On Mariam, Mirvat, and Hussein's mother

Hussein’s mother was finally found, so were fifteen other women, children and elderly who have been missing from Ainata. He had to remove the rubble with his own hands to find her. When Hussein went to bury her today, he found that his father’s tomb was destroyed by the shelling. His father was also killed by the Israeli army, back in 1978. I leave it for you to think of what lessons he will chose to teach his children about their grandparents.

Mirvat is fine. She is upset I didn’t pass by to see her when she was in Sidon. Says she needed somebody, anybody, to ask about her, to show concern. I am really sorry Mervat. People who went up to Zibqeen tell her that the two month and two days she has lived since the start of the attack on 12/7 are nothing compared to what she will be through once she is in the village. Maybe she is already in the village, I don’t know.

Mariam did go to Siddiqinne. All the usual places are gone. Her house is half destroyed, doing much better than other houses in the village, The school she teaches at in Bint Jbeil is rubble. Her sister’s house in southern suburbs is the same. She couldn’t stay. After what she has seen, smelled, and felt in the south since yesterday, she chose to come back to Beirut. I try to push her to cry, few tears come out.

I met a guy called Hassan today, by the hospital bed of his 14 year old sister. He lost both his parents, a sister and almost all his aunts and uncles in Shiyah. He is in his early 20s, with no home or family except for Israa his sister and on aunt. I am almost ashamed I still have my family.

.. and I? I don’t know. I can’t bear the images nor the stories. I work for 15 or 16 hours a day; maybe to escape. My house is half empty now. Alas, soon all my visitors will be leaving, and trying to reconstruct a life out of all of this. I don't wnat to be at home without them anymore. I want to go down south, I am not sure I can handle it; I am not sure I want to be that close again to death. Yet I am too close anyway, and I want to be close to the people too.

All of this for what? I wonder.. I know the answer. I know people in the south endure because they want their dignity, and because they know too well the logic of out next door neighbor.

Yet the south is no longer the south we know. We are no longer the enthusiastic spirited women of July 11. In our space and spirit the destruction is so massive, What will restore it? What will help us stay sane, and if possible humane after this? What, at least, will help me go to sleep tonight, away from all images?

Photos & More on Hussein’s Mother

I was hoping the blog will help me write more regularly. I need to write, for my own sanity, I need to tell the stories to be able to let go of them. I will do soon.

Below are some photos from my visit to the south, taken in the Tyre District. My internet connection is not helping and I can't download more that these two for now.

And, for those who asked; Maher and Hussein spent a harsh day in Tyre. Hussein’ mother was not one of the 90 bodies buried that day and we still don't know where she is.

Bazourieh, Car of family from Aitaroun killed during their escape.

Qana, they left the laundry outside as if running an errand and soon coming back, but it has been over three weeks.

Stories from the South - Hussein's Mother

I just came from the South of Lebanon. I went to Tyre, to Hannaoui, Qana, Siddiqinne, Srifa, Bint Jbeil, Ainata, and Ein Ebel and many villages on the way. I so want to write but I still have no words. This was Tyre after all, the lovely city and its beach that I always wanted to call home. These were the villages at which I made friends, aided in Tobacco harvesting and drank the best tea ever. I still haven’t cried, I feel I am not entitled to. If I were to cry, what would I leave to the people that have lost loved ones and houses full of memories?

The spaces once full of friendly old men and women inviting any passer by, stranger or friend alike, to coffee, tea and grapes are now empty. The children no longer play football on the edge of the road, or roll wooden self made toys in the alleys. The late night gatherings under grape trees have gone. Their voices are now replaced by debris, dogs and dying cows. There is nobody in Siddiqinne. I tried to check on Mariam’s house but the road is too full of rubble for me to get there. I looked for one familiar face to say hello to, to ask how things have been, but there is no one there.

I went to Ainata to search for a friend’s mother. The cease fire is coming to an end and I am deep in the Bint Jbeil area. I have to return, I don’t know the house, there is very few people to help, but I insist on looking further. Zainab I say, Hussein’s mother, I describe his profession, his wife, again and again until I find he who knows the house. I climb the rubble. The house is half destroyed. I know this was the kitchen because of the plates squeezed under the rubble; She might have been there making a cup of tea I think, trying to squeeze normality into my presence in the house I have never visited before. There is no bathroom for me to identify, it is gone. I can’t know if she is there but I don’t have the heart to leave her son in the agony of ignorance. I approach seeking a different smell. I can’t believe that this is the way one look’s for a friend’s mother. Is it me doing this? But I am doing it; I have been smelling deaths for two days now. I still can’t know. I was hoping I would come and she would be in the house, waiting for somebody to help her through the difficult terrain, then I would call her son when in Tyre to say I have your mother with me and I am bringing her to Beirut. I was imagining the relieved smile on his face. This didn’t happen.

On the way I get a call, somebody from the Red Cross says they transferred a body of an unidentified woman from Ainata. I find myself wishing it would be her, I want them to at least know. If this cease fire ends without finding her, they will be spending many hard days. I go around one hospital after another, it is chaotic. We can’t see the bodies, we can’t find others who know her in the hospital. I have no consoling words for Hussein.

Today, hours before we head back to Beirut from Sidon, we know that the burial of all the bodies - too many to be kept in the ill-equipped hospital - is taking place at noon. There is no way any member of her family can get to Tyre in time. Maher decides to go. The cease fire has ended, the roads are no longer safe, but the risk is worth going through. I think there is only one loss greater than the death of a loved one; than that of not knowing. He is there now, the burial is delayed and Hussein has arrived. I can’t reach them by phone, they have no signal, and I write these words as I wait.

There is a lot to be told, the many stories I have encountered. I have pictures to share, and I will, I promise, but now I need to go, to talk to the families waiting to hear about their homes. The stories have to be told first to those who own them.