Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Moment in Hamra

It was a shriek that made you forget about the car horns and the din of the traffic. The culprit was a toy whistle blown by a former cop whose mind had seen better days. He was clean shaven and wore a green shirt and jeans that had never been in fashion, but he was well-groomed and obviously had someone to take care of him. Where was that someone as he stood on the sidewalk, blowing the toy whistle and thinking he was directing traffic on Hamra Street?

A massive tour bus from Dubai rolled over the cobblestones. Two truckloads of bored soldiers rumbled by looking like they'd rather be anywhere else. The traffic was thick but moving, always a bonus on this gridlocked street. Arabic music blared from loudspeakers strapped upon the rooftop of a car adorned with flags of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. More sectarianism, each group claiming to love Lebanon the most while taking steps to divide and destroy it.

The SSNP had hung their sectarian flags throughout the neighborhood some time in the night. We had all gone to bed in Hamra to wake up to this nonsense. The Cedar Revolution was dead. One fourth of an entire country had turned up that day, March 14, 2005, but the hope for unity that had been inspired by that day was all but gone.

Wedged between two universities, Hamra is a sore sight for eyes but has the soul of the Left Bank and the desire to be normal in a place where nothing has ever been normal and probably never will be. But there is a fire in the ground now, the same molten hatred that flows beneath the surface of all of Lebanon. Hamra sits across town from the pretentious glitter of Gemmayzeh and the riches of the haves in Achrafieh, two areas that were part of what was once called East Beirut in a city that throbs with the violence of division. East-West, North-South, the whole world is a fractured compass, its needle spinning mercilessly as we all desperately try to find our place in it.

Last week, as I sat beneath the glow of dusk and watched the flutter of bats among the filthy buildings that seemed to be contemplating crumbling their ways to dusty death, I wondered if this was ever a beautiful place or if its creation was a spontaneous explosion of chaos that gave rise to these ugly dwelling stones. The life, though, the life is real. It manifests itself in various forms - in the youth of students, in the rattle of traffic, in the experience of bartenders, in the clacking of prayer beads among the devout and not so devout. Here, people live for Now, because tomorrow violence could take the peace away.

No one wants the violence; they are a weary people, yet it cannot be filtered from their sectarian being. Even when they shun religious identity, they replace it with some other religion - communism, anti-zionism, graphic design, not different than most of the world but far more pronounced.

So it goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment