, but I mentioned that I didn’t understand exactly what he wanted.


I quickly grabbed my bags and snapped, “I am not going anywhere with you!” and pushed the rusty door shut with my foot and swore his sister’s genitalia (my least favorite and most politically incorrect swear word/phrase, but the first I can find as I don’t usually swear in Arabic).

I fumbled back to my original hail-down corner in a huff to await another taxi. I was setting my bags down, my vision blurry with exasperation, when a tall African man suddenly appeared and asked shoo saar (what happened)? I remember seeing him out of the corner of my eye standing against the wall of the pharmacy; he must have smelled trouble. My tongue coiled because when I looked up, I saw the walrus swimming toward us.

The African man began hailing a taxi for me – COLA! – referring to the bus station (which is near an old Coca Cola factory, hence the name). When luckily a taxi stopped, he quickly grabbed all of my bags, placing them in the trunk. The walrus was now on the other side of the African man, my defender, who stood between us.

“Sharmuta! (Slut!),” he spat. “You don’t swear at me!”

And on and on, his eyes dripping an oily hate as he grabbed for me to, presumably, beat me in the middle of the street. “Ma3laysh, ma3laysh,” my defender told him as he leaned over him, blocking his way to me. Apparently, altercations with taxi drivers have been common as of late. Is it road rage? The traffic has become thicker. And a nightmare for the nerves. The streets a battle field of metal and angry faces.

Fine, I shouldn’t have sworn at the guy – I was contributing to the road rage, which led to an attempted attack in the middle of the street. But, I had the bittersweet chance of witnessing a most humane act from a member of a cadre of people who spend their lives treated as slaves primarily, humans rarely. It was the lowest man in the pecking order, the African domestic worker, who actively saved me a beating from my fellow Lebanese. He was so intuitive and quick-witted. How had he known what needed to be done so quickly? And what made him care enough to put himself in the middle?

As I sat safely in the new getaway taxi, I rolled the window down to wave thank you to this man who dashed to save me without a thought of his own safety. Without asking for anything in return, in any way. But he stood with one foot back up against the wall of the pharmacy, sunken into the shadows of his own thoughts. He had silently slipped back into his place, his job done.

In the foreground, just a few feet from the taxi I sat in, was my Lebanese brother, who prepared the most insulting trifling act and launched with all his heart – I ducked and his spittle splashed the window.

New Year’s Resolutions

#58: Find that African man and give him a long-armed hug.

#59: Learn less dangerous flagrancies.

#60: To care more often to put myself in the middle.