Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bringing it all back home

I’ve known F. for years. A good friend of my fiancé’s, I watched as he transformed himself from a high school failure into a free lance journalist. With no big family connections or monetary backing (his father transports fruit and vegetables from their village to Beirut all summer long, and the family lives in Beirut’s impoverished southern suburbs in the winter), F. is completely self-made.

Until yesterday, his parents and two youngest brothers had been stuck in their village near the border with Israel. When we heard they had finally been able to escape, and needed a place to stay in Beirut, we were glad to help. The three other brothers were already staying with F. in a nearby apartment. Astonishingly, their uncle and his family had already been taken in by our friend who lives one floor above us.

They arrived sleep-deprived and shaken. They had been on the road since 5.30am, and only reached Beirut at 3 in the afternoon. They rode in a microbus with 23 other people. Except for some candy for the children, they hadn’t eaten. They came with a bag full of vegetables from their garden and some clothing.

They came with stories of an unceasing bombing, of buildings exploding around them, of a three-storey apartment building across from their house that was bombed flat. Moussa, who’s 9, keeps talking about the way the glass shards flew over their house into the garden. His mother is pretty sure no one survived.

Our apartment isn’t designed for kids, for more than two people. There’s no tray to serve the tea or coffee, there’s only four large plates, only one ashtray. F.’s mother is slowly taking over the kitchen, with some interesting results. Espresso makes very poor Turkish coffee, we’ve determined, and I’ve given up trying to explain why I buy strange salt with iodine in it. I can’t imagine how foreign everything must be for them here, how difficult to try to accept that both of their apartments may already have been bombed, that they may not have anything to go back to.

F.’s mother worries about her garden. If they can go back in a week, they’ll have only lost the tomatoes. If it’s two weeks, they’ll lose the green beans as well. F.’s father is full of stories about how he can fit 40 watermelons in his car and reach Beirut in two hours, making the trip three or four times a day in high season. Since the Israeli’s started bombing, they’ve lost an entire year’s income.

F. visits twice a day. He’s trying to juggle reporting with organizing the distribution of food and medicine to five schools. When his parents first arrived, he went out to buy food for the house. He came back with enough dry goods to feed the entire building, with his mother’s favorite brand of soap, with toys for his brothers and a carton of his father’s cigarettes. He came back again, later in the day, with mattresses and towels. Today I watched his little brothers leap around in excitement as he delivered new sandals and shorts, and a soccer ball.

We are safe here, we are fed and clothed and loved. We are incomparably lucky.

Sonya Knox
West Beirut


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