Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 9)

Based on Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad's seminal novel "Tawahin Beyrouth" (or "Death in Beirut" as it has been translated), we will follow the story of Tamima Nassour a Muslim Shiite girl from the south of Lebanon as she goes to Beirut - a Beirut already in turmoil (the novel was published in 1973 and saw the war coming).
Tamima ends up joining the Palestinian Fidais (or Kamikaze). In a world today where "terrorist" is slapped on anyone and everyone these series of 12 monologues aim at recounting Tamima's story backwards, as if from a police investigation with protagonists who knew the victim. And with these 12 facets, we shall know or try to understand why is that someone so young and beautiful would end up taking such a desperate measure.
Called “Inter/Sect” these monologues collectively refer to Tamima’s relationship with a man from a different sect, but also talk about the intersection of the destinies of all these people orbiting around that central elusive character after the fact.


I had known her in school. I was older than she was but it didn’t matter. We became best friends and I would spend my holidays in Mehdiyyeh with her, jumping in the fields all day long, tucking together into one bed at night barely sleeping what’s with me imitating students and teachers, mimicking lovers and so on. Yes, I slapped her face one – half jokingly half seriously. She must have been thirteen and right before sleeping we were comparing our breasts. I awoke at night finding her suckling my left one. But girls grow up. I grew up too fast one day when my father passed away leaving me the eldest among three daughters and I had to work. And in no time I became head nurse in the surgery department of the American University Hospital.
I was in Turkey when she first came asking for me. I later learned it was about the money. It was one of those seasonal organized tours that travel companies offer.
It must have been late October when she told me about everything: Rose Khoury, Akram Jourdi, the job, the watch, and the dinner awaiting her. She also confessed she was in love. Madly in love. “Later I shall introduce you to him” she said. And we agreed what she should do.
She later recounted to me what happened. When she entered the house, she was holding the box of the watch in one hand and her purse in the other. She put the box on the table in front of Akram Jourdi and apologized for not being able to accept it. When Madame Rose followed her to the living room, Tamima turned and said: “And the job on top of it if need be!”
When she came back that night to my apartment she was adamant to quit the house and the job. I say: “The man did not do anything to deserve this. You don’t know men. We agreed you would return the watch and you did so. We shall see about the work. As for the house here, there’s one room for you and one for me. Let’s start preparing our lunch for tomorrow.”
It was December already. I tell her: “Love is beautiful, Tamima, with that boyfriend of yours - if you didn’t have a brother like Jaber and a custodian in his absence like Houssein. Take Hani Rahi out of your thoughts, and the other one too of course. I want neither this nor that for you.” And we speak and speak for a major chunk of the night.
26th of December 1968. We got to Deir el Mtoll. There was a play in that big underground room converted into a theatre. Hani was introducing us to everyone, young and old until we got to the front row. These are the “tawatem” of the village. “What are tawatems?” asks Tamima. “It is the plural of totem which does not exist in Arabic. Ramzi Raad must have the full story as he is the one who coined it in his chapter “I despise my father” in his book “Masters and Slaves.” Then the play. And the festivities and the people. And then Hani invited us for dinner but I said I had to be at the AUH at 6 p.m. as it was my turn for the nightshift, “unless Tamima would wish that.” “Would you drop me off to Beirut if I stayed here?” “Tamima is only joking, the Taxi we came in is waiting.”
She started crying on the way back, how could she propose such a thing? Why did she put him in front of that test? I was laughing at the tales of love and lovers. We had some cold cuts at the apartment, and I broke the news that “Akram Jourdi’s operation was a total success. I think I am going to tell him that my roommate’s name is…” and she put a hand on my mouth and she did not reciprocate my laugh.
But I did not wait for her blessing to tell him. “Tamima Nassour is excellent but she is not for me and I am not for her” Akram Jourdi said to me in his room while convalescing. “Tamima is a good, good, good girl” I reply. And I kept thinking when did lovers describe their precious one as “excellent” before?
Ramzi Raad came to visit Akram Jourdi – twice. He goes in, never says a hello, never utters a word, goes as he came. He lives behind his black spectacles in a different world. Revolution! Revolution! Hatred and the grinding of teeth. How did Tamima ever love him? As I go to Akram Jourdi’s room I remember Zeina – what a doll that little girl is. “When are you going to take the bandages off daddy?” “She will never take them off unless you kiss her on both cheeks.” During the long nights of pain, I spoke to him like nurses do and Tamima came up, but for him it was the past, and so did Audette, and he told me it was a story over and done with. “How much we squander our hearts!”
On the 27th of December, she phones me and I rush to the apartment with the emergency doctor. The doctor says it is not a deep wound. I reassure her that I will go away just like the one she had at the manifestation leaving not even a scar. When the doctor came back to change the bandage, she looked at herself in the mirror and I saw that emptiness in her look.
“What are you cooking for dinner? I shall have lunch at the hospital. Doctor, I have my personal cook from now till fifteen days maximum. Poor Miss Mary is condemned to eat burned food, because you see, doctor, the lady here is good at cooking poems.”
I went back early that night, Tamima was nowhere to greet me. I rush to her room. It is closed from the inside. I knock once, twice. Scream from the top of my lungs. No one! Could it be that… I took a step back, and from all my might, hit the door with my shoulder. She was lying motionless and next to her the bottle of iodine. I jumped to the phone and called the hospital.
“I will cover to you with a bandage. You just say it was a pimple that grew until it vanishes. I will vanish, I tell you, with time. You understand love, fine. Leave medicine to me.” Her mother drops by for a visit and swallows the pimple story. A few days into the new year, Tamima says she wants to go rest in Mehdiyyeh, she already has a leave for a month from the union for some sickness she invented.
A couple of weeks down the line, I write to her: “Dear Tamima, you have gotten well as I hope. I need you to be on my side these days for something important. As I wait to see you again I kiss you. Mary Abou Khalil.”
I kissed and hugged her when she came back. Took a few steps back. “You, Tamima Nassour the Maronite Christian from Deir el Mtoll, why don’t you take Akram Jourdi the Shiite Muslim from Kfar Zarrou’ for a husband!”
“Is this your important news? Leave kidding aside and tell me, can I now go out among people? Can I see Hani.”
“Impossible to see anything! So which cheek was it?”
And Tamima went: “Listen, it is important! You, Miss Mary Abou Khalil, head nurse in the surgery department at the American University Hospital, and the leader of those who have consoled sad ones and who have put plaster on broken bones, do you accept the big shot lawyer and future member of the parliament Oustaz Akram Jourdi for a husband and swear to be a tender mother for his daughter?”
The devil! She guessed the news! She even called me her “happy heir!” – she was worried about Audette. I say: “I shall know how to make him love his home.”
Have I loved before? There was this doctor I loved to spend the nightshifts with. And then he got married and when he came back from the honeymoon it was as if nothing had happened. He even became my confidant. Maybe to begin with the only thing I liked about him was his wide forehead, his allure and his jokes – just like my late father.
“Tell Miss Tamima that Akram Jourdi will be a good friend to her” He said to me. The visit to the hospital broke the ice and she gave us her blessings!
The first Sunday of April – that’s when we agreed the wedding to be. I was preparing myself to sleep that night in late March when Tamima showed up. “Me? Afraid of Houssein Kammoui? No! I am not afraid of Houssein Kammoui. It is him who is afraid of me. To death. You hear me? He is falsifying in the name of the Fidais. He is gathering false donations in their names. He wrote another letter signed “the red hand” Hani laughed and threw it in the air. This is not what I wanted to tell you. I shall teach Houssein Kammoui not to meddle in my affairs. Three months and twenty days down the line, we calculated them, and Hani will graduate. He will invite us to dinner next week. “My invite and my car.” Tomorrow he will take me to university and tell it out in the open: Hani Rahi the Maronite Christian from Deir el Mtoll will marry Tamima Nassour the Shiite Moslem from Mehdiyyeh!”
And she goes on acting the graduation ceremony and retelling the “Outlook” meeting.
“And your brother? And your sect? And Houssein Kammoui?”
“I am holding Houssein Kammoui by the throat, I told you. And then Hani comes down from the stage while everyone is clapping with the degree in his hand and I shall be next to his father. His father wanted him to go to Libya to be at the head of his business. But he wants to go to America, to Harvard. And I shall travel with him. All of them in America follow their studies as married couples and live in small apartments “like this one.” And work in their spare time. I will teach Arabic. And if his father insists on Libya, then Libya it will be! Any place on earth!”
It was by sunset that Tamima got to Mehdiyyeh, her mother was in bed unable to speak. Oum Allouch, that’s their neighbor who lost a son during the Israeli raid, got her to the bedroom. She started crying when she saw her daughter. Oum Jaber tried to speak but couldn’t. Tamima told me she heard Oum Allouch say: “A stroke!” Oum Allouch recounted the details about what happened. “She just said “his father c…” and half of the word remained in her mouth and her jaw titled to the left.”
I learned all of this when Tamima came back from Mehdiyyeh the next day at 2 p.m. I told her that Jaber asked about her repeatedly. He telephoned to the apartment. He telephoned at night and to the hospital too.
“And Hani?”
“Hani asked about you twice. The first time by phone and the second time – he said the phone was ringing off the hook all the time – he went up and had coffee with Oustaz Akram and myself. He even asked to see your room.”
Tamima forgot all about her mother and started inquiring about Oustaz Akram’s impression of Hani. Hani loved the Paintings of Picasso that you hang above your bed. “Great! Great!” He said.
“Who is great?” inquires Tamima.
“Picasso of course! And greater than he is your Hany. Listen Tamima, Jaber’s tone is full of hatred. He called you names that I shall not repeat because I know you and your essence. More than that. He screamed at me and said I was responsible. Oustaz Akram was here and when I told him what Jaber said he wanted to talk to you tonight and even lectured me. Oustaz Akram is a Muslim and is a lawyer and only wants what’s good for you. You had one problem now you have two. Your past relationship with Ramzi Raad and now your wedding plans from this Rahi guy. If Marriage there is, and that is the opinion of Oustaz Akram, the only solution is for you to go with him to America after his graduation on a moonless night.” I got hard on her. She was hiding her face to cry, so I retracted back: “Promise me that you shall only see him on the plane to America. Or you prefer the boat? Honeymoon on the boat is sweeter. Come give me a kiss. I am late for work.” And I rushed to the hospital.
I come back and I find Zannoub, the girl who works at Madame Rose Khoury’s, with Tamima. The pregnancy is entering the seventh month and abortion is something that only few doctors “with certain options” would do. “And supposing that this kid is handed to one who agrees to do it, who guarantees her survival. No! No! What’s with you and such a responsibility.” I tell Tamima who proposed to let her until tonight to consult with Oustaz Akram.
The discussions went on till late at night about Zannoub. And eventually Oustaz Akram came to the conclusion that Madame Rose and Jaber were to handle the operation. In the morning as I was already at the hospital when the girl left. The next day the newspapers were full of the news:
“At 10 a.m. yesterday the pedestrians on Raouche saw a girl throw herself into the sea and they rushed to save her but she died on the way to the hospital. She turned out to be Zannoub Ibrahim, the maid who vanished three days ago and that she was pregnant. It is believed that she committed suicide to get rid of the shame. Her employer, Rose Khoury, who owns a house of a shady reputation in Hamra was interrogated, and she accused one of her tenants to have assaulted the virginity of the maid, as she confessed before running and so did he. The assailant has fled while investigations are underway to get him caught.”
After the policemen who are looking for Jaber left once they have interrogated Tamima, I tell her: “You should work one day as a nurse and put your hand on the suffering of humans and their misery. To put both your hands in blood and pus, and to close the eyes of the dead. Young women as beautiful as the day and youth and kids… Zannoub has rested.”
“Like my mother is going to rest in her grave before she sees Tamer on the front door.”

There days after Zannoub’s death, there was a knock on the door in the morning. I open…. (a gun shot is heard)

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