Thursday, November 09, 2006

Back to Lebanon

Beirut - October 25, 2006

It is Wednesday, the day after the two day holiday, Eid al Fitr which ended the month long fast of Ramadan for the Sunnis. Over the eid holiday, which as important as Christmas or Easter for Christians, I went north with friends to the mountain town of Bcharathe found at the foot of the tallest mountain in Lebanon which rises over 9000 feet.

There is still no snow up top, yet fall is here. The leaves of the fruit trees are turning yellow. The smell of the damp soil of the terrace gardens is carried in the chill ascending wind flowing up the valley in cloud mist moving upward toward the
descending clouds coming over the peaks and down. By four in the afternoon, the moutains disappear in the fog and cloud.

The Palace Hotel, a place run by Edmundo, a Lebanese of Bcharra who returned after 30 years spent working in Venezuela to build his dream hotel for fruitfull times to be reaped in a stable Lebanon is empty.

The heat is not on, and will not be on. "It isn't cold" he says, yet after listening to our pleas, he explains he can't afford to turn on the heat at this point. It is expensive and this summer's war broke the bank. Not only the country's, but also each
individual's.

Most people I have spoken to in their twenties and thirties have plans to leave. From cab drivers, university students, young entrepreneurs having recently come back, NGO workers, young families, businessmen, professors, engineers, teachers, PR
workers, all that I have spoken to have applied for jobs outside.

This past summer's war seems to have dissipated whatever was left of the hope the Lebanese felt in 2005. Hope has been replaced with suspicion.

Rumours have been hard at work again, speedily transfering news from one street to another. Apparently, Nasrallah broke his pledge to Saad Hariri: he said that he would not attack until October once the tourist season was over.

"The attack was meant for October" explained a young fiefighter still in disbelief from the summer war, who on his time off sold mobile phones. "This wasn't supposed to happen this summer."

At first, the firefighter's comment is off-putting. Once again, my brain goes into over-drive trying to make sense of what I am hearing. Am I privy to a conspiracy? Is this a rumor which has taken on real life dimensions? It is hard to tell.

Yet, looking at the rumour and firefighter statement closely, a few things are revealed: the Sunni, Shia trust has suffered from the Hezbollah leader breaking his word to the Sunni Hariri...

It is also telling of two other aspects found in Lebanese discourse: 'Yes we support you against Israel as fellow Muslims or Lebanese, but if your attacks happen during the high tourist summer season then you are targetting us and betraying us by hurting our interests'.

Betrayal leads to fragmentation; infighting takes place; Lebanon is vulnerable; weak and fragmented is it a matter of time before the Syria "stabilizing" force comes back on the scene? If so, the next question is can the cylce be broken? Can Lebanon
overcome its difference enough to reach sovereignty?

It is hard to know because so much of what keeps the country split apart is deep seated in the psyche of the individuals that live in this country: fear of the other. It is hard trust anyone beyond your family and your family ties to your community, especially after experienced 15 years of civil war.

One feels the lack of trust when walking around Bchara. Three foreigners walking in the street of the village and those down the road get scrutinized.

Old ladies sitting outside on their upstair balconies stare down at us without smiling. You guess that questions like: "Who are these people?", "What are they doing here?", "What do they want?" and flash through the villagers mind.

The ruggedness of the landscape and harshness of the winter climate appears in the mannerisms of the inhabitants. But maybe so does the memory that 31 years ago, about 40 kilometers west, down the mountain side toward the coast Maronites and Sunnis participated in genocidal behavior.

And the village sandwiched between the high peaks and the deep Kadisha valley below - an expectional mountain canyons with precipitious waterfalls, and monastaries and ermitages built in cliff walls- sits on the watch from the invaders, protected by the extraodinary and somewhat impenetrable landscape.

The demeanor of Bchara in the region of the Cedars embodies suspicion at times extremely felt between Lebanese communities which have been connected to the land for over 600 to 700 years.

The aloofness and fortresslike aspect of the area is what makes me go back. It is foreign to me, which is why I am drawn to the place, but it is also an essential reflection of one apsect of the Lebanese Maronite community.

Unable to secede from Lebanon, this isolationist faction within the Maronite community, cannot escape the impact of actions taken by other Lebanese communities such as Edmundo who suffers the loss of revenues at the hand of the Hezbollah fighting the Israelis this summer.

But it isn't only Edmundo, it is the Sunni firefighter who thought war might have occured after the summer. These two, beyond confessional differences find themselves in the same boat; these two are paying the price for the individualism which undermines a national Lebanon.

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Anonymous said...

know you're busy, but do check back occasionally for updates...