Beirut mayhem-mek by Tarek Chemaly part I:
… And the bombings over Beirut intensified, and I found myself…
Strange how some statements seem ageless and dateless, as if their only reference is simply their own being. The above could have taken place anytime between 1975 and 1990, then sporadically – yet recurrently – after that, although choosing 1996 and 2006 would give a better statistical opportunity of be dead on. Excuse the pun. It seemed the same as saying “the sun rises”, a benign statement with no implications whatsoever in the grand scheme of things, a mechanic, repetitive act – a little like sex when the initial impulse of the discovery of the other’s body has gone.
What do you do with the last 300 Lebanese Pounds you have? What do you do when 300 Lebanese Pounds are the last of the available family fortune, when there’s much more than that in the bank but the bank is closed because fighting has broken out once more? The answer is simple: You buy three chocolates for 100 Lebanese Pounds each from the man who moved his candy supply from his store to the shelter, and give them to your three teenage sons and tell them not to worry and try to get the maximum strength from the chocolate. That’s what my mother did at least. My chocolate had a small sticker of Goofy playing the accordion. I have always hated Goofy though.
Then there was the night when a dog was left out from the shelter, and having a better hearing than all of us, his barks were a warning to us that a bomb was closing in. The millionth bark that night, the millionth bomb too. That night even our next door neighbor who had survived the many years of war without going once to the shelter decided to eventually drop for a visit.
Militia men were throwing rockets from the launcher installed on top of a moving jeep. The jeep must have been in the parking of our building because the sound of the launch and that of the reply was so close. Sometimes, to amuse yourself, you start guessing what caliber the bomb was, or how far it landed, or if there were wounded or killed people or not.
The first time I saw wounded people, I felt excited. I wasn’t afraid, just excited. When smoke came out from a place near my one of my friends’ house, I thought it was cool: I knew someone who was in danger.
It might have looked like a game, and probably it was. The afternoon spent playing scrabble waiting for the shells to start or for my eldest brother to place a word, whichever came first - for he always wanted to drop all his letters at a time and therefore kept on passing his turn.
Listening to news flashes on the always turned on radio. Meeting the regular people down at the shelter, all of us coming on fixed schedules. The elderly Armenian woman who taught us “paperlus” or “parergoun” or even “inchpezes” to which you answer “lavais” or “shat lavais”. The woman and her son from the two story house across sleeping in the bed across from us and also an ex-militia man, his wife and his two sons sleeping right next to them,… There were others too coming and going in no particular order.
Then came the night when the militia man’s wife was convinced that her brother had been killed, and her husband along with all the people down at the shelter tried convincing her that he wasn’t. He was. She spent a whole year dressed in black. Her husband did once say: "I don't want no dictator to rule over my children!" exclaimed the man. "Liberty will win" he added vigorously, "look at Vietnam and the Americans, despite the Americans dropping the Hiroshima bomb over the Vietnamese, the latter still managed to win."
Some things happened chronologically, some others did not, because one night, she stumbled on the stairway leading to the shelter as she was holding her youngest son. She broke her leg, and spent all of the night saying: “Dakilkoun” which means “I implore you”… Stop this pain, stop this pain!” in such an agonizing voice that eventually past midnight everyone got bored of her and she was moved to a nearby hospital’s emergency room the next morning when the shelling stopped.
It all seems unreal when one thinks about it from a distance - both on the geographical and the time axis. But it happened.
War is orange to me. When I remember the war, as a separate entity, it is neither the traditional black, nor the conventional red. It is orange. People I know usually refer to war as black because of the many negative drawbacks it had on their lives. Some call it black because it made their lives become still lifes, they say that it brought their lives to a halt. Some Lebanese even claim that they wasted seventeen straight years of their lives. I find that hard to believe. Of course war is red because of all the blood.
10To me war is orange because of an orange colored and flavored soft drink called “Crush” (way before Mirinda - Go peel a Mirinda, and Fanta - makes music in your mouth were invented or at least introduced to the Lebanese market). It was a drink which came in almost opaque orange colored bottles.