25 July 2006

Family In War

As of today:

  • For the time being, my sister Zainab is staying put in her apartment outside of Beirut, but no one knows what's going to happen. She lives in Khaldé, just southeast of Beirut, (in the western foothills of Mount Lebanon, overlooking Beirut, not in Beirut's southern suburbs that have been decimated by the Israeli bombing.) Her daughter Hiba is a student at the American University of Beirut. There are no possibilities for university studies now. We pray that the winds of war will have passed once the fall semester begins, and before any more civilian lives are lost.
  • My nephew, son of my other sister Nouma, also took refuge in his Aunt Zainab's house in Khaldé. He had arrived in Beirut just after his mom and siblings left for the U.S. for summer vacation. He just finished high school, and was supposed to begin a preparatory summer course at the Arab University of Beirut before he begins his formal studies there in the fall, then the bombardment started. He could not go back to his parents' house in the South.
  • My mother-in-law and brother-in-law, who live in Tyr, have taken refuge in the Shouf Mountains, in a Druze village, where it is relatively safe. She had to rent a house there.
  • My uncle Rifaat and his wife fled the southern suburbs of Beirut to Beirut proper where they are also renting an apartment.
  • My aunt Mariam also fled the southern suburbs with her husband and entire family for areas north of Beirut.
  • My uncle Tahsine has fled Beirut northward, to the areas of the Lebanese shores north of Jounyé.
  • My uncle Adnan's wife and children are all out of the country, in Canada. He is all alone in the West Beirut apartment that has been his steadfast home and artist studio through decades of war and peace. This small apartment was a place of political, artisitic and cultural discourse for countless Beirut intellectuals for many decades, dating back to the heyday of Arab nationalism in the 60's. This humble apartment contains a large collection of my uncle's paintings, as well as countless Arab/Islamic/Phoenecian artifacts, and a breathtaking cedar-wood library that my uncle designed himself. As a young man he designed this library, which sits in the middle of his living rooom, based on different architectural motifs, such as Yemeni, Damascene, and Andalusian architectural motifs, which he brought together in a harmonious unity. He handed his design to a master carpenter who was his friend at the time, who took the design and hand-built the beautiful cedar wood library. My 75 year old uncle Adnan now sits alone among this wealth of artistic and cultural heritage, each piece of which cries out for the sunlight from which it is deprived.
  • My very elderly aunt Rose, who is in her 90s and needs assistance in living, has abandoned her apartment and was taken to another apartment where her daughter, granddaughter with young children and many relatives are all staying together. I remember visiting her in 2004. Although she was beginning to forget much of the names and places that surround her, she recited endless lines of poetry to me that her father had taught her as a little girl.
  • My Aunt Nayifa is a school teacher in Beirut. She was already on a summer vacation visit to the U.S. when the bombing started. Her husband and children were left in Beirut. A few days ago, her husband risked his life to drive their oldest son to Syria, so the son can take a flight out to the Gulf, where he is due to begin employment there.
  • My uncle Youssef left Beirut and headed to the South under fighter-jet bombardment to snatch his three children from danger. He has since fled Beirut with his wife and five children for the far North. >> see the full story in my July 20 post
  • My uncle Mohamad abandoned his farm in Bint Jbeil with his wife and fled to the village of Rmeish, just next door to Bint Jbeil. >> see the full story in my July 20 post
  • As of Sunday, there is heavy fighting in Bint Jbeil, where our ancestral house is. We are more worried about the human casualties at this point to think about any architectural/cultural/archeological casualties in Bint Jbeil, of which I'm sure there is much, too much.
  • My aunt Rouhiya and her family fled their home in West Beirut, and have taken refuge in an apartment that my parents still own in Christian East Beirut. This apartment has a very important history: After having moved to Beirut from the village inthe 1950's, my parents went to college, became teachers in the big city, met and got married, and later established and ran a private school together in a poor neighborhood of Beirut. In this apartment and at the height of their teaching careers and as they raised their new family, my parents became very close to their next door neighbors, the Khoury family, a Christian family. When the war broke out in 1975 and the Phalangist militia came for our family as part of the ethnic/religious cleansing that was happening at the time, Dunia and George Khoury stood in front of our front door and prevented the militiamen from entering our home, using themselves as sacrificial shields to protect the undesirable Muslim family hiding inside. The militiamen were taken aback by this and left, threatening that they will be back. Later George drove our entire family to the Green Line, the war-zone separating East and West Beirut, and strongly insisted to the Phalangist militiamen at the checkpoint that we be allowed to cross to the other side safely. Otherwise, they would've killed our entire family based only on our religious affiliation. Ever since then, George and Dunia have looked after our apartment and have stayed in touch with my parents, even as the Atlantic Ocean and thirty years have separated that bygone era of neighborly coexistence.

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