Home Is Where the Bomb Is
The Perpetual Refugee/July 18, 2006
Jido is a proud man. Late 80s. Recently widowed. Still getting over losing his true love. Crying each day. Always so happy whenever I make my traditional first stop in Lebanon to have a coffee, kiss him on the top of his head, share his argileh and talk.
In the same backyard that I used to play with him and teta those many years ago. While she would pick a fresh fig for me to eat from one of the many trees. Or akkidinyi. Berries of all sorts.
The same house that I was raised. And to which I returned during the cold years of war.
The same house that I used to poke my fingers into the bullet holes. And watch Israeli planes fly over, intimidating us those many years ago.
He never left that house. Through all those years of misery. He never left. He raised his family. He gave us hope.
In his house, he organized meetings to ensure people of the neighbourhood always were taken care of.
In his house, all sects were welcome. All people came by, to pay their respects to this man of men.
Teta recently died in this house. Quickly. Painfully. Of cancer. He has not been the same man since. A shell of a super being.
But he is my hero. One of several.
I had spoken with him each day of this current genocide.
I had begged him to leave his house and seek safety elsewhere. The bombs were falling everywhere around him. And yet, he stood his ground. He would not leave his history. He would not leave the memorial he had built for his love. Teta.
While watching the news yesterday I was angrily watching the bombs fall in real time. And I noticed the neighborhood was familiar. I noticed that the neighborhood was that in which I was born. Raised. And had just left 5 days ago.
I saw a street and a landmark I distinctly knew. I went cold. It was Jido's street. Bombs were landing on Jido's street.
I couldn't get through. Calling. No line. No network. Freaking out. Calling. Calling again. No network. No line. Fear having taken over. Praying. Banging my fists against the table. Rage flowing through me at dangerous levels.
No line. No network. No hope.
My sister then called me. Crying. Screaming. She had gotten through. Our neighborhood was under attack. And all I could do was watch it happen. On tv. As if it was some Hollywood production. Sanitized from this view from afar.
An hour had passed. I got through to my mother. She had sent one of my uncles to forcefully remove him from his home. His sanctuary. Dodging the Israeli target practice. While the stocks of several U.S. defence suppliers must have been rising.
For the first time in my lifetime. Through all the catastrophies that have befallen us. The unimaginable has happened.
Jido has slept away from home. A refugee within his own country. Displaced by an aggression unleashed by the weak. By those who lack courage to see. To actually see what it is they were targeting. Blinded by their own hate. Their own insecurities.
Today he is the shell of the man he used to be. And the only things that mattered to him have been taken away. His dignity. His house. His memorial to his true love.
My hero. Degraded. By the weak. Who preach their morality when they are morally corrupt.
I have not spoken with him since his dishonorable escape. I do not want him to feel as though the pedestal on which he was standing has been cruelly kicked out from beneath him.
For today my hero is a refugee. And that is something I will not accept.
Above, a cloudy day in the mountains, and below, no caption needed. [From the Candide's Notebooks collection, 2000]
A Roll in the Hay
The Perpetual Refugee/June 4, 2006
I can never forget the question as I was being interrogated that first time. On my way out (yes, even on the way out) of the country. It was about 70 minutes of strange, intrusive questions. Mixed in with some frisking. Hey, easy buddy.
I could handle it all. I expected much worse. After all, this was my first time and sooner or later they'd begin to like me. Later actually. But there it was. That one question that just lingered there. It really took me off guard. I got defensive. It seemed natural that I raised my voice upon hearing it. Ever so slightly. He was armed. So was his supervisor. I was being double-teamed. I kind of felt honored to be so scary.
'Did you sleep with any women during your visit'?
Excuse me?!? As a look of bewilderment splashed across my face.
'You know.' Smiling. 'Did you meet' hand gestures as if he were masturbating awkwardly 'any women?'. Big smile.
But he was serious. Very serious. His supervisor was too.
What the fuck are you talking about? I didn't even sleep during this stay. I imagined that Mossad or Shin Bet or whatever other secret security service you have had bloody cameras in my hotel room. I could barely take a piss without stage fright. And you're asking me if I had a roll in the hay while I was here?
'No, of course not. Just work'. As I casually showed him my wedding band. He didn't seem to care about the ring but I guess the answer was good enough. Either that or he took one good look at me at thought that there was no way in hell any woman in Israel would want some of that.
I must admit that I found it amusing. Did you sleep with any women? Basically, did you sleep with any of our women? Did you recruit anyone? Did you sway their political views with your penis?
Wow. I never realized that the penis had so much power. The politicization of the penis. And even my penis was smiling now, suddenly aware of his new found political clout.
I didn't realize until a few trips later why he asked that question. When I started getting comfortable in Tel Aviv things started to reveal themselves. And it wasn't until I started getting uncomfortable that it really made sense.
My first revelation came one evening in North Tel Aviv. In the port, amongst all the bars, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants. People. Ah yes, the people. I was looking at the people and my first thought was ‘Wow. The women in this country are hot’. (Lebanese women are hot too, but in a different sort of way)
I’d never been out before. But this evening I sure as hell needed it. It was a tough week and one my co-workers could see I needed a break. He invited me out and I accepted. Fuck it, I thought. Whoever is following me and recording my movements sure as hell could use a drink too. He must be bored shitless.
It was supposed to be a casual evening. A couple of drinks in a bar. Sure. He picked me up at 10:30. He should have come at 9:00.
We arrived. Parked the car and I could see throngs of people. Young. Middle-aged. Older. There were literally dozens of night-spots. And walking through the crowds, something ironic happened. I actually got nervous. I started looking for ‘strange’ people that might have things strapped to their chests. Weird. Me. Looking for ‘strange’ people. I wanted to speak Arabic just in case. But there was no one to speak it with. Keep your eyes peeled. So this is how they feel every time they go out. (I was to find out that no, this is not how they feel every time they go out. It’s just me. The stupid foreigner)
When we arrived at the club, it was such a breath of fresh air. OK that’s an exaggeration. Maybe recycled air with a lot of smoke. But it was nice. The music was blaring. It was all in Hebrew. I didn’t understand a bloody word. But music is universal. Everyone was singing along. Jumping up and down. Drinking. Dancing. Singing. I made sure to move inside as far away from the door as possible. That stupid foreigner instinct. Yet somehow it felt like a Beirut nightspot. Except in Hebrew. Weird. But cool. A few drinks later and the music started to change. It was now close to midnight and the Hebrew was replaced with Techno. The place was on fire. It was great. I was relaxed for the first time ever in Tel Aviv. People were dancing on the bar. Literally, on the bar. I was with my colleague, drinking. Bobbing my head to the music. Tipsy. Happy. Halleluiah. I was comfortable.
Then it happened. I was approached. I knew I was being approached and I still kept to myself. But she was persistent. I still kept to myself. She wanted me. I wanted to go back to the hotel. Alone. She started asking questions. I showed her my wedding band. How obvious can I get? She understood. She didn’t care. She still wanted me. I don’t remember ever being in such an awkward position. I wasn’t playing hard to get. I was impossible to get. And yet that turned her on. She thought I was an American Jew that didn’t speak Hebrew. Thanks to my colleague. Idiot. And all the while I could see the airport security guy’s smile in her eyes. It started to make sense, slowly. Must have been the vodka. This was a pick-up bar for God’s sake. I’ve been taken to a pick-up bar. Get me out of here now!
It was about 5:00 am. I convinced my colleague to leave. He happily accepted. After all, he was flirting with her friend. They asked if they (all three of them) could come back to my hotel room. What? No. No. I’m busy. My heart was skipping beats. I have emails to send. Right. At 5:00 am. I was convinced that the undercover agent assigned to follow me was taking a lot of notes. I started dreading the outward bound question time.
She got the message. Asked me for my number. Instead I asked for hers. I’ll call you. Sure. Whatever. I quickly erased it from my phone as soon as I got in the car. Drive. Fast. I was uncomfortable again. But my ego was intact.
Over the next few trips I’d experience more of Tel Aviv. A lot more. I started have many more revelations. On the beach. In bars. Nightclubs. Even in the office. Yikes.
This city is free. It’s better than any European city. It’s not that I got used to living in a sexually repressed Middle East. (And yes, many of the Middle East’s homoerotic problems stem from sexual repression.) It was just that these people just want to live. To me it is a very sexual city. I saw it on the beach. In the bars. On the streets. In the way people interacted with each other. It’s not that people are romping on the street. Busy thoroughfares at least. There just aren’t any of the inhibitions so prevalent in the Arab societies. People there are comfortable with who they are and what they want. I guess a few years of army service makes you appreciate life. It helps that you don’t have religious figures dictating what the laws parliament should pass are. At least, not the fun laws.
I always thought that the Lebanese sexual revolution was something to hold up for this region to gawk at. Exaggerated. Sexy. Enticing. A natural result of years of war. Heartache. Culture induced repression. Yet compared to this, it’s Little House on the Prairie. With a lot more skin. And flirting. And much more fashionable.
Yet all in all, Tel Aviv would give Beirut a serious run for it’s money on the fun scene. And chances are, Tel Aviv would win. If only by a yard. Today.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was peace? Then you could judge for yourself.