Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 2)

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 ask: Didn’t we forget anything?
“Yes, we forgot that the sun is already shining and we are still in Mehdiyyeh. When do you want us to get to Beirut?”
“We will get to that Beirut yours. Beirut is what interests you, not your brother!”
I put the keys of the house in my chest and adjust my veil. It had been two months since I had been to Beirut – Jaber was very strict about it – for me to be alone. But what do I do with her? She wouldn’t stay in Mehdiyyeh.
“If only you would wait for me at your aunt’s place in Saidon. God help us on today’s youth!”
I made her wait. Her Beirut could wait. I had to go to the chicken and get some fresh eggs for her brother. She thinks I can’t hear her but I can. She goes: “I am not going to spend my life with your chicken for your sake and that of your son!”
So I make sure to remind her: “I already told you a thousand times! Get Beirut out of your head. You’ll only go as far as Saidon. Don’t you dare talk about this in front of Jaber, he is bad enough as it is!”
I put my new pumps under my elbow for I was not going to ruin their soles on the gravel path and held the basket destined for Jaber in my hand and I told her not to go this fast. Barefoot, I could not keep up with her pace. Three more months and she would get that famous Baccalaureate.
Abou Ahmad and his Nash – neither a taxi nor a truck – but suits the purpose to get us to Tyre and to take the bus from there. His son Ahmad hopes its engine will finally die off to get a brand new Mercedes. But the Nash is good enough for our village – thirty houses, not all of them in good shape. Many men immigrated to Africa. Kuwait took care of the others.
How is Tamima’s presence going to go down with Jaber? “Go back to your village with that daughter of yours and that basket!” That would be the worst! And Africa. For God’s sake when will Africa be over? When will Tamer be back to be the head of the household. It was supposed to be three years. Four years tops. True, he paid off the mortgage of the house and he sheltered us from need. He sends the household’s expenditure and Tamima’s school fees and Jaber’s university tuition and takes care of his other demands – and how many they are. But his presence is now more important than money. Tamer used to send the wire in my name but now that Jaber is legally adult at twenty one, the money comes in his name.
“What are these silly books and magazines you are so fond of?” – Jaber searched through his sister’s closet last time he came to Mehdiyyeh - and he tore them apart and threw them away and deprived Tamima of her allowance for a full month. God help us on today’s youth!
But between cutting off her allowance and not paying her school fees which have been due for a week now, there is a big difference. “Next year, Inchallah!” Tamer says about coming back. Everyone who comes back from Africa says the same: “With the money he already has he could live like a Sultan here.” Most importantly, he would have his son and daughter next to him. He used to write two or three times a month, with poems that would make her blush when Hajj Fadlo would read them to her when the wire came to his office in Saidon – an office that doubles as bank for the immigrants. And the shame that used to get to her when she heard them became more intense when the poems stopped. “The Tamerian creativity has dried up” Hajj Fadlo sarcastically commented at one point.
Oum Houssein says “they all married black women back there,” and would specifically ask me “what are the news on the absent ones Oum Jaber?” – that woman is like a bad omen. And damn those who take a second wife… and a fourth!
Tamima says: “Tamima is going to write to her father from tomorrow. Tamima’s share is for Tamima, your own share is for you – if you want. Jaber’s custody over us is going to bring us doom.”
But we were already on the bus from Tyre to Beirut. I sat on a small seat next to the driver minding the basket. Tamima was somewhere behind. I know her, she would travel while standing if she doesn’t like the other passengers. God help us on today’s youth!
In Hamra Street I try to dissuade her again from confronting her brother. But she wouldn’t have it, that stubborn girl. I knock on the door of Madame Rose Khoury, that’s the house Jaber lives in. I pity that woman and her necrosis. While we wait for someone to answer, I go: “Hajj Fadlo is ready to board Jaber with some other young man from our own kids from the village… As long as he remains away from Houssein Kammoui. All our problems are from Houssein!”
Madame Rose delivers the news after she offers us generous hospitality: “Two nights!” Jaber has not been in the house for two nights. “God help us!” “You wait for me here!” Tamima scolded me when I tried to go with her to university to ask about Jaber. Very late in the afternoon, she came back with her head dressed in a bandage.
It was later. A week later? Maybe a little more. A week after she slept at Rose Khoury’s. Tamima came back with the news from Hajj Fadlo’s. Tamer Nassour is a smuggler. There was a trafficking ring and Tamer was among those who were caught by the authorities and were being investigated.
Jaber is not going to become a lawyer – he has enrolled in university but only showed up for political activities. He is in prison because they say he shot the first bullet during the confrontation between the students and the army. The same manifestation her head got hurt in. “Allah akbar! Allah akbar! God is with the patient ones if they exercise patience!”
She had spent the night in Beirut. “Where did you sleep?” “At Mary Abou Khalil’s, I asked her for money for the tuition but the accountant wouldn’t let her have an advance on her salary.”
She cried and cried my Tamima. “All of this for the tuition? Come with me. Go to school and pay the tuition.” And I gave her whatever bills I had hidden underneath that tile in the kitchen away from Jaber. “No! No! No!” She kept crying.
A few weeks later she spent another Sunday at Mary Abou Khalil’s – maybe it was the same Sunday when Jamil Mouali’s mother and her daughter came to ask Tamima’s hand in marriage for their wealthy immigrant son who came back from Guinea. Jamil Mouali called for me as he supervised the construction of his fancy house: “I am sure of Tamer Nassour’s innocence, this is just calumny among Arabs that got him to that situation. Whatever money you need Oum Jaber for the family please do not hesitate. Tamer is closer to an older brother to me.” “I have from God’s generosity more than enough from what Tamer has already sent. And he sent a lot.” And tears chocked me.
September 26th 1968. I am packing Jaber’s room from Madame Rose’s house, Jaber has travelled to Guinea. I smell his shirts and I cry. Madame Rose is very kind to Tamima telling her: “From today, Jaber’s room in is in your name and you can count on me to get you that job you need!”
She doesn’t show up for Eid el Fitr at the end of Ramadan which coincides almost with the new year. So I go and visit her in Beirut. She is no longer at Madame Rose’s house, she moved in with Mary Abou Khalil. I ask about the new bandage covering her face and she says it was a pimple that grew. But only a few days later, that’s already early in January 1969, I see her at the house’s doorstep in Mehdiyyeh. She wouldn’t eat. I would beg her to have some food inside of her. She would just take a few swallows and leave everything else.
“Dear Mother” Jaber writes to me, father is “still under trial, it will be long and tedious and I cannot give too much details but hope is in God.” He also added that he sacked the employees from his father’s shop who were “stealing and falsifying the books.” “I ask you to be content of me and remember me in your implorations to God.” There was also a thousand liras to be sent via Hajj Fadlo in Saidon.
Tamima wouldn’t go with me, still locked in her room. I come back with the much-needed money: “My daughter, God has given you everything. Tell me what’s with you. You want to get married? I am your mother, just tell me to show you to the husband who is suitable for you.”
“You want to get me married, take that!” and she took off the bandage which was covering her pimple. It wasn’t a pimple, but a deep plow of a wound. And she spilled the whole scandal. She spoke of everyone. Of everything. Of someone called Hani Rahi too. A Maronite Christian. “You want to get me married? Give me a husband to put I can look at face to face. I tell him: With my face I bear my mark to remain in your face, in your eyes, so as for you not to forget who I am! Show me to that suitable husband. Get him out of your chest. Materialize him from your prayers to your God. Tell your God to get him out of hell to ask my hand from you. Pray! Pray for Tamer Nassour in Africa! Beat your chest! Spill tears for your dear husband and sleep on the bed of virtue and piety and loyalty. Do you know in which bed he sleeps a thousand of kilometers from here? Ask Oum Houssein. Ask the girl who slipped the paper in my desk that said “the beautiful poems are for your negro sister!” and God knows how many sisters and how many wives there are. You burry your youth in Mehdiyyeh! Only odor yourself with your chicken manure so as for Tamer not to come back and find you outside of that fence and he’d have to slaughter you. And pray for Jaber too who is sending us the crumbs from his table. Jaber is on top of the business now – rejoice in that! You want me to write to Jaber? What do I write to that brother who tore my hair because I preferred university to your chicken and Beirut to Mehdiyyeh? And while you are at it, pray for Hussein Kammoui too – his agent in front of God and in front of people while he is absent. Me? Me I have I lost faith! I have stopped believing. Go to your God and leave me! And close the door behind you!”
I got up. I took on step. I rotated. I slapped her.
I spent the night just sitting on the edge of my bed. The next day I did not talk to her. Did not invite her to eat. And then, I did it. I went into her room, I threw all the magazines, all the newspapers. I threw everything from the window.
Lightning and thunder during the night. No, not lightning and thunder. Something else. An air raid! Israel is striking Mehdiyyeh from the air. Three, four, five planes. One so close it could have erased the ceiling. We stuck together to the iron frame of the room. She forces me to go down instinctively. I wanted to go to the chicken about to go insane with their quacks. I looked at heaven and prayed. And then after a short calm, the planes came back with a vengeance. With a bomb so close, so close it could have been inside the house. She rushes over me and we huddle and cry. For a few minutes the sounds went on, and gradually decreased. “Safely back to bases” she said. At dawn we got to the veranda. “Oum Allouch’s house is on fire!” we rush there to see what happened. “Oum Allouch is trying to get Allouch from beneath the rubble!”
Eight dead, three of them Fidais. Fourteen wounded. Nine destroyed houses. Fourty livestock heads killed. The other villages told stories of voices over loudspeakers telling them in their own local dialects to gather in the main square of the village or in the graveyard if there was no square. Those who disobeyed were to be shot. And the Jews appeared in rows with their Kalashnikovs and the names of those who have hosted or helped the Fidais were said and they whisked away in trucks to Israel.
 “We are to God and to him we come back!” they gave Oumm Allouch a military tent to compensate for her house and instead of her son a bag of flour – but Mehdiyyeh had already forgotten her tragedy. And Tamima and I would fight and reconcile, reconcile and fight.
February 23rd, 1969: Jaber is back to Mehdiyyeh! I go to with him to Beirut to give her the great news. A surprise comeback. I just found him on the door kissing me and hugging me and bursting in tears and he gave me two thousand liras. He slept over and delivered the good news: He only left Conakry after being assured of the innocence of his father. I told him that I had already known that the verdict was out and that Tamer had written to Tamima. He asked for the letter and I told him: “Tamima will give you the letter.” I came back with him to Beirut.
“He just wouldn’t stop about the letter. Give it to me and come with me to see him.”
“The letter is lost. Tell him your sister tore it, tell him she burnt it!”
I go with Tamima to that hotel. “Palmbitch” or so. She just tells him that she burned the letter and she leaves after a few minutes.

No news of him while he was in Beirut after that day but two months later or a little less he comes back. He wants his money back. He knows I still have it.  He came in the morning in a taxi. The whole visit lasted but a few minutes and he went out money in hand full of anger, he pushed me and I fell down on the doorstep. He didn’t look back. From that fall, I only had a small scratch on the elbow. Oum Allouch was passing by and helped me wash it and tie it. I told her that Jaber took everything from me. Right, all the money. I told her about the thousand he sent while he was there and the other thousand upon his return. I told her everything. And she sat there consoling me as I spoke of Jaber and his tales. And about Tamer who is about to come back to be the head of the family again. I cannot handle Jaber by myrself. His father c…” (and the stroke hit)

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