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Summer Lullaby for Lebanon

Jana Nakhal
Date Published: 
January 01, 0001

My country was being bombed. My people were being bombed. Other than being afraid of what could happen to me, my loved ones, people I knew, people I saw on the streets, people who smiled at me at a corner, the stupid taxi driver that I cursed the other day; I was afraid for the people I never knew, the people I never met, never saw and people who in the small villages of the south, in the streets of the southern suburbs of Beirut who were agonizing, dying under the rubble of their own houses. My country has had many wars. The civil war that lasted from 1975 until 1991 was cruel and meaningless. I didn’t witness it as I was too young, and we used to escape to the back-then-safe south, to my grandmother's house. Having chosen to work on the history of my city, Beirut, for the Final Year Project as a landscape designer, I read about the miseries and horrors of that war. I explored stories and narratives carefully hidden behind the hopeful and life-loving amnesia of my people. I understood the cruelty of a war, of killing and waiting to be killed. And I thanked god for not being born earlier, not being aware of what was happening—I was just happy that school days were over and I could spend more good times with my cousins in my mom's beautiful southern village. I'm 23 year-old now. My birthday was on the July 25. Lebanon was under attack. I experienced the cruelty of a war. Not an ordinary war, but one that is fought against the greatest army in the civilized world. This is what I thought, and this is what made me believe in my country: the cause of the weakest, the struggle of that who wants to defend himself, his children, his house, his citrus orchard, his chicken, his small village spread lazily on the cliff of a green hill, facing the sea. I thought of my village and I thought of that beautiful almond grove that sat behind my grandparents' house, the grove that we called 'forest' with all of the unspeakable legends that the word implies. I thought of that flat white rock on which we used to have picnics of labneh sandwiches (kaddoushit labneh) me, my sister and my cousins. I thought of the wild thyme, the olive orchards, the sensual fig fruits, the tobacco plants, the carobs, the white earth, the voluminous, graceful, pregnant hills, the wide-eyed boys and the shy little girls. I thought of the silly little house and the garden, with four eucalyptus trees on the corners, and cypresses all around. I remembered that my mom loved them—this is the south for her, a long row of dark green cypress trees, gloomy but very enduring. It carries a small piece of our hearts. It grasps the most sensitive part of it and keeps pulling it and pulling it until you don’t know if it was a part of you or if, luckily you were a part of it. I remembered all of this, and wished, prayed, cried for all of this to be safe. I wanted to protect it, defend it, create a shield with my own flesh…and then, just then…I understood how those men were fighting the greatest power on earth. During the first 2 weeks, I couldn’t leave my house, which hosted around 12 to 15 family members who fled the attack. I was devastated. No one could understand the state in which we were, and how, in a matter of hours, our whole life became controlled. You are afraid you might die, people you know might die, the little kids, your favorite place might be bombed…your whole city might be turned into rubble and you might become homeless…and you can do nothing but sit there and watch the news…wishing that the next bomb is not coming your way. In the middle of the war I sent a phone message to my friends abroad: 'Please pray for us, pray for the Lebanon you love. And Taher, just create a god and pray for him.' I was that desperate. And I couldn’t just sit there and watch my country go to pieces. Schools were bursting with refugees. One and a half million of them. People were volunteering to help giving food and medical care. But I couldn’t go. I couldn’t go see the misery of a people that is being killed, slaughtered, his land taken away from him…at the same time being so proud, so fearless, embracing life as it comes. They knew that their own children are fighting for them in the south. I couldn’t go showing that I'm here to help. Who was I to help when they were stronger than me? It was a summer of strange feelings of appreciation for the smallest details, things I would have never admired, meanings I could have never discovered. I understood how your children can be killed and you would continue to love life. I saw the deepest forms of grief, sorrow and pain, creating new forms of hope and belief in our country. This summer, I didn’t take naps in the warm sun, listening to Edith Piaff's songs; I didn’t bum around the green hills of my village, gathering sage, herbs and berries; I didn’t enjoy the happy family gatherings with mouth-watering tabbouleh and kebbeh nayyeh; I didn’t gain weight. I got sun-burns out of cleaning oil-stained beach after Israel bombed the power plant; I wished I could listen to music but the power was off most of the time; I was almost sure my village was practically erased and that the creamy hills were turned to rubble; half of my family was in my house, and I didn’t enjoy it; my aunt watched the news so she could see her house burning; I lost weight after seeing dead kids. What I felt this summer was a total change of consciousness. I was proud of my country, I was full of love for people I didn’t know, people who fought for me, my kids to come and whole new-coming generations of free people, I was proud I did a small thing for my country, I helped cleaning a 20 by 500 meter of sand. I loved this sand. Not that it is very special, that you can find nothing like it in the whole world, or that it has unique ecological values…but it is the sand that floats around shores that gave birth to people who love life to the extent that they gave their life for it. The limitless, immeasurable, meaning of life. Under massive bombing, my country was whispering, calmly, with a tear 'You are burning me now, but I won't die. Tomorrow, minutes after your truce, I will rebuild myself. Not out of stone and steel, not mortar and concrete, not money and technology; but out of the amazement and passion I have created in the hearts and minds of my people'. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jana Nakhal was born in Beirut, 1983. "Amazed by simple details; passionate about nature; in love with two cities: Beirut and Rome. I never thought I would end up like this, but here I am, a landscape designer with a deep love for Picasso, Plumeria, Voltaire and life".