Sunday, 30 November 2008

A Perfect Day

Today was a perfect day on all accounts.
I couldn't have asked for a better one.

It started with visiting the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp after stepping out of it 7 years earlier and not turning back.
I had been in contact with a youth recreational centre at a young age due to my mother having a friend who teaches English there, and as part of my social service requirement for my IB education at school, I taught art to 9-12 year old Palestinian refugees.
I was 17 at the time, and to work with children who have lost one or both parents, living in what can be described as the slums of the city, where the roads are part dirt, and Swiss cheesed full of holes, where everything is squished into a space meant for half of everything there, was difficult to say the least. I got emotionally drained after a couple of months.
But now I was more capable, and more emotionally mature. And the day started beautifully.
I picked up my friend Will and we brainstormed on ideas for a quick activity for 5-7 year old kids, since my original idea for a flip book workshop with the older kids fell through. Will came up with an excellent idea involving shapes cut into puzzles that each child would draw on, and when put together would make a whole new drawing. We picked up the supplies rushed to the camp manoeuvring cars, driving over elevated manholes and puddles of muck.
The children were great. Shy at first, and although having only half an hour to put all of it together, it worked. We got them to loosen up, they sang us welcome songs as I drew out shapes and Will cut them out (into what we later found out, were not very simple puzzles!)
The result? Very happy kids and a bunch of beautiful drawings (one that i distinctly loved, of a boy with rays coming out of his head. When I asked the boy who it was, he said the Sun. "The Sun is a boy?" I asked, to which he nodded. "What about the moon then?" I added. To which a girl behind him excitedly jumped up and said "The moon's a girl!")
As the children filed up to change out of their school aprons, we started to bid farewells and the moon girl, Nadine (a smiley bright child with eyes that sparkled and a messy pony tail) came up to me with her arms open. I knelt as she said "I want to hug you!".

(Perfect moment number 1)

I felt a bit deflated after that visit. Dealing with children can take it out of you, no matter how much you enjoy it. Especially when these children live in a hell hole. So as I drove silently, it dawned on me that the only thing I really wanted to do was go sit on the seashore, sewage pipe rubbish and all (refer to Jerusalem on the Shore post)
No questions asked, I turned the car around and went to Ramlet il Bayda.
We sat there for maybe half an hour. The sea turning golden under the bright sun (The sun is a boy called "Sun" in case you didn't know...It's true, the boy who drew him told me himself) watching the waves multiply and roll onto the beach. I took out a piece of paper I'd been given as a gift. It was simple really. Perhaps one of the most meaningful gifts I'd been given in a while.
"Patience". I read it. Sometimes I read sentences over and over, like they held answers that I was yet to find. With the gift of Patience.

(Perfect moment 2)

Ever so often I would glimpse something moving on the wet sand, maybe it was a tiny crab, but it didn't matter. I was sat on a piece of driftwood, talking to a good friend, and losing myself in the sea, watching the horizon and enjoying my face being kissed by a boy called Sun.

(Perfect moment number 3)

Cutting shapes out and driving through refugee camps can work up and appetite, so we went to Japanese Please on Bliss St., a sushi place I eat Fushi at (Fake sushi, being a person who can't even fathom the idea of eating fish... brr). A long conversation there led to a place I never expected to go. My father's office.
I hadn't been to my dad's office since he passed away a year and a half ago. The reasons are many and few. But I got pushed off the cliff, and I took the dare. Why not. Why not go? And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a step that should have, and did happen. As I fumbled with the keys, and managed to get in, my knees shook a little. I gulped and cleared my throat and walked into my dad's actual office. Newspaper clippings praising him were on the door, and they startled me. They weren't there when I used to visit him before. I sat on his desk, and felt odd. I was on a tightrope of emotions, teetering and focused at the same time. My arms left shapes in the dust as I put them on the table, looking at the photo of our trip to Greece.
I started looking through drawers and on shelves. It was a treasure chest of memories and things that I didn't see before that were always there.
And then I tripped onto a box full of old format photos. There must have been around 100 of them.
They were photos of the war. The big Lebanese one. I had heard of some of these photos before, overhearing conversations between my parents and their friends many nights, and in an odd way they became familiar. Photos of my mother before she was my mother, or my dad's wife, photos of my uncle when he still had hair and was a skinny twig. Photos of my house when it was simpler and less cluttered, furnished with throw rugs and pillows and straw mats on the floor. Photos of the road in front of my house when it was deserted, with a few holes from shell fire. Photos of our balcony glass doors cracked and broken. Bullet holes, teenagers with guns, children on swings rigged at the back of pickup trucks.
The war, my parents as people, my house as a hang out. Beautiful photos.
Tears were inevitable. But it was ok. And the thought came to me. I was going to put these photos into a book. They were the war through the eyes of my father the poet. And they would not go on being pieces of memories in a box in a dusty office.
As I walked out of the office, I felt awake, and re-energized. I was alive.

(Perfect moment number 4)

As I drove home, I found myself breaking into a smile. It soon escalated into full out laughter. The odd thing was that I was crying at the same time. Perfect...

The smile was in no way weaker a few hours later at the Cabin as I sipped wine in the company of friends and my brother (yes, non biological), I couldn't stop smiling (in fact, I scared myself)
Friends, wine, a cigarette, and a bartender you can count on. A perfect end, to a perfect day.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Love's Labour Lost

8:30 am. January 23rd. Hoylake Rd.
I'm walking to the bus stop in a morning haze on my way to work, tunes pumping into my ears, cigarette smoke mingling with morning mist, eyes groggy and unappreciative of the harsh white daylight.
I step off the little grass roundabout onto the coarse gravel and come across a crushed bouquet of reddish pink carnations.

As I look down at their flattened heads by my feet, my mind wanders slightly to what could have happened here the night before.
Maybe it was the 15 year old boy I see riding round on a bike, proclaiming his love to the girl down the street and being rejected. Maybe it was an apology bouquet from an unfaithful husband to his heartbroken wife. Maybe they were thrown out of a car window as it drove by carrying a couple in a heated argument after what seemed to have been a perfect romantic dinner.
Whoever they were from, whoever they were intended for, they now lay in the middle of the road, crushed by more than one car by the look of it.

I took out my camera, and snapped it. The days would go by, they would rot, or get blown away by the wind, or get picked up by the rubbish collectors. But for now, I was the only witness this early in the morning to someone's lost labour of love.

And that was a moment worth holding on to. No gesture of love should go unappreciated, even if it is by a perfect stranger at 8:30 a.m. on a chilly Wednesday morning in the middle of Hoylake Rd.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Jerusalem on the Shore

My friend visited Beirut for the first time in 11 years a couple of weeks ago, and where else should one take a close friend to in Beirut but the sea?

I parked at the corniche near Ramlet il Bayda and we walked down the newly done up pavement with the oddly proportioned lamps as the sun beat down on us on that clear November day.
Scaling down the broken steps to the beach, I warned my friend of the broken glass, the rubbish, and pointed to the sewage outlet that moulded the sand around it into a big empty murky spill, trying to bend it into as much of a joke as I could.

We walked down towards the shore where the sea lapped and licked smooth the sand, shifting shells and orphaned shoes and pieces of card as far away from it as it could, and I proceeded to squeak with glee at all the small shells that had collected, and to my friend's slight annoyance, cut of the conversation and began aah-ing and ooh-ing and "look at the colour!"-ing as I picked and poked and sifted through marine treasure.

After picking up around twenty shells, dodging a dead crab, and pausing momentarily to joke about a condom we found still in its packet, my eye tripped upon a cross lying lob sided in the wet sand. It was a plain dark wood cross, very simple with no overly ornamented detailing, just a plain wooden cross, now pregnant with sea water so that the texture of its veins were easily distinguishable against my fingertips. It had a crudely finished piece of metal across its horizontal beam, pressed into the wood with typewriter font letters indented into it, spelling Jerusalem.
My heart stopped for a second and I couldn't hear anything or anyone, and my friend's conversation rolled out of my ears and down to the edge of the sea.
This is the cross Jesus was on.
This was the cross Jesus was on. All the way from Jerusalem. to Beirut. to my hands. A simple, modest cross of wood and thin metal. I stowed it in my bag and held onto it like I had stowed the spirit of the holy ghost.

I showed my mother the second I came home, spinning stories of hope and redemption, of the cross of Palestine crossing the great Mediterranean, braving hungry fish, swooping gulls, and jet ski blades to reach us. To send a message that the cross has not fallen. Jerusalem has not fallen. My mother tried to bring me down to earth from my romanticised clouds, but for some reason, this felt like a sign. Perhaps it was some one's cross, a girl like me who threw it into the sea out of anger, or desperation or both, crying tears of anguish and frustration at the reality of her world. Perhaps she cast it out because she wanted to save it, perhaps to rid herself of the constant reminder. Perhaps hoping someone would find her message in a bottle and feel her, come rescue her.

I lost the cross the same day. I don't know if I placed it somewhere to keep it safe and forgot where, or whether my dog decided to ingest it out of patriotic urges. All I know is that I found the cross of Jerusalem, and just like that


it was gone, and with it some part of me felt it had betrayed trust, maybe a dream, maybe just a meandering thought.

Depsite trying to convince myself that it was merely stopping en route to a much worthier journey, that its mission was not yet done, my heart still aches at the thought of losing it ever since...