Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fight or flight - the war instincts survive.

From the series "Para"dies" Flowers" by Tarek Chemaly

War is not over. It's a fact. It will never be. Today, in a slip of a tongue my mother said "in case I have to flee" - an awkward small sentence that could have gone unnoticed. But she said it, did not pay attention to it, and went on. But for me there was a sudden freeze frame. The exact word she said was "ehrob" - a word which could be interpreted as "run away", "flee", "save myself".
There she was, a woman secure financially, surrounded by her family in more ways than one, whose tasks have been brought down to a minimum which keeps her mentally and physically active without anything that might overburden her old age. And - subconsciously - she is still stuck in a loop. A loop that should have been finished since 1990 when the "Lebanese civil war" ended.
My first reflex was one of upset - where was she going to run flee? why would she?... And frankly, there was this cynic dismissal, whereas I did not articulate it, I surely thought it. But as I composed myself, I sat there thinking about it. In many ways, she is just a specimen of a generation. They're the ones who explored the Automatique cafe (Idriss) in downtown Beirut, the heyday of the supposed "Paris of the Orient" (what a fallacy!) and they are the ones who have had the dream of normalcy shattered - even if the war had been brewing for a long time under the champagne bubbles of the Phoenicia Hotel before it eventually exploded in 1975.
What struck me the most, was how similar she and I are. What I first dismissed as an outmoded reflex, soon dawned on me how ingrained it is in all of us. I was born on the onset of the war, and so this Capharnaum was all I knew. It was fun in a macabre way, but it was also the only paradigm and frame of reference. Not only this, in 2006, I got stuck in the US during the war which had erupted in my absence. A trip that was supposed to last two weeks ended up being two months long. Add to this that for different reasons - in 2003 and 2010 - I had to change residence twice in record time (once moving from one country to another and another time from one city to another).
And it was those war reflexes that saved me. Whereas everyone around me was panicking as to these swift transitions, I was already doing mental checklists - something you have to do in times of war - organizing things so very efficiently and taking all emotional components out the equation. Naturally, the full blow strikes you where the anomaly of such situations subsides, and this is when the psychological aftermath starts. But when you are still in your adrenalin rush, it all feels so peaceful, so normal dare I say.
And now I realize why my travel carry on luggage is almost set to go despite the fact that it has been a while since I traveled. In that luggage I keep - for reasons obscure to myself until now - a minimum survival kit: Anything from a good pair of jeans, to a change of shirts and socks, some cash and even a travel nail kit.
After all... What if I have to "ehrob" myself? 


Anonymous said...

Well you should better leave the travel nail kit out of your carry on luggage as it will not pass security check...

Tarek Chemaly said...

The carry one gets checked in, the backpack goes to the plane! :) I will never forgive them for confiscating my minuscule collapsible collage scissors though!