Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 5)

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.


To my daughter Tamima,
I send you my kisses for entering the education department after your baccalaureate. I have read the news at the time in whatever journals we get from home and I have saved the clippings next to my chest bearing the name of the person dearest to me and the source of my biggest pride.
Further, it was only three days ago when I received your letters and those you have written on behalf of your mother, when I was released from prison that is. The authorities confiscated them among whatever else was getting to me and to the other people being investigated, against every written law, and only handed them back when the verdict was announced.
You shall say: This letter comes a little too late. But even if it preceded Jaber nothing would have changed, as you shall understand. Enough that it has arrived to rebuild a link between me and my own flesh and blood, with my hands outstretched to it until my dying day.
My daughter, I have things to tell you. Things that concern your mother in the first place, as her right of knowledge of them is superior to yours and anyone else’s – and how numerous they are! – but your mother doesn’t know how to read. And even if she did, I would still have approached her via yourself as an act of kindness. As for Jaber, his right has been foregone as he stabbed it with his own hands.
There’s no one left therefore but you. And here I am before you as I stood yesterday in front of the court. In the box of the accused or as a plaintiff I know not. In between those two stands lies the entirety of your father’s life in Africa.
I shall not recount it in all details. It is the subject of “diaries of an immigrant” which I have written since I have set foot in Guinea. And I shall leave it to you to publish among people, not for them to spill crocodile tears upon a poet who has immigrated to lands of his own imagination, but rather to put their hands on that black adventure, and measure its glories and tragedies, and the size of those who are at once its heroes and monsters.
On the 16th of October 1951 a thirty six year old man arrived to Conakry leaving behind in Mehdiyyeh a wife and two children – you were just a baby starting to speak – but he carried for them in him a love only matched by the hope of acquiring fortune and getting back to them. A dream he awoke from when the boat ejected him on the harbor in the face of Africa, roaming his day in the city like a strange animal, and sleeping at night in a livestock shelter with a few tens of his comrades, looking at their dreams being snatched by rats along with their bad food and their meager belongings. And he was about to come back repeatedly to where he came from had it not been for meeting one of the veteran Lebanese immigrants. He made him ride a crippled “Jeep” and got him to a nameless jungle, then put him on a farm at the edge of eternity and told him:
“You shall be manager on this banana plantation and twenty black people shall at your service.”
The previous managers had been defeated by the armies of Tse Tse in the farm and escaped with their bones, and within its outskirts their eldest had been buried due to a single bite from the hundreds of snakes that live in the area and multiply. As for the Sen Sen, the man in question had already taken precautions over it, as he only sleeps under nets so thick it could almost suffocate him. He also learned to race against the black people to hunt the snakes and learned to cook them as part of his meals.
Despite his precautions, fate was preparing for him something else: The biggest share, the number one African curse which has fallen upon the heads of thousands of immigrants before him and killed them. During the harvest season – which took a week from a burning summer – the man came back to his hut with his hands not able to reach for food or drink. He throws his wrecked body on the bed thinking he is going to rest after having finished his work and closed the season. He was sleeping like a log the previous nights so much he was tired, but he awoke that night to pains tearing him apart, so he reached for the gas lamp next to his bed to light it, and he gets up to the corner of the hut which he had put a burlap curtain on and made into a restroom, his knees failed him, he grabbed the curtain and falls down with it on the floor, and looked through the sad light of the lamp to see blood oozing from in between his thighs.
That curse – that same one – had fallen upon him, there is no doubt about that. The sun has struck him. And these are its proofs spilling across his legs, coloring his palms, and flowing through the mat underneath him. The man thinks at length and realizes that his only help could come from Mamadou the Sheikh of the nearby village. And that is high hut looming from underneath the stars behind the fence of the plantation. He had met the man the day after his arrival. He came on the head of a delegation with a chicken in his hand, the black man’s gift to the white and a symbol of loyalty. Will his forces help him cross the distance? – Two hundred meters at least – but there was no choice. And like a wounded animal, on all fours, he crawled with his tears mixing with his blood and the dirt he is biting. He couldn’t believe he crossed the distance and that he was now at the doorstep of the Sheikh, and with his last breath he used his head to knock the door not being able to use raise his hands. And he just lay there on the doorstep.
In the morning he found himself being carried on a stretcher by two black men, next to it was Mamadou with his grey beard and beside him a girl of seventeen or eighteen years of age. The sun was already shining, and the man looked around him and realized they were bringing him back to this home after having spent the night taking care of him in their own.
When they arrived, they laid him on the bed, and the black workers of the farm agglomerated to see to his needs. Mamadou orders them something, and they all back off, and the girl approaches, and the Sheikh takes her hand and gets her close to the man. “Fetna! Fetna!” he was saying, smiling with his eyes. With all others repeating after him.
Mamadou goes out, followed by the others.
Only Fetna stays, and goes to the door and closes it. And then comes back to the man, kneels on his bed, and wipes with her black palms his forehead.
Seventeen years later there kneels next to me a young woman of the same age, Aicha – Ishta as the black people call her – and she wipes with her black palms my forehead. She is Fetna’s daughter from your father, and your black sister.
I told you I shall be concise about my story from beginning to end – the end? I supposed everything, but never any of this.
I was preparing the way to go back home when I was surprised with the diamond trafficking charge. My own share of the scandal was that I had hosted a member of the trafficking ring, from our side of the South in Lebanon, who came to me with this alibi – I shall not name him – so I hosted him and his people, as innocent as they come, and the big feast that ended with the cursed morning in the way which you now know.
My fate would have been that of the convicted has God not sent me with his kindness from behind the bars, the same way he sent me from behind the fence of the plantation, someone who has saved me this time around as well. It was Mamadou – THE Mamadou – who carried his old age from Kinka, where the banana plantations are and where I have lived next to him in my early immigration days, and he came upon the capital knocking on the doors of dignitaries from his own skin begging them on my behalf, and asked for the clemency from every friend, and sucked up to every bureaucrat, until he got me the innocence.
But, wasn’t it better for me to have died in prison under the whips of the negroes and their curses than to go to the light of day and see what I have seen?
With those two hands I have given him everything I own: a total power of attorney over my commerce, my assets in the banks, and the debts people owe me – a hundred thousand Dollars or more all in all. The fruits of the labor of immigration and the food basket for the way home. Yet, it is not the money that is of interest, had it been the money I would have been a trafficker. But for Jaber to squander on gambling and whoring what he has squandered, for him to falsify the books, and for him to gather as much money as he has gathered and leave behind doom, while his father still on trial in front of the black people, all of this would have sufficed had he stopped there. But he was preparing something else for me, and he spit in on my face in writing, the night he ran away.
Aisha was less than five when her mother passed away due to African fever. And I moved from Kinka to the capital, with Mamadou helping me in my commerce and at putting her in one of the schools of Conakry. And when Jaber expressed his wish to meet his “African sister”, the elderly man insisted on accompanying him, describing it later as one of the happiest moments of his life.
Meeting to the beach, to the movies, and trips in the car followed. I shall spare you the details, but here is the end result: One day, the old man brings Aisha to see me, as she cried on his arm and buried her face in his chest, a sister devastated with the dearest that sisters can be devastated with, and an insulted creature that doesn’t know to her wound among the wounds a name and no remedy or consolation. My biggest fear would be for him to have done to you and to your mother what he did to his sister.
But is this the end I have promised you?
This end is not mine alone. I only thing own from it this broken body and sad soul which is lying on the bed after leaving jail. The rest is Jaber’s.
Yes. I have called the public notary and have signed three papers:
The first regards the selling of the building which I own in Conakry, and is composed from the store and the dwelling above it, valued at twenty thousand dollars which will get to your mother via the Hajj Fadlo.
The second is about the banana plantation in Kinka which I bought from its owner a while back and put a manager on it. And I shall leave to you. If God granted me the force to get up again I shall go back to die in Mehdiyyeh.
As for the third it about the last thing I still own: my name. And I have given from it to Aisha what belongs to me, for she is today at school among her friends, and in Kinka among the tribe of her grandfather, and tomorrow in the social order and in her martial house if she marries, Aisha Tamer. The best she can hope for, and the least of her rights on her father and yours.
Tamer Nassour”

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