Monday, November 30, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #23: Mariame (Part II)

11.30.09

She appears and disappears, only to reappear again. I see her leaning into a taxi, elbows on the window frame, in conversation with the driver. I see her on Bliss Street, sitting on that mauve suitcase, cigarette trembling between her knobby knuckles. A few days may pass, but she is omnipresent.

I see her.

Last night she called me with, she said, good news. Her husband, Richard, is here in Lebanon. She needs a place to stay until Tuesday, when he will come for her.

-Why doesn't he get you now? Why don't you stay at his hotel?
"The Maronites make trouble for me. They tell me he's not there. I use his secret name, he has two, I use both. They make so much troubles for me."
-Ahh. The Maronites.
"Can you help me?" This is her way of asking if she can stay in my apartment. It's not the first time she's asked. It's not the first time I'll say no.
-Uhh...sorry...I'm not at home. I won't be home for awhile.

This is technically the truth.

"For two days you will be gone."
-Uhh...yeah. Sorry. If he calls I'll leave a note or something.

What have I been thrown into? Why does this woman, Mariame, keep haunting me? Surely I am not the only person she can turn to. She *lives* here! She speaks Arabic! And French! And English! Surely, she can enlist others to support her?

Unless she's mad. It certainly seems like she has some delusions. That, or this is the world's *worst* Bad Plan to swindle an Amreekan tourist out of some money that anyone, anywhere has ever dreamed up. It really is a terrible plan.

Maybe I'm being tested? Lebanon? Beirut, are you testing me? The land where Jesus turned water into wine, are you trying to see how many times I'll deny an old woman seeking refuge?

Of all the possibilities above, the probability that she is ill and needs support from a professional seems most likely.

I turn off the main light in my apartment and retire to the bathroom. I shut the door, turn on the light and read on the floor. It's the only way I can have light without being detected.

I know she's coming.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #22: Mariame (Part I)

11.29.09
(The events below are true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. Nobody's innocent.)

I'm being haunted. It's the first time I'm mentioning it to you all because I did not think it would last this long.

I thought she would leave & not return.
But she comes back. Always she comes back.

It started, this haunting, a couple days after I moved in to the little apartment in the Hamra section of Beirut. I moved in on Wednesday, November 11. I'll leave the superstitious connection to you all.

There she was, standing in the vestibule, wearing a long off-white knitted sweater that hung well below her waist, and a black skirt that reached the floor. She looked like she had no limbs under such an armament of fabric. She was small, with big green eyes, and long, greying blonde hair.

She just stood, dead still, all alone in an aura of smoke.

Marhaba, I mumbled, still uncomfortable with greeting people in Arabic.

She tilted her head to the side and started speaking French, but soon switched to English when she realized that my French is worse than my Arabic. She wanted to know what I was doing in Beirut.

She told me that she hated Lebanon, the Lebanese. She told me that "I just want to return to my country," but that her husband had her passport and she had no idea where he was. She leaned in, searched the area with her big eyes for anyone who might overhear her.

"I'm from Tel Aviv."

Nice to meet you, I thought.

I listened to her story, nodding, smiling, expressing concern at all the right times. What started as a polite and simple greeting had become a 10 minute monologue.I excused myself, saying I had to go study. Her eyes flickered, and she asked where I study. Oh, boy, look what I've dragged myself into, I was thinking. I managed to get away with a brief explanation, and a feigned sense of hurry. In reality I was just going to a cafe to do some reading and writing.

When I got to Tmarbouta, the cafe/library a couple blocks away, I realized that I had forgotten my pen. Cursed witch! I figured I'd just do some reading for awhile, then head back home to get my pen, and maybe some lunch in a couple hours.
*
As I neared my place, I could see her, from across the vacant lot, sitting on a mauve suitcase in the sun outside the entrance.

Smoking.

"Ahh, you finish studying?"
-No, just forgot something.

There must have been 15 cigarette butts at her feet.

"Ahh, ehhmmm, my husband will return after two days. Can I let him call you??
-Uhh...why me? Why doesn't he call you?

Of course, she has no phone.

-OK, sure, no problem. I'll write down my number...my pen is in the room.

Like she didn't already know where my pen was, being a phantasm, and all. She followed me down the hall, and unlocked the door to the room right next door. Of course. I retrieved my pen and wrote my number on a scrap of paper, then stepped out into the hall.

Smoke. More smoke. She was in her room holding up a Xeroxed image of a man in a dark blue suit, blue shirt, red tie. He looked official. This picture, full color, was at the top left of the page, beside it a note in English that started:

"Dearest Mariame"

"Thees my husband. He write a letter for me."
-Oh, very nice. That's really sweet. He wrote this?

The handwriting was shaky, with flourishes at the end of some letters.

"Ehhhhhh, no...I copy zees letter from him. He work for interior ministry. For zee department of zee energy."
-Oh. I see.

I didn't see.

"He have my passaport. I can't see him. He is anywhere. Maybe Virginia. Maybe Dubai. I Don't know."
-Uhh...well, maybe he'll call.
"Wil you call heem, ehhhhhh, now. Wheez your phone?"
-Sure.
"He have a number. A secret number. He is very important man."
-Right. What was that number?
"Secret number."
-Right. What is it now?

I punched in the secret number she gave me, and got that familiar three-tone greeting that lets a caller know that a number is faulty. Fascinating! The disconnected number tone is universal! I have to say that I was not surprised to get this automaton on the other end, for the number Mariame gave me had only five digits. Five secret digits.

-Uhh...it didn't connect. Here, listen.
"But...I don't know. Zaht is his secret number!"
-Uhh...maybe email him? Give him my number. When he calls, I'll get you.
"Yes, but, he usually call after 12 in the night."
-Fine, no worries. When he calls, I'll get you, OK? I have to be going. See you later.
"I just want to go to my country!"

She was trying to be convincing. Trying to push tears out of her big green eyes. The display was hollow to me. I don't know. I feel like I am open to hearing people's stories, even when I know I'm being put on. I'll let them talk, talk, talk for as long as they need to. Tell me of their hardships. Tell me of their daughter in South Carolina, the need to drum up another $18 for a bus ticket to reunite with the little girl who means the world. I've faithfully listened to more of these stories than I can remember. I've given my share of rumpled one dollar bills to people who, after such elaborate stories, sell me the same one a week later.

Something about Mariame reminded me of these story weavers.

I can listen, but I can't be asked to give much more than that, right?

Right.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #21: "Beirut, I Love You"

11.28.09

I started reading this book today, after hearing about it from some fellow travelers here. It's just the tincture to heal the wound that is being so far away from the one's who've given me so much. Normally the holidays don't do much for me; they don't affect how I feel one way or another. But this late November night, when I know my family and friends are home sharing a meal and spending time with each other, the absence is tangible.

I'm here in Beirut.

NYC is over 5000 miles away. I am not friendless, but the warmest people here are not my friends. The christian shop owner, a hundred yards from my apartment, always treats me like a welcome guest.

"HABIBI!" He booms, in a voice that belies his diminutive frame, his frail walk with the aid of a cane. I asked him today what he felt of the government's recent statement, accepting Hezbollah's arms ("Hezbollah is Lebanon, and Lebanon is Hezbollah," one of the cabinet ministers said).

He said, with a wave of his leathery hand, "He can talk as much as he wants." And then the thunder of laughter.

It reminds me of the "political" conversations I used to try to have with my Amma and Umpa. Short, direct, they cut through it all and just make it plain:

"He can talk as much as he wants,"

Meaning, "I've had this shop, in West Beirut, for 37 years."
Meaning, "I'm a Lebanese fighter, too."
Meaning, "That'll be 2000 Lebanese Livres, please."

I left the shop, still by myself, but somehow buoyed by the exchange.

And suddenly, I found myself wrapping my arms around [Beirut] wanting to give everyone a big hug. I had made a connection to the city and did not feel alone anymore. It is amazing how it changes your perspective on everything.
*Beirut, I Love You. Page 36.


Indeed. Humdillallah.

-----
To Write in a Foreign City

I squeeze rose water
on the bleached pages
& wring blue ink
I tattoo my tongue
needle my lips
a language
i'm learning
leaks from this ball-pointed
pen
and bubbles on the end
like Arabic coffee
it stains my teeth
erodes enamel

in dim light
i squint
a cat licks tin cans
on the sidewalk.
-----

The web of wires
heavy with rainwater
drops a tendril to the alley
below
it sparks & slithers

This is not a metaphor

A young boy cuts the corner
late
to his lessons

This story ends here.
-----
On Writing (4 Val)

I can write
a book but it wouldn't stop
a war I could write
a poem but it wouldn't halt
a bullet or bring you any
closer

Friday, November 27, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #20: Important People

11.27.09

It is Eid Al-Adha today, a muslim holiday that fits nicely into the US 'Thanksgiving' tradition (in practice, not in historical context). It's a day where families come together, some slaughter a goat, eat, share in each other's company, and pray. I went for a walk this morning and the mosque near my place had to bring numerous mats out onto the sidewalk to accomodate all the people!

I spent the day alone, mostly, reading & thinking. Most of my thoughts ended with me feeling so thankful for the people i have in my life. People who have brought me so much joy; people who have taught me how to love. I couldn't be here without you all. And though I am here by myself, I am definitely not alone.

Now, apoem!

Choice*
by Abd al-Aziz al-Maqilih


Between grief on my knees & death on my feet
I choose death:
b/w a safe silence & a voice that's bloodied
I choose the voice:
b/w a slap & a bullet
I choose the bullet:
b/w the sword & the whip
I choose the sword:
This is my destiny & my glory
this is the longing of man.

Once God was love, a plentiful cloud,
daylight at night,
a song extended
over the hills of grief,
a heaven that washed with green rain
the furrows of the earth.
Where did the ship of God go? Where the song of man's rebellion?

Now God is ashes, silence,
a terror in the executioners' hands,
an earth swelling w/ oil,
a field where rosaries and turbans grow.

B/w God the song of revolution
& the god coming from Hollywood
on tapes, in stacks of dollar bills:
I choose God the song, I choose God the revolution.

Love was a springtime for all seasons,
a lovely girl whose supple feet
rested on the sea, whose palms
touche the sun.
Her braids spread over the green hills of poetry,
she had bread for her lovers,
the wine of luscious dreams wa on her lips.

Now love's tree has grown old,
love's eyes are dull,
the leaves of poetry have been torched,
all seasons are winter,
love has become banknotes & the hearts of men
have turned to ice.

Between love the deal & love the poetry:
I choose love, I choose poetry.

*Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih is a Yemeni poet. Considering the recent Saudi assault on Yemen, I thought it appropriate to share this poem.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #19: Thanksgiving

11.26.09

Cariahnna, one of my students from Harlem Village Academy, emailed me yesterday and asked if I was going to be lonely this Thankstaking...er...giving.

"I can't even imagine being away from my family on thanksgiving," she said.

She got me thinking, and I'm so very thankful for that!

To My Mother
by Mahmoud Darwish

I yearn for my mother's bread,
My mother's coffee,
My mother's touch,
And childhood grows inside me
Day upon breast of day
And I love my life because,
If I died,
I'd feel shame for my mother's tears.

Take me, if one day I return,
As a veil for your lashes
And cover my bones with grass
Baptised in the purity of your heel
And fasten my bonds
With a lock of hair,
With a thread that trails in the train of your dress.
Maybe I would become a god,
A god I'd become,
If I touched the depths of your heart.

Put me, if I return,
As fuel in your cooking stove,
As a clothes-line on your rooftop,
For I have lost resolve
Without your daily prayer.
I have grown decrepit: Give me back the stars of childhood
That I may join
The young birds
On the return route
To the nest of your waiting.
*

(To all of you, whom I love so dearly (too many to mention, I'll be home soon.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #18: Bourj Al-Barajneh

11.25.09

I stepped through the doors of the Fraternity Association for Social and Education Work (FASEW), the community center at Mukhayim Bourj Al-Barajneh that I'm going to volunteer for. "Keefkon! Keefkon! (How is everyone! How is everyone!)" I boomed. Winces, and sideways glances. It was 11:30. Naptime.

Whoops. I was just excited to see people who I recognized, & to be able to use one of my new greetings!

*Kanye shrug*

I climbed the stairs (where I'd be out of range of the little ones) to meet with Ghassan Hassoun, one of the coordinators of the center. He schooled me on the history of the center, its present and its future, in the context of refugee services in Lebanon.

"UNRWA (United Nations Relief & Works Agency) is the main organization for refugees," he explained. But they only provide the most basic of services.In fact, they were established after this camp. So, FASEW came about to provide some relief for the youth in the camp.

"We are not affiliated with any party or faction," he said. A fact that can complicate matters for them. As much of the aid to NGO working with Palestinians have had their funding frozen based on their political positions. (For example, if an organization supports President Mahmoud Abbas' criticism of the US for backtracking on the Israeli settlement issue, they may find that their funds have dried up). "But, most NGO work in Palestine, and not here in Lebanon," so FASEW climbs a steep hill in search of funds.

"We want to buy a bus. This way we can do two things: We can bring children to the center for preschool, because there are many mothers who don't want to walk through the camp. We can also take our young people to other camps. Last year we held some sports matches with other camps, but we had to rent the buses, and many families could not afford to pay."

After spending some time walking through the camp I can fully understand why a mother (for it is the mothers who care for the young here) would want to keep their young off of the streets. The camp wasn't exactly a planned community. There was no R. Buckminster Fuller considering the best use of this ONE square kilometer for 20,000 refugees. There was no infrastructure planned--no electricity, water, plumbing--for the first wave, in 1948, then the next wave in 1968, let alone the natural population growth. UNRWA does not provide these services, either.

Over the past 60 years, the residents have made piecemeal changes, as individuals rather than communally, to bring their own abode water and electricity. Since they can't spread out, they build up. Literally just plastering a cinderblock structure on top of the first or second floor of the family home. The electrical "grid" is more like a spider web of live wires overhead.

It's an apt metaphor for the political situation that Palestinian refugees are in, actually. Often times these wires are shaken loose, and it slithers and sparks on the ground, which is always wet because the water system is similarly rigged.


Less than a month ago a 12 year old boy was electrocuted to death by one of these wires. And he's just the most recent one, for it happens often.

Not to get too far off on a political rant, but this is one of the many unreported, uncounted costs of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. Innocent people, denied human rights, die because of criminal governmental policies.

So Ghassan is trying to find the money for a bus. He thinks he needs $40,000. But, that's not his top priority. "Right now we can't start our most important program," he continues. "The cornerstone of our organization is the High School Dropout Intervention Program," and it's on hold until they can drum up the money to pay the staff, who are also residents of the camp. $300 per month, incidentally. To provide educational services to teenagers who, understandably see no future in the camp, in Lebanon, in the world that is worth going to school for.

High school youth are an increasingly vulnerable population. I've mentioned before that Lebanon has a complex of laws designed to "Preserve the Lebanese aspects" of Lebanon. These laws all target Palestinians, barring them from any type of professional work. So, it's easy to see why a teenager would see little point in finishing high school (at the UNRWA school). These youth who drop out are targeted by fundamentalist groups, who give them classes in secret, presumably educating them on the finer points of martyrdom. It makes perfect sense, to me. If my future is in Paradise, why in hell would I continue to toil on the sewage soaked streets, as a Refugee?

These are the fruits of enforced poverty.

These are the consequences that the vulnerable bear when the powerful are not held to account.

Ghassan is trying to save these kids. Literally. He's trying to bring the people who he was born with into a new day, every day.

But even the success stories of the organization come with strings.

"Some of our graduates get college scholarship money from Bahrain...but they have to pay it back," he chuckles. Blessings & curses. How are they supposed to pay it back, if they are legally prevented from professional employment in Lebanon?

This is the other aspect of the Israeli Occupation that is insidious beyond words.

It's worse than brain drain, because this is meant to break a People. If a Palestinian refugees gains acceptance into a university, and performs at university, then what? In order to work in their field they must leave Lebanon. They may not be permitted to return, either. And why would a person wish to, anyway? Why, after a successful university career, return to 3rd class, non-citizen status?

All of this is the backdrop for my next four weeks here in Lebanon. I'll work with the gracious people at the center. I'll do what I can, day by day, to support the good work that they have engaged in. The task is monumental, and I am but one person. My finger is in the dam.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #17: Alec Collett


11.24.09
I leafed through the Daily Star today, eager to begin my new project of studying Lebanon's main english language newspaper's coverage of Palestinians. I am curious as to how, with the new government pledging a "spirit of unity," and "the abolition of sectarianism," Palestinians will be treated. For, the so-called new government here is made up largely of an old boy network of former militia leaders who have been united at one point or another, in their disdain for the 400,000-plus Palestinian Refugees still living here. In addition to that, they've all had their their guns trained on one another, and have presided over the literal slaughter of each other's men, women and children.

None of the Star's reporting on this new government ever mentions Palestinians, a fact that I find curious, and am not exactly sure what to make of it. They frequently explain how two former mortal enemies met for the first time since the war, but what of the invisible people? The Palestinians? I am just going to scan the paper to see how and when they do talk of these shadows, who comprise 10% of the people living in this little country.

I came across an article that stole my focus though. DNA tests confirm Bekaa body belongs to missing UK journalist Alec Collett . 25 years after he was abducted, his remains have been identified. It's a bitter reminder, to use a hopelessly bland cliche, of how this place was torn to shreds by many of the current governors. In Pity the Nation Robert Fisk describes how, during those days, they posted a list on the AP wall of journalists who were kidnapped. It started with one. Soon it was five feet long. His close friend, Terry Anderson, was held for seven years by Islamic Jihad, and later released in a swap of Shia hostages in Israel's notorious Khiam prison.

Then on 25 March, a British writer was kidnapped. Alec Collett was 64, a freelanc working with the United Nations, writing about Palestinian refugees....Collett possessed two passports, one for Lebanon, another marked with an entry stamp to Israel. He had been writing about the occupied Gaza Strip and had been to Israel. At the Amal [one of the Shia militias] checkpoint, he had shown the gunmen the wrong passport.
....Collett's death was announced next. A video film was released to Reuters in Beirut showing a corpse twisting on the gallows. It was dressed in Alec Collett's clothes.

Fisk also explains that this kidnapping, by the Abu Nidal's anti-Arafat faction which was indeed a terrorist operation with no political direction, was possibly responding to the Reagan Administration's bombing of Libya. Some families of hostages were trying to raise money to pay the captors, but "Libyan agents in Beirut raised more money" to buy hostages, assumedly to have them executed.

He would be 90 years old.

So many questions drive through my head as I think about him. About Beirut. About Gaza. Both places are radically changed since the early 80's, for sure. Beirut for the better (however temporarily) and Gaza for the extreme worse. I have no need to fear meeting Mr. Collett's fate, no need at all, to be sure. But I feel some sort of kinship to him. Some bond with this man, who when he went to do good work was just 10 years older than my mother is today. It takes a really dedicated, committed and open-hearted person to walk into Beirut in the middle of a barbaric war to write about the most vulnerable people in the country.

I can only hope that when I am 64 I have the same dedication, the same love and trust in my heart as Alec Collett.

May he, now finally, inshallah, rest peacefully.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/23/alec-collett-remains-found-lebanon

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #16: Bourj Al-Barajneh


I shoulder the oven
over broken streets
that seep saltwater
& sewage
past the souk
to the Youth Center
where we enter into
the Biblical task
of turning
some scant ingredients
into a meal
large enough to nourish
a turning
a point
in time when
Peoples
make
then break
bread together
then Dabkeh*
to a new song
for the first time
---
"Tayyib, Yallah!"
she thunders
& i punch
& pound my palms
deep into the bowl that
holds our future
meal
Lahma bin ajeen
Lamb-stuffed pastry
she'll roast in that makeshift oven
under an undying flame
then hand them out
still sizzling
each to each
guests first.

*Dabkeh is a traditional Palestinian dance form, where everyone holds hands or links arms in a circular formation, then perform they synchronized steps. The youth of today have transformed to fit modern music.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #15: Bourj Al-Barajneh


11.21.09

It's the day before Lebanese Independence Day, and I have just returned from Mukhayim Bourj Al-Barajneh ("Moo-hkay-yim"). There's definitely no small amount of bitterness to this irony: the Lebanese celebrate their independence from France,while Palestinians here are still living in hovel conditions.

Much has been written about Palestinian refugees. The ones who make their lives in the Bourj Al-Barajneh camp are from Acre, and the descendants of the original wave of flight in 1948. There are still a few of the originals who shuffle the streets. They fled Acre, at the demand of the invading European soldiers (who would become Israelis). They were told that if they stayed, they would be killed. They were told that they would be able to return. So, they packed up some of their belongings, whatever they could carry, and any important documents (like deeds to their property), locked their doors and sought out a safe place to take shelter until the war passed.

They were not fighting the invaders. They were fleeing a war. These original refugees were protecting their families and themselves.

It's the cruel irony of the entire discussion of Palestinian refugees. They did not want to fight! They did what most reasonable people would do when confronted with a live-or-die ultimatum.

They chose to live.

And now, these refugees and their (three generations of) descendants are subjected to what can only be described as truly barbaric treatment. If you've seen District 9, you have an idea of what I'm trying to describe.

It takes a callousness that I can't comprehend to treat human beings the way the Lebanese treat these Palestinian refugees. Penning them into cinder block hovels and, after all the young men have been rounded up and disappeared, massacring the rest of the women and children with knives the way the Christian Phalange did in 1982, with the Israeli army providing them cover.

"Softening up" Bourj Al-Barajneh from air and with tanks, then literally sealing the gates and starving people to death. These are things that are not within reason. They don't fit within my framework of understanding.

Aren't these the people who fled fighting? Don't you think that they are the best people to negotiate with? The ones who demonstrated a desire for peace and only peace?

That simple desire, through decades of torture and unspeakable horror, has become a fierce demand for freedom and the right to return.

I wonder how long,how much abuse I would endure before I would take me to take up arms with my brother, my cousins, my father?

Mistreatment breeds rebellion. History bears this out, and the Israelis, of all the people on this planet, understand that.

I don't mean to be making an apologia for Palestinians. I recognize that they, through their poor leadership, ineffectual organizing and now internecine fighting, that they share responsibility for their history. Certainly for their future. I am not trying to turn them into "Noble Savages," or anything of the like.

They have not acquitted themselves well here in Lebanon. They have made more mistakes than I have time to mention here.

But the mistake of the Refugee has different consequences than the "unintended consequence" of the superpower. The Refugee will feel the toll of both, actually. For, the superpower makes a mistake and bombs a school. The superpower moves on. The refugee makes a "mistake" and he is a murderous Other. A "plotter." The superpower sells an F-16 fighter jet to another superpower, and that jet drops a bomb on a furniture factory, killing numerous workers and destroying the livelihood of hundreds of others. The refugee defends his bantustan with a rifle from World War II, and he's a terrorist.

Though history in Lebanon is a chronology of mistakes, who am I to criticize?

I have never been stateless.
I have never pulled my daughter's hands from her mouth to prevent her from ingesting the sewage that seeps through the streets that she plays on.
I have never had to hold a meeting in secret, for fear of my life.
I have never had to fight for my faith against those who despise that faith.
I am not a refugee.

I will allow for complexities in the life of a refugee, in the context of any discussion around political failings.

Hell, in the US our political organizations can't even get legislation passed that the majority of the country wants! How can I legitimately criticize the failures of anyone else? Simply put, I don't have a leg to stand on!

So, call me an apologist if you will. Say that I ignore historical acts and historical facts.

Say what you will.

Today the people of Mukhayim Bourj Al-Barajneh taught me how to make Arabic coffee. They taught me how to prepare lahm bi ajeen. They taught me a Dabkeh.

One young woman in a pink lace hijab and white Dr. Martin boots laden with buckles and zippers shed tears when we left.

Labiba, my guide for the day, was patient with me and my broken Arabic.

Mohamed opened the home of his grandmother,and showed us the key to the home she fled.

This was not a political ploy. It was not a charade.

It was the genuine open-armed welcome that Palestinians , in particular Palestinian Refugees, have always offered to me.

If you don't believe me. If you're skeptical, good! "Fadl!" You're welcome to come see for yourself!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #14: Looking Forward



Days like today always leave me a little unhinged. Without any major objective, I spent my time preparing for tomorrow. My madrassa has organized a trip to Mukhayim Bourj al-Barajneh (Mukhayim means camp, Bourj al-Baranjeh is a place in southwest Beirut). It’s a Palestinian Refugee Camp, established in 1948 by the Swedish Red Cross. Now, services, to the extent that they exist, are administered by the United Nations Relief Works Association (UNRWA). Some facts:

1. Roughly 20,000 people inhabit this camp.
2. It has been attacked numerous times, by numerous different groups. Chief among these groups, Lebanese Shia militias.
3. In the 1980’s, during the Israeli onslaught that led to internal war in Lebanon, there was mass starvation in this camp.
4. The camp is one square kilometer.
5. Through a series of laws and decrees passed by the Lebanese Government over the years, Palestinian refugees are prohibited from, among many other things:
a. Owning property/land
b. Repairing property
c. Passing on property as inheritance for future generations
d. Employment in nearly every sector of Lebanese society.
e. The freedom of movement throughout Lebanon.



Lebanon’s treatment of these stateless, country-less Palestinians is criminal.
Lebanon’s treatment of these stateless, country-less Palestinians is complicated.

My madrassa, located right next to Phalange headquarters (I’ve written about the Phalange on other occasions), has organized this trip as a sort of cultural exchange. It feels very strange to say that I’m looking forward to it. But I am

Looking forward.

As we all should be.

Resources:
UNRWA http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/lebanon/barajneh.html
Beirut Indymedia http://beirut.indymedia.org/ar/2004/01/898.shtml

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #13: Beirut Graffiti

"I Don't Wanna Die"

"Red S"

"Fish"

"Big Up"

"Wings"


Most of these pieces can be found across the street from the Beirut Art Center, a pretty fantastic place. I walked there today (it's in East Beirut) to check out their exhibit called "America." The exhibit was fair. It showed different slices of the US through a bunch of different mediums, mostly by American artists.

My favorite was Kara Walker's haunting, disturbing shadow puppet film. It was a bout an enslaved woman whose master freed her. She became emamoured with her new power, & nasty things happened.

Beirut Graffiti


Black Horse, Yellow Wall

"Core"

"Ghas"

"Suovival of the Phatest" (sic)

"Graffiti" (No, really, that's what it says!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #12: Alphabet

November 18, 2009

I woke up with Walid Farhoud, my new Arabic Immersion instructor from iTunes, droning on in my earbuds:

“Wahad…One.”
“Tnain…Two.”
“Tlateh…Three.”

Learning by osmosis. They say that babies absorb language, even while in the womb. Well, I’m an Arabic infant, so here’s to it.

In addition to the spoken word, I’m learning to read and write. It’s challenging, for sure. Also, it’s an extremely artistic way of expressing oneself. As June Jordan always said, “language carries the consciousness of a People.” Such a beautifully written language must have an equally beautiful conscience upholding it.

I don’t mean to simplify people, or to reduce this place to an elementary understanding. I’m just saying that my country, the US, is sending young boys and girls (even forcing a single mother to foster her child!) to bomb, and shoot, and torture, and rape Peoples who speak this language. I mean, “we” know so little about the people, the diverse people who populate the middle east and central Asia. We can’t even read their writing! Perhaps learning the language would help to solve problems, or at least provide a frame of reference for mutual understanding. Perhaps.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.


Old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a smart poet. Notice that he says, “If we could read” the history, not simply, or passively “hear.” To be literate requires commitment. It requires dedication. Desire. Even love. If only our so-called leaders had this type of love in their hearts.

So, while bombs have fallen, and may well fall again here in Beirut, I let my pen bleed letters in this new tongue. I want these letters that I write to be absolutely perfect. I want them to look like I have taken my time to inscribe them with that original type of love that language has grown from. The love of connecting to other human beings.


A final word to all my students at Harlem Village Academy: Leadership, on the importance of penmanship. The way you write reflects so much. The way that you shape our shared language on a blank page carries with it a new meaning, for a new day. Let your words be flowers. Let them bloom on your pages. Let them reflect, in their shape, in the care that you put into them, your history—the history of your people. Let them be a key to your blooming future.

For, some day, someone may leaf through your writing, in search of a new understanding of your life and times.

Ahumdill Allah!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Walk to School

So, here it is...my walk to my Arabic Madrassa. It takes about 15 minutes. In that time, I see more than I could imagine in any other place. I'll let the images stand for themselves, for the most part.

Al-Hamra: The neighborhood of West Beirut in which I live. West Beirut was the home to the PLO during the 70's, until they were expelled in '82. East Beirut, during that time, was primarily a Christian area, sympathetic to Israel & the West. To get to my school, I walk from West Beirut, to the East.

Self Portrait

Broom Outside My Door


Fruit Stand


Fruit Stand

On the Way to School

Church


Man on Scaffold

Stairs


Jounblat Section. It's pretty easy to transliterate Arabic numbers. Try it!


Glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea

On the Way to School

Worker


Rue John F Kennedy


White Gate on Rue JFK


Building with Blue Shutters


Detail in White

On the Way to School





On the Way to School

As you see, there are some stunning homes on Rue JFK. The following pictures are taken literally across the street from this home.


Rue Omar Daouk



George Carlin once said something like, "I love to see a weed sprouting through a crack in the sidewalk. So fucking heroic." Also, Tupac wrote a book entitled "The Rose that Bloomed through Concrete." The same spirit is in this weed.




Holes in a Wall

On the Way to School

The Beautiful House


The Holiday Inn


Bullet Holes & Rust


Purple Flower



The Mediterranean Again