Our destiny is death and destruction she said. Just because we’re from this land, they call it Holy, I don’t see the holiness in all this helplessness, our destiny is death and destruction and warplanes above us she said, from the sandy Sinai to the blue immensity of Lattakieh, from the fertile plains of the Bekaa to the ever resistant Palestine, our destiny is death she said.
Our destiny is tears she said, all of us under that blackened sky, from below the exquisite mosaic of the Qom Mosques, to up above the white Mount Sannine, to the green valleys of Kurdistan to the hot sand storms of Iraq, our destiny is tears she said.
And she kept imploring a God she wasn’t so sure she believed in, imploring to know why it was our destiny to die our faces crushed in the cracked mud, imploring to know why our people were becursed, trying to find answers and logic in the dissolution of her world, trying to impart blame, Oh God, let me make divine bargains with you, protect me from evils and I shall put my faith in you.
Our destiny is death and destruction and the tears for our martyrs she said.
And so I picked up a stone left astray in the rubbles by a previous battle, and put it in front of her.
We choose our destiny, and our destiny is to fight I said.
Our destiny. Is. To. Fight.
This post is for all my beloved people from Aleppo, friends and family and husband and stangers I do not know whose hearts are slowly bleeding for their beloved city and country. We shall overcome. We will be back to rebuild Aleppo.
Fine, so she was smoking like a chimney. So who cared? You had to die from something didn’t you?
Granted, you were not forced to do so agonizing with your blackened lungs, but still. And in any case, smoking was the only thing that kept her balanced at the moment. You know, the usual addict excuse.
Jesus Fucking Christ, did these chairs need to be so rickety? Bread republic really was too shabby for its own good. Sacrificing comfort for some Old World Bourgois Boheme was not worth it. She tried to convey waves of aggression to the oblivious waitress, Melat, who always seemed to float several meters above the ground. Her slender figure seemed to gracefully slalom between tables, while her stare went beyond everyone’s head. Gabrielle sometimes thought that looking at her was like looking in a mirror: slim, sharp and eyes closed for no one to see what was behind.
Today, she quite simply hated everything. And everyone. But most importantly, herself.
Nina came, that dreadful Beirut Princess in tow, closely followed by a Lily who was looking quite disheveled. Quite a bit like someone who had just stumbled out of bed. With someone, that is, not from a deep slumber with Orpheus.
- Habibi, you look like shit.
Nina stated the unnecessary obvious.
- You should see how I feel inside. - No need. It’s all there on your face. - Thanks Nina my love, always a relief to see you. How’s the fucked up life of Little Yas?
- So i’m not stupid BP any longer? It’s so good to feel like I’m finally turning into a human being with you Gaby.
Lily was not joining the usual greeting banter.
- Lil! What’s up 3omri? Even looking and feeling like shit I indulge in our little uplifing dance. What’s wrong?
- You’re like the worst liar there ever was, said Nina rummaging into her huge bag for God Knows What. AND, my delirious brother has stopped answering my calls altogether, so I’m doing an intervention at his place after our brunch here. I’m not overly worried, mind you, he’s probably deep in his existential angst, asking himself whether Trotsky really was right.
- I slept with him!
- VERY Funny Gabrielle! Ziad! I slept with Ziad! Nina! Say something, don’t sit there looking as if you saw a ghost!
- Gabrielle. Give me a cigarette, no but and don’t object, give me a cigarette right fucking now I need it.
Gabrielle obeyed. She knew when not to upset Mother Nina.
- Lily. Nina’s voice was dangerously low. It was the Icy Queen Tone she used with her friends, family and clients when they were being particularly unreasonable. Lily. My brother means the world to me you know that. And you mean the universe. But my brother is a stupid immature dickhead who still needs to find out who he is and he’s bad for you.
- I love him.
- Great, we’ll bring the violins some other time if you don’t mind, I’m not finished yet.
- Oh Goodie.
- Nina, let her speak. You’ll have all the time in the world to lay down your judgment and tell her what she should do.
Nina looked at Gabrielle as if she had lost an ally. Seriously, where was the world coming to if people didn’t listen to the voice of reason, aka, herself?
- Fine, she conceded curtly.
Lily sighed. This was not going to be easy.
- So, after I had taken the high road and decided I would wait and see, the events carried me away, if I may say so. He kept calling me,playing me music, stupid things really. Said his life was meaningless if I wasn’t in it. He said a lot of things, mouhem, he said that I was the only one that mattered. But I wouldn’t listen, or I would, but wouldn’t answer. And so. So he showed up one evening. He looked at me Nina, he just had to look at me, and something melted, deep inside. Next thing I know we’re kissing and clinging on to each other as if we were drowning. He carries me, he carries me and I let him, one look and I’m gone and honestly I kind of lost track of time, and space and everything. Just his skin is enough.
- Ewww that’s my brother we’re talking about ewwww
- And it has been like that since then. He comes, we have, yes Nina cover up your chaste ears, we have mind blowing sex, we share a cigarette, he looks at me, he opens his mouth to speak and I shut him up, with a kiss or my finger on his mouth.
- But why? The Beiruti Princess seemed puzzled. Mesmerized, moved, and very, very puzzled.
- Because I don’t want to spoil it with words. I know words. I work with them. I know they can spoil everything, they have that power.
- Speaking of words, I read the new and improved version of your column, it’s brilliant.
- Yes yes, thank you Nina, but for now my brain is frozen, I can’t think of anything else than your brother.
- That’s because of all the sex, volunteered Gabrielle.
The waitress was waiting for them to order, poised with her pen in her hand. God knows for how long she’d been there. She probably did not know it herself. All 5 women in a circle, none of their minds within.
- I’ll have a ginger juice please, thank you
- An raqwe please, no cardamom no sugar no nothing. I want it black please
- A double espresso
- A latte with extra milk and sugar
- This is disguting Yasmine, this isn’t coffee.
- Thank you for your input Gabrielle. I’ll have a double latte with extra extra milk and sugar please.
- D’you know darling, perhaps we might very well be able to do something with you
Melat floated away, leaving the four girls deep into their shared silence.
- I’m in love with a man who doesn’t want to become one.
- I’ve never really been in love.
- Shut up Yasmine, you’re like 12, you have all the time in the world.
- Fuck off Gabrielle I was almost married.
- Good girl, you’re learning to fend for yourself.
- And why were you looking ashen when we came?
- Grace wants us to leave Lebanon.
Lily’s outcry was overpowered by something none of them had seen before.
Nina was crying. In itself a sight more distressing than the last visit of the Pope, which, let’s face it, was extremely disturbing.
- Nina, Nina stop this, stop this this minute, Jesus Fucking Christ, Lily do something, Yasmin, bring her water, Nina I’m not going anywhere, khalas, I’m just fighting with Grace at the moment We’re not leaving, khalas habibti dakheelik if you stop crying I’ll even be nice to Beiruti Princess over here, shou fi, lek shou fi, redde! Is it the shop?
Nina smiled between her tears.
No the shop is good, I wanted to tell you about this, but no, it’s silly, I just, I met someone.
The girls took a collective intake of breath. Nina’s private life was usually kept very private, as in, she worked all day all night and did not seem interested in anyone, even though lots of men, and women, seemed very interested indeed.
- And I think I’m pregnant. Except I’m so scared I’m in complete denial and don’t want to take neither the test, nor his calls and I’m petrified and this is why I’m not smoking this cigarette you gave me, that’s because I’m so scared, and I’m not sure I want it if I really am pregnant. My mother will die.
They all looked stunned.
- The Fuck?
- Jesus. Jesus.
Gabrielle couldn’t bring herself to finish off with Fucking Christ. A couple of meters away, sitting at a nearby table, Hamed from Mashrou3 Leila was writing down lyrics for a new song while humming Imm el Jacket. Beirut lived on, its noise filling the deathly silence of their table.
So much sun. So much freaking sun in this freaking city. No matter how hard you wished for it, the weather simply could not make itself match your Mood.
Jesus fucking Christ, as Gabrielle would say. Gabrielle was a lesbian. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She had just never been friends with one. Oh God. Sometimes she asked herself if she hadn’t made the biggest mistake of her life. Everything now seemed so unknown and blurry. Wouldn’t it have been better if she had gone through her wedding and complied with what was expected of her? Right now she would have been sipping a latte in her white and gold marble living room, in her upscale building overlooking Rawche.
Instead, she was following up on some order placed by Nina, in a cramped studio on a rickety chair.
Granted, she WAS sipping a latte.
I mean, you could take a girl out of her bourgeois comfort zone, but you could NOT take her out of her fondness for sweet coffee.
Shedding one life really was like shedding a skin: it left you raw and vulnerable.
Only for a short while, had said Nina. After that you become stronger.
She often wondered about Nina. How can one person be so fucking serene all the fucking time? Didn’t the woman get depressed over her single status? Didn’t she fear winding up alone, old and left out? She had asked her that very question during one difficult night, after her mother had barged into the workshop, barking imprecations of doom, death and destruction, in which the words “shame”, “inheritance” (or lack thereof) and “dishonor” came back quite regularly.
The past few weeks seemed to have been filled with these words, transmitted by aunts and cousins and of course her mother, until they had become like a regular tune, a distant stream of hurt, a cruel song she kept hearing at the back of her mind, without her even realizing it.
After a while, the words had stopped hurting her and she was only left with an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. She had let everyone down. Her family, who had paid so much money on this wedding and who had done nothing except wanting her own good. Her ex-fiancé, who, despite being atrociously boring, arrogant and petty still did not deserved to be left in this way, and her friends, who could no understand why she had deserted their shared lifestyle. The worst part of it all was that her father had not called her.
It was bad, all round.
A thought kept nevertheless rearing its rebellious head. It was a thought that kept her awake at night, that kept her from running back to the life she had just left: my life is mine.
The fact that her parents loved her in their own way and had spent money on her did not give them the right to decide everything for her. They could no longer buy her. Her fiancé did not really love her, not like she wanted to be loved: he saw her as a prized possession, a woman with class and relations and money, a wife that would have made him look good. He would soon find another fiancé to play trophy wife with: she was well placed to know they abounded, she wasn’t the sole specimen of her breed. The fact that she sincerely regretted hurting people did not make her change her mind: to the core, she felt she had made the right decision.
It was just that she wasn’t used to 1) stand up for herself 2) have everyone being crossed with her and 3) not needing everyone’s approval every time she did something.
Her sheltered upbringing had shielded her from the evil in this world, but had failed to build up her strength. She was now taking an advanced, express class in Having Her Own Mind 101.
Failing the exam terrified her.
She looked around her: particles of dust were dancing in the rays of sun peering through the blinds. Muted noises came from the outside, signs that life, against its better judgment, still went on. She was as unimportant as dust: one day, this too shall pass. The Beiruti Princess felt crushed, drained, as if the hurtful words and judgment had washed her of her previously brilliant colors. She had found a small studio for an affordable rent, and reminded herself she was Nina’s PR/Communications/assistant now.
I am Nina Haddad’s aide now. She asks for my opinion. She respects it. I earn my own money.
I’m standing on my own, two, shaky, too thin, feet.
That felt odd, but nice odd, like when she let herself out of her flat every morning, that shiver, that thrill of independence she got every time the turned the key in her lock. Or when she had told the party planner to straighten her manners when she was talking to Nina’s petites mains. Had she been like that before? Belittling women that had she deemed uneducated, backwards, out of it. When she had met them, she had felt wronged, like these women did not fit the image she had forged of them. They were so much stronger than she could ever be. Some more friendlier than others, they all had good and bad days, they were all desperately human.
Independence was bitter sweet. She sighed.
Her phone rang, caller ID withheld. Absent-mindedly she picked it up.
The voice at the other end made her eyes fill with spontaneous tears.
Votre billet dans L’Orient- Le Jour m’ayant caressée dans le mauvais sens du poil, je vous prie donc de bien vouloir m’excuser de ma réponse, qui ne vous plaira sans doute pas.
Votre ton condescendant à l’égard de la décision prise par le groupe Mashrou3 Leila d’annuler sa première partie au concert des Red Hot Chili Peppers masque à mon sens une absence totale de compréhension de ce qu’est la campagne BDS. C’est dommage d’avoir recours à des stratagèmes agressifs alors qu’ouvrir une page web me semble à la portée de votre infinie sagesse. Mais enfin, passons. A toutes fins utiles, merci de consulter la page de la campagne, sait-on jamais, vous pourriez éventuellement apprendre des choses : www.bdsmovement.net.
Avant toute chose, je vous prie de garder vos insultes sectaires pour vous : j’étais parmi les personnes demandant à Mashrou3 Leila de s’abstenir d’ouvrir pour les RHCP. Non Monsieur Makhoul je ne fais pas partie du PSNS, non Monsieur Makhoul je ne fais pas partie du Hezbollah (et soi dit en passant, ces groupes politiques sectaires ne détiennent pas le monopole de la solidarité avec le peuple Palestinien) et j’ai le sens commun de ne pas me définir en tant qu’intellectuelle, et quand bien même je le ferais, je vous prie encore une fois de vous abstenir d’y ajouter ‘de pacotille’. J’ai tout de même un Master en droit humanitaire, ca m’embêterait que mon pauvre papa ait payé ces études pour qu’ensuite l’on vienne me gratifier de ce genre d’épithètes peu affectueuses vous en conviendrez. Laissez-moi ajouter que l’extrême majorité des personnes demandant à Mashrou3 Leila de s’abstenir de jouer ne font partie d’aucune des catégories que vous avez créées : il serait donc de bon ton de votre part, et bien, pourquoi pas, de les garder pour vous.
Les choses étant ainsi posées, je me permets de rentrer dans le vif du sujet : vous admettez vous-même que seuls les Palestiniens qui ‘pourront se le permettre’ seront fous de joie à l’idée de voir les RHCP en concert. Il n’est pas clair si vous entendez par là financièrement ou autre, mais permettez-moi d’attirer votre attention sur ce point, car il est crucial à la décision de Mashrou3 Leila. Le fait est que de nombreux Palestiniens, indépendamment de l’ampleur de leurs moyens financiers, ne pourront tout simplement pas écouter les Red Hot, car l’Etat Israélien réduit leur liberté de mouvement au-delà de tout entendement. Selon les permis qu’ils possèdent et que le gouvernement Israélien prend un malin plaisir à changer à tour de bras sans aucune autre forme de procès, les Palestiniens ne peuvent pas circuler entre la Cisjordanie, les Territoires de 1948 et Gaza. Cette absence de liberté de mouvement est couplée d’une violation quotidienne des droits humains du peuple palestinien : arrestations et détentions arbitraires, harcèlements au point de passage et par les colons, torture et traitements inhumains et dégradants, appropriation de terres par les colons et j’en passe. Voilà donc les politiques de l’Etat Hébreu à l’encontre des Palestiniens : des politiques d’apartheid, ni plus ni moins.
Le boycott est une action pacifique visant à affaiblir le régime d’apartheid Israélien et les mécanismes qui lui permettent d’améliorer son image au niveau international. Cette stratégie a été utilisée en Afrique du Sud avec beaucoup de succès, et est donc utilisée pour la Palestine. Israël a identifié le BDS comme étant la deuxième plus grande menace à sa sécurité après l’Iran, signe du succès de la campagne s’il en est.
Les RHCP ont refusé l’appel au boycott : ils n’ont donc aucun problème à fermer les yeux sur ce qui se passe en Israël et dans les Territoires occupés (et au Liban, juste pour un petit rappel, Israel n’a jamais vraiment montré énormément de respect pour nous il me semble). Mashrou3 Leila a décidé qu’ils ne pouvaient en faire autant : que danser et chanter pour un groupe qui se moque des droits humains de tous les peuples va à l’encontre de ce en quoi il croit. Ils ont donc annulé, pas parce qu’ils sont à la botte de Hassan Nasrallah, mais parce qu’une position de principe équivaut à toutes les ouvertures de tous les groupes du monde.
Et laissez-moi vous dire une chose : Mashrou3 Leila ne s’est pas suicidé. Nous ne les aimons que plus, ils nous donnent l’impression et l’espoir qu’un Liban solidaire et conscient est possible, chose que l’élite politique actuelle et ses sbires et supporters nous ont enlevé il y a bien, bien longtemps.
You rocked me to the sounds of your ballads.
You made my heart beat a little faster when your words seemed to speak and whisper to me only.
You danced with me, you got me drunk with joy and happiness while I was twirling to the sound of your voice and violin.
You asked me not to forget you: my heart skipped a beat. I smelt the Jasmin and heard the abuse 3al 7ajiz. Like so many Palestinians.
You were the musical arm of our voices, or at least I wanted you to be. We don’t always get what we want, no point in being a brat now.
You inspired me, you dared to utter words that proved your courage, the courage to challenge an obsolete establishment. You did so with humor and laughter and melancholy in your voice. It reflected my state of mind, I was grateful a public figure dared taking this step, I was grateful talent and opinions mixed.
Soon, You are scheduled to open for a well known band. I can understand your excitement and sense of achievement. It really is a seal of your success.
But habibi, this band will be going to entertain apartheid. It will make oppressors dance and jump, it will be oblivious of the People who could not get there to see them, because they’re Palestinians, and because Palestinians need papers and permits and procedures to circulate freely in their own country. In their own land. It will turn a blind eye on the daily human rights abuse and violations Palestinians have to endure. It will turn a blind eye on the occupation, in Lebanon and in Palestine, and on the sufferings of people who have to endure its consequences.
In your hands, you have tremendous power: the power to say no. No, we will not open for a band that prefers avoiding the truth. No, we refuse to be part of the normalization of atrocity.
In your hands you have the power to say yes. Yes, we will play and open to the Red Hot Chili Peppers if we manage to convince them to cancel their show in Israel. Yes, we have the power to enforce what we stand for, to remain politically aware of our actions.
Habibi, do you realize the amount of power you hold in your beautiful hands? Use it. Use it wisely.
We are currently at Nasawiya working on a book on the women who inspire us, interviewing “regular” women whose stories reveal their strength, trying to showcase alternative forms of leadership.
This got me thinking about what strength is, to how the mere concept of strength is riddled with misconceptions and stereotypes. Is keeping quiet and holding in every feeling or negative emotion a form of strength? Is enduring abuse and misery for all eternity a form of strength or is having the courage to recognize and leave certain situations that define us as strong? What is feminist leadership? I don’t buy into this whole “women’s leadership style is softer than men’s bla bla bla” because it simply replicates and reorganises gender stereotypes and prejudices, so what are we talking about when we’re trying to illustrate feminist and women’s leadership? Rest assured, we’re not talking about women in power suits, buying into patriarchal beliefs and attitudes, denying their fellow females employees the right to maternity leave because they want to play “the big boys game”. We’re talking about the unsung heroes of our every day lives who manage to realise what they want for and by themselves. We’re talking about women who may not have the economic power, the connections or the privileges to help them realise and fulfil themselves and move mountains, yet women who do it anyway. We’re also talking about women who might have had all that, yet chose a path that was truly theirs, questioning the very essence of their privileges along the way.
These debates prompted several images to me. Sometimes your brain is a kaledeiscope you can’t control. I remembered that older Egyptian woman yelling at a startled policeman with all her might during the 25th of January revolution. I remembered the Palestinian mothers crying while Israeli soldiers were arresting her son for no reason at all except that he was Palestinian. I remembered that woman joking after her radiotherapy sessions, and so what if they had just removed that tumour from her breast. At least it was not there anymore. And for some reason, I had the image of Frida Kahlo pop up in my mind.
I am not an art critic, but some paintings have always resonated in me: amongst them, Frida Kahlo’s paintings strike a chord in me that triggers an irrepressible sentiment of feeling so impossibly alive, in all the tragic vivid sorrowful joy of the term. And yes I have written vivid sorrowful joy. Her brush strokes manage to conjure up love, pain, change, transformation, death and revolution. Her paintings are life itself, and they invite the onlooker to a feast of colours and questions.
Frida Kahlo has become somewhat of a feminist icon, and how could she not? We’re talking here about a woman who was born in 1907 yet changed her birth day to 1910 to make it coincide with the start of the Mexican revolution. A woman who chose not to comply by social gendered norms by sporting a uni-brow and not shaving under her arms. A woman who by the age of 6 had polio, making sure she would limp her whole life. A woman who at the age of 18 was in a terrible bus accident that left her almost dead, her whole body badly bruised and broken, unable to have children. A woman who questioned every label that people gave her, trying to make her paintings fit into a certain category. A woman who married and divorced and married again the same man, Diego Rivera, to which she used to tell “I had two big accidents in my life Diego, the trolley and you… You are by far the worse”. A Communist woman who happened to stumble into a passionate love affair with Leo Trotsky. A woman who was deeply in love with her husband yet had affairs with women. A woman who you so obviously can’t classify, she sends us all back to the own labels we accept without any form of protest.
Maybe this is what feminist leadership is: protesting labels affixed to us on a daily basis. You over there, you’re such a girl! And you over there, that was such an Arab thing to say! Most of the time, we smile tensely while punching in our mind the little comic ingratiating us with these remarks. Perhaps it is time we pull a Frida.
Kahlo’s most interesting feature (at least to me and since this is my blog I’ll happily go along) is her relationship to her body, a relationship she translated so outrageously in her paintings. I say outrageous because it’s the appropriate word. Frida’s paintings could not suffer the word “beautiful”. Seriously, beautiful is a word you use to describe the painting of a lotus flower on a pond of ylang-ylang essence. Put a Kahlo in your living room and be assured no one will exclaim “How beautifully quaint!” but rather “where should I put my eyes her boobs are looking at me”. But I digress. That body of hers was her own private little torture room (sounds familiar?): she had polio, she had that accident that broke her spine and about all her bones, she got pregnant, she miscarried every time. She stated herself that she felt terribly alone each time she had to go back to a hospital, alone in that body that was betraying her so blatantly. Yet she never gave up on it: she drew it metaphorically, her spine becoming a crumbling column riddling her body with pain so intense it felt like nails in her flesh. When she had to wear a cast she drew on it the sickle and hammer of the Communist party and a foetus. What she could not create, a flesh and blood baby, she created nonetheless.
Do you get that? She replaced seemingly impossibility to create by creation. Perhaps we should remember than when we destroy out bodies, wishing for them to be the copy of airbrushed things that don’t exist. And perhaps we should remember the Fridas we know, and ponder a bit more on feminist leadership.
The noise was getting stronger as she drew nearer to the entrance. From afar, It seemed like there was a fair amount of bumping and thumping and rattling being made, which slightly alarmed her. She quickened her pace. As usual, there was no electricity so she had to run up the three flights of stairs that separated her from the mayhem.
She found Grace in the kitchen, flour up her lovely aquiline nose, crying into her signature orange blossom water and pistachio baclava while a cake was being baked, filling the kitchen with a delicious chocolate smell, screaming insults at the TV.
Gabrielle knew something was extremely wrong. Grace almost never screamed, let alone cry, especially when she was cooking, which was basically the time where she felt the happiest. Gabrielle sighed. As much as she loved Grace, today was not the day for more drama. She had spent the previous evening helping nurse the Beiruti Princess’s heart and shattered life, and had spent the whole day working with Ali and Ghassan on her upcoming exhibition. The quiet peaceful evening with her beloved, followed by some work on Lili’s book project seem to disintegrate before her eyes.
- Wou kess ekhtkon, you stupid fuckers, you bajam!
- Grace? Habibti? Care to tell me why All hell has broken lose in our home?
- Didn’t you hear? There have been more arrests of men “suspected of sodomy”! Look! Look!
Grace was motioning rather manically to the shining box before them, where an over made up ageless and emotion less woman was delivering the news.
Gabrielle blanched. As if the 36 men arrested in that Burj Hammoud cinema were not enough. As if Joe Maalouf’s hypocritical moral so called high ground was not enough. As if virginity tests and anal tests were not enough. As if torture and harassment had become so random and normalized a plastic bitch could afford to announce them on the eight o’clock news without as much as batting an eyelash.
Grace was blowing her nose noisily. Gabrielle felt she was swimming in lead, in deep, dark, heavy waters that threaten to swallow her whole. She couldn’t breathe. Anger, frustration, humiliation and pure, unadulterated, white hot hatred for an establishment that allowed for this to happen were bubbling in her heart and mind, threatening to make her implode. She suddenly remembered the words of a Syrian gay friend of hers: I love my country, but my country doesn’t love me.
This is how she felt, except that the love she once held for said country was dangerously being jeopardized by stories like this, by the guilty silence of everyone when it came to respect each others’ rights, by the over indulgence warlords turned ‘respectable’ political figures benefited from.
The disgust was too much.
Grace was on a mission: contrary to Gabrielle, she knew what to make of her emotions so they were never on the brink of swallowing her and hurting her.
- Can you believe it? Thugs roaming the country, each family getting their weapons and applying their own brand of the law! Kidnappings! Blackmailing! Catastrophic economic situation! Nobody has any rights, workers need to shut up otherwise they unleash more thugs on them while the general security turns a fucking blind eye! No electricity, no public service, no order no nothing, yet they spend hours and resources chasing up gay men, violating more people! Khalas! Khalas Gabrielle, I can’t take it any more!
Gabrielle was rendered speechless by the shrill screams of her lover. She knew what Grace meant. In Lebanon, as things were and seemed to be shaping up, they could never have the lives they’d want: they would have to carry on with the lies they were feeding everyone. Grace and Gabrielle could never share with the people they loved the most, their parents and families, that they were in love, that they made each other happier than they could have ever hoped to be.
They would have to pretend they were each others’ roommates, to protect everyone except themselves, to respect the tacit contract of not rocking everyone’s boat. They would have to respect the ever sacred Code of Appearances. Sometimes they used to think that it was the same for everyone: after all their straight friends had to pretend they were virgins and lied too when they pretended they were “sleeping over at a friends’ house”. However, the recent events had illustrated the fundamental differences: their straight friends could get married, they could have children, theirs was a union society celebrated, while Gabrielle and Grace would never be able to do so, even if they had wished to.
The fact that they did not particularly wanted to get married and were unsure about having children was irrelevant: they too, deserved to have that choice, just like everybody else.
-So what do you propose we do?
Gabrielle did not recognize her own voice. Were these deep, choked up vowels really hers? It seemed like she had gotten too comfortable lately: her parents had been traveling so she could spend as much time as she wanted with whomever she pleased without that nagging feeling of guilt she felt sometimes when they were there, as if she should always spend more time with them. Her job and projects were going well, and she had convinced herself that even though archaic laws were still in place in Lebanon, they were seldom being applied. The recent events had proved her wrong: she still lived in an intolerant, homophobic, classist society.
Grace looked at her.
Gabrielle did not know if that were possible, but suddenly it seemed her insides had turned into a crumbling building in the midst of an earthquake. How impossibly cruel, that one should disintegrate after hearing two words.
“Today I found myself walking down Hamra Street, humming Abdul-Halim Hafez’s ‘Ana Leik Ala Tool’ to myself, and I could swear I heard you singing the harmony into my ear. It made me giggle a little burn into my chest. I worry you might get caught in a protest, imprisoned, kidnapped, missing, gone. But I know you need to do what you need to do; I wouldn’t ask you not to, but please be safe. Someday, I promise, worry will be a sentiment completely alien to us.”
These words spoke to me, they spoke to the little demon worrier that seems to have taken residence up in my head. The letter spoke of fears of loss, it spoke of courage and of strength. It spoke of accepting the evidence of the need to fight, despite the dangers and the intimidation, despite the worry and the dread. You know this is what I struggle with the most, you know I couldn’t bear to lose you to the claws of an absurd regime. You know me, inside and out.
Leila’s story is fictional but for us it is all too real, or maybe she’s just a projection of a million fears experienced by a million hearts, making her more real than we could ever be.
You and I my friend are the children of the demise and disappointment of all our comrades before us, and the parents of an angry movement of hope : we tried and are still trying to revive the spark of contestation and revolution , and we’ve managed to a certain extent, or so I would like to believe. We’re marching for our present, yes, for our future, certainly, but we are also marching for our fallen friends, the ones who got killed and crushed and harassed and silenced. The ones who are still alive, They’re older now, they’re bitter, too, they don’t seem like they still can find the strength in them to carry on, yet you can find them next to us, their eyes barely daring to believe again, carrying in their hearts the memory of all they have lost, just like we carry in ours the smiles of those of whom we’re separated from by the inexorability of death or by the atrocity of prison walls and tortures.
My love, it seems like we have lost the innocence of youth and with it the ability to enjoy things in their superficiality. We can not be fooled anymore, and perhaps some days this realization is too painful for us to bear. My love, we are too dangerous for them to avoid us, they will hunt us down, we shall be prepared.
I keep hearing people comfortably sitting on plush chairs pompously labeling what we do: the Iranian “Green Movement” or the “Twitter Revolution”, as if Evin had never existed, as if the Iranians had never risen before the invention of social media. “The Arab Spring” now being replaced by the “Arab Autumn” or even “Winter”, as if revolutions could ever be expressed in terms of fucking seasons, as if we were sleeping and awoke like some sort of natural process, what are we, fruits or something? Pardon my language my sweet friend, but condescension irks me and I’ve never been one to shut up.
It has been a long time since we’ve started my beloved, and we are tired, yet the road up ahead seems even more tortuous and long, paved with too many traps for us to comprehend. Some of us decide to retreat, others become suicidal, we lose a few along the way, the sufferings are too much for anyone to bear.
Yet there we still are, despite the tears and the frustration and the tension and the deaths and the threats. Yet we continue, doing what we can, each at its own level, because we owe it to ourselves, to those who died, to those who fight, to those who lost, to those who are too deprived of privilege to attract wide attention to their cases.
This isn’t a Winter, this isn’t a season, this isn’t a moment that shall pass. This is a Revolution, a process, and it shall take its own sweet time.
I am currently baffled by some online phenonmenon, for lack of a better word.
No, I’m not talking about Saad Hariri’s Twitter account, although that’s pretty funny in itself.
I’m talking about women undergoing plastic surgery, plonking themselves in front of their webcam and talking.
And that’s it.
These women seem to have observed the trajectory of Haifa Wehbe and the likes: be beautiful, and if you need a corrupt doctor to be so, then by all means buy that pair of boobs, pout in front of a camera, shake that tiny booty in a gold mini dress and what do you know, you’ve gotten yourself a “career’, with many rich men spending fortunes on you and all eyes on you, you, you.
I mean, they have nothing to say or show, that absolute necessity to create something and maybe share it with the world that possesses all artists is completely absent.
They’re in it for the money and the fame. Every thing they do is directed towards these two goals: be rich and famous. Lara Kay, one of the latest sensation of that category, states it herself in many instances: “Yes I have done plastic surgery but it works so what?”Here, please understand the “it works” to attract attention and most preferably rich men.
The times we live in are terribly frustrating for our egos: economic hardships ensure we need to work unrewarding jobs to make ends meet, with only tiny pools of leisure . Besides, there’s a need of recognition and validation of our own selves: lost in the anonymity of the masses, the individual finds itself insignificant, a tiny ant labouring day in day out. Hence the pursuit of fame that is perceived to be the ultimate goal in life, bringing in its stride happiness and money. The trend of reality TV has made it all the easier for everyone to think their problems will go away with a flick of a remote control, and frankly, with the intellectual/artistic/creative level shown on most programmes, it is no wonder absolutely anyone think they can make it. When I see the sums Kim Kardashian is paid to insult her sister on TV, I wonder if I shouldn’t make a sex tape myself (Bazinga).
Social media has enabled many people to “be discovered”, regardless of their talent. Virtually everyone can have their 15 minutes of fame, and people tend to forget that every work of art, every initiative that might lead to fame is, well, work, and takes effort and dedication, and that fame is not in any way the purpose of that work.
Capitalism has long merchandised everything: art, women’s bodies, people’s lives. The wanna-be famous such as Lara Kay and Myriam Klink are nothing but by products of a system that sees everything as marketable goods . I’m not siding with bloggers and people who have been bashing them with epithets such as “whore” “charmouta” and other insulting comments targeted as their expressions of sexuality. However, I do have an issue with that expression being the incarnation of what men want, and designed to attract said men, impersonating gender stereotypes to the extreme in the sense that they’re reducing themselves to a body and looks, making their appearance their major feature, as if it were the most important thing. Even Kay’s video clip looks like sexist soft porn, the way it’s done exploiting her body and reducing it to certain parts: close ups on her vagina and buttocks, languid expressions and pouts with bee stung lips. There doesn’t seem to be any fun in their appearances, they’re not enjoying themselves, they’re merely going through the motions of exciting thé viewer, of being what they think they should be to get noticed.
Watching and listening to “songs” such as 3antar and 2ataltouleh el a7lem actually made me a little sad more than anything else. Sad because despite many decades of women’s movement, it seems to have achieved littled in terms of erasing the stereotype of beauty being the most important thing for a woman and her only way to get ahead. And sad because sexuality is supposed to be creative, and fun and sensuous and an adventure. Not a means to get showered with gifts and two cameras on one’s self.
- I left.
- I can see that. Good timing, Yasmine. Really, you couldn’t have done better. What did you do, jumped off the white Merc?
- Oh shut up, would you, and let me in.
For once, Nina was not offended by Yasmine’s peremptory tone. The little resident devil in her mind was doing a little victory dance, while the resident angel already felt guilty at the thought of having instilled doubt in her young client’s mind.
Yasmine past through the door, the ruffles of her dress enveloping her in a sea of caring, soft silk and lace. It seemed to Nina that the once dry, tense woman had a new suppleness about her that seemed to increase at every step she took, as if the shackles that had been binding her up until now were slowly unknotting themselves.
When she barged in, Nina had been sketching a new collection of dresses. They partly were inspired by the Palestinian embroidery and were all the shapes of caftans. She had added special details to the shape of the sleeves for the winter dresses, something akin to lady dresses in the European Middle Ages. The long sleeves matched the caftan shape: each detail completed one another perfectly, making the dresses well balanced, nicely fitting and very original, as they were going against the trend of strapless bodices everyone seemed to be producing right now. The summer dresses were all light as feathers, heavily inspired by Ancient Greece and Egypt, all draped gauze, their sexiness the result of their sheerness, revealing by hiding. Nina, as always when she was creating, had been utterly happy, immersed in her own world. She was supposed to draft business plans and loan applications, but somehow the figures had turned into shapes and drawings and three cups of tea later, she was already imagining how the models would look in her dusty-golden colored dresses.
Then Yasmine had knocked on her door and brought with her mayhem, as seemed to be her habit.
She was currently perched above Nina’s drawings, as if appraising them. Nina let her peer through her swollen, red eyes, thinking seeing some art and calming down her thoughts might help her. She busied herself making strong black coffee, and sat on the couch between the two fitting rooms she had. She spread toffees and macaroons before her, and patiently waited.
Yasmine seemed to have gone mute.
- Feel like explaining why you’re here looking at my drawings, casually dressed in your wedding gown on what should have been your wedding day, instead of actually being at your wedding day?
- I told you, I left.
- Sweetheart, I’m going to need a tiny little more than that.
- Well, at first I had completely dismissed your advice and all your blabbing about not needing to get married and all.
- Why thank you, I love it when people drop by to insult my judgement.
- But then, Yasmine ploughed on, then, now and again I’d get an icy cold feeling of impeding doom. An anxiety I could not really define, a blurry, shadowy feeling that something was not quite right, a feeling that would jerk me awake at night, my heart racing and my temples pounding. I felt than my stomach was going through a washer and drier, I don’t know… So I kept smoking and not eating and my mother started noticing something was wrong. Not that she’s a good listener, my mother, but you know, between two important lunches she started noticing her daughter was wasting to nothing. So I took a leap of faith and tried explaining to her that I did not love my fiancé and was having second thoughts about the wedding. She looked at me as if I had hit her with a spade. She started off with a kind of contained rage, she said that often love harmed a marriage more than anything else and that I’d grow into loving my husband. She mentioned children and affection and all these concepts that meant I was signing up for a loveless life, being bored until I died. I must have looked what I thought, because Then she went ape-shit.
- Kinda crazy.
- Thank You.
- She screamed, saying I simply could not humiliate her and my family this way by calling off the wedding at this stage, that I was being selfish and spoiled and a brat, after all the money she and my father had spent on me and on that wedding. I told her the money she had spent was more to make her look good in front of her friends than to really make me happy and that sometimes I looked at her and saw myself in a couple of years and that made me want to scream and kill myself.
- Yeah, she did not take it well.
- Ya think?
- She had a kind of mirthless laughter And told me I was already like her, obsessed by spending and what people would say about me and my looks and that if anything, I’d be worse than her in a couple of years. Them she stormed out.
- I’m sorry. I feel if I hadn’t put these ideas into your head you wouldn’t have had to listen to these things.
- No it’s not your fault. It’s not even my mother’s. She was raised to be this way, just like I was. I think what she’s told me jolted me out of my apathy. On the day of my wedding, today, God, I feel like it was a million years ago, as they were dressing me in the hotel room, and joking and laughing, I felt very, very empty. I felt as if I were drained, emotionally and physically. I realized I wanted much more for myself than being married and spending money and having children and live vicariously through them. I discovered ambition. These ideas are still confused in my head, but I did know I did not want to go through the whole ordeal of the wedding. So I pretended I wanted to have a few moments to pray before going. They all looked at me a little oddly, but I think they thought I was being jittery because of the wedding night. They all think I’m still a virgin of course, the poor things. They re delusional. Anyway, I waited until everyone went out of my room. I called a taxi and told him to wait for me in front of Goodies in verdun. Then I grabbed whatever money I had, some clothes, and took the service elevator down, paying everyone on my way to shut up. And I took the cab.
- And you came here.
- And I came here. I did not know where else to go, and they won’t come straight to you looking for me.
- Ok. You do realize I can’t hide you here ad vitam eternam. You’re gonna have to deal with the family mayhem eventually, it s part of the process. However I can provide you with a safe bolt hole here until you decide what you want to do. And don’t forget, I have a business offer to take up with you once the craziness had calmed down.
Nina took in the sad little face, the anxiety and fears before her, and impulsively hugged her like a mother consoling her child. Yasmine gave out a wail under the tender touch of Nina, tears she felt she had repressed for a very, very long time.
- Jesus Fucking Christ, who’s the Weeping Widow here?
Writing this letter is no easy task, believe me.
I came to you all arrogant and sure of myself, thinking you will fulfill the idea I had forged of you: I had romanticized you to death, my head full of frangipani trees in full bloom, a festival of life and colors, the hope and sheer force of life of your inhabitants conquering all.
You seemed in a huff to have been reduced to this post card. It’s like you couldn’t wait to show me your darker face.
At first, I let you rock me softly to the rhythm of your summer vibe. It was nice. It felt familiar, I was used to you this way.
You were only gearing up your weapons.
We became more acquainted. Like in all relationships, came a time where I started noticing your flaws. The process was painful, you see, I so wanted you to be perfect. I soon realized I had to refrain myself from giving the finger three times a day to your unconscious drivers, your chaos unnerved me, it was no longer happy and somehow functional. You became unpredictable and moody, or maybe that’s how you’ve always been but my loving heart had chosen to ignore it for so long. Distance has this kind of power.
The lights on you were dimmed by the injustice,by the shocking inequalities. I was, and still am, upset by you, by how you let yourself be looted and disfigured and weakened by people, your own sons and daughters, who regularly chose money, greed and profit against you. I thought you had more strength. I thought you had more integrity.
I was very upset indeed, I didn’t want you to disappoint me.
You shrugged. You seemed to scold me for being such a fool, for thinking you had nothing better to do than fulfill gratuitously my expectations. It was like you screaming at me to get a move on: if I didn’t like what I saw, I was welcome to try and change it.
So I pulled up my sleeves.
And started believing in you again. I believed in you when I heard Nadine speak, I believed in you when I shared a cigarette with Farah on Martyr’s Square while our hearts were tighten with anxiety for you. I believed in you while working with Tamara and Sara, I believed in you through Abir’s pictures. I believed in you when I walked through your streets, asking for the martyrs of your wars not to have died in vain, while rice was being showered over us. I believed in you when over a thousand of us screamed against violence against women, I believed in you whenever I noticed an act of kindness, whenever the old woman in my office building calls out to me a warm “tfaddaleh” just because i am passing in front of her flat.
I see your flaws clearly now. They regularly make my blood boil. They make me want to scream. They’re there, and Beirut, my love, I don’t like them.
But I choose to believe. I have no other choice, you’re under my skin and it looks like you’re staying there.
It seems you and I are in a more honest place right now. I see you for what you are. You seem to be content of it, you seem satisfied.
I know, because now that I’m leaving you again, you set all the frangipani trees in full bloom.
The word had a beautiful tone to it, a sound so rich and profound it felt like it was pounding streets by itself.
After the whole drama with Ziad, Lily had stayed up all night, tossing and turning, asking herself a hundred and one questions. Oddly, the questions pertaining to Ziad were not the most difficult ones: yes she loved him, but she was no fool, and she was not going to run back to his arms just because he had a kind of epiphany while roaming the streets of Istanbul. She needed time. They needed time. They could see each other, spend time together, and see where it would take them.
She had told Ziad as much while on the phone with him at Nina’s office. Nina had looked at her with something very akin to admiration and contentment. The unspoken approval of her friend had convinced her she was making the right decision.
It was odd, that after so many tears and questions, she had held back when he had come back. Something she forgot she had had knocked on her door, and that was her own will. And a little of self respect too.
Ziad seemed sheepish on the phone. He knew her well, he knew she was not one to take decisions lightly. He knew her serious nature, he knew she was not being coquettish or pretending to make him wait in vain. Lily had integrity, and that prevented her from being manipulative. Oh no Ziad only knew her too well, and in his mind she must have looked like some modern day Jane Eyre, a woman who could be passionately in love yet restrain herself if she thought it was not the best for her.
Her mood was anxious but not sad: the interrogations that inhabited her head were no melancholic soliloquies. The racing thoughts attempted a grasp at her life. She had been in Beirut for over three years now, writing aimlessly at her newspaper on life and style. Her last piece had almost made her throw up, as she went interviewing a famous party organizer who regularly threw half a million weddings and engagement parties, the pearls and gems on the vases full of extravagant, flashy flowers almost blinding her.
On her way back, she had seen the guy who always stands at the end of the Accaoui steep street, selling Chiclets. He was wearing his usual surgical mask, purportedly to shield him from the Beirut deathly fumes.
The sight sickened her. The inequalities tightened her chest. She felt worthless. What she had once thought to be the perfect easy job that would enable her to carry on her own research and writings on the side was beginning to feel like an ongoing advertisement for a system she only felt contempt for. When did style had stopped being a detail, a moment of grace in one’s appearance, manners or lifestyle and had started becoming the price tags on things and events people did not need? She was supposed to be writing about life, God damn it, and yet, life, real life, and not it’s reproduction on glossy papers, seemed absent from the pieces she wrote so dispassionately.
That night, Lily picked up her phone.
- Jesus Fucking Christ, for the Lord’s sake, whoever the fuck you are, just go and sleep and call me in about ten hours. Jesus!
Gabrielle was no woman to be awakened at the crack of dawn. Lily smiled in spite of her mortification at awakening her friend’s language and cranky mood.
- Ahem, habibti Gaby, don’t scream, it’s me. Lily.
- I swear, don’t habibi me, I swear, if you’ve woken me up to blab about Ziad for the umpteenth time, I shall be very rude to you, very, very rude indeed.
- But you’re rude anyway! Anyway, this is not about Ziad, and stop yelling you’ll wake Grace up and I only meant to wake you!
- You seem in an awfully good mood for someone who’s awake at this hour of day! Or is it night? I’m not quite sure. Gracie is still sleeping like the angel that she is, thanks to her earplugs. She’s a smart one, that girl, I should follow her lead.
- You can’t. You’ve taken an oath to be always on call, just like me and Nina, so shut up and stop complaining for about two seconds, so I can tell you while I’ve taken the risk to awaken the beast.
Lily heard the flick of a lighter and Gaby inhaling on her cigarette. She dived in.
- Look, I would like to give a new twist to my column…
- What, you’d like to interview rich old codgers on top of their wives?
- I remember distinctly to have asked you to shut up. Anyway, I’ll have you known that I precisely want to stop interviewing these people, and start giving a space for the people who actually bring the life and style to this city. You know, like the penniless student who’s dressed so flawlessly with her mom’s vintage clothes, or the old dekken bringing food to his older neighbors with his basket, or the group of friends smoking arguileh and diving into the sea on The Corniche. I want to see less fake noses Gaby, it’s making me lose a little bit if my soul, I feel like I’m selling myself and my skills to the people who can buy pages in our newspapers.
- Yeah Lily, of course, YOU’re an evil capitalist bitch.
- Laugh all you want, this is how I feel anyway, and I need your help. I need you to take splendid photos of my subjects. The paper might go with the new pitch easier if it looks immaculate and nice, even though they’ll push me to carry on with the old stuff. What do you think?
- I’m in, of course I’m in, now can I please go back to sleep? I’ll still be in in a couple of hours, and I might even be friendly.
- Go habibti, go. Thank you.
Sitting down in front of her window, the dove grey of the Beirut dawn sky blushing its pink hue, Lily turned on her computer.
At first she thought the ringing in her ears were the bells of hell reminding her of what she had done. Or more prosaically, were one of the many signs of the absolute worst hangover she had ever had. Then she realized it was only the phone, trying to pierce through several depths of blissful unconsciousness.