The sign says: welcome to Ebrine. Huddled on a bunch of hills east of Batroun, my hometown is considered as one of the area’s largest. It is Maronite by excellence. The sign could have also said welcome to Maronistan and you’d still be within realms of accuracy.
Growing up, I never truly fit there but I liked it nonetheless. It was peaceful, serene, had amazing scenery and, at the time, I thought it provided everything that I needed. Little did I know that a whole spectrum existed beyond the realms of those 7 hills, 2000 voters and dozen Churches.
My hometown has also lately become a hub where Syrian refugees and workers have aggregated in substantial numbers, or at least as substantial a number can be to tick off the brains of townsfolk that I had thought were kind. I was wrong.
The argument went: “if those Syrians got slingshots, they’d be able to overtake us.” Yes, 500 Syrians with slingshots overtaking a town of about 4000 people. Because that made a whole lot of sense. So some people in my hometown, without a municipality due to political bickering, decided to devise an ingenious idea: set up guard duty, whereby men whose ages range from prepubescent to senile made sure those Syrians were kept in line, whatever it took.
Those guards were self appointed, related to whoever felt it was his moral duty to protect the holy Christians of Ebrine from the fictive threat of Daesh looming among those dark Arab faces coming in from that desert to the East. Their duties were also entirely dependent on whatever they felt like doing. They circulated fliers, forcing shops to put them on their storefronts, to make sure that order is kept: you have to make sure the Syrians renting at your places are registered. You are not to hire Syrians to do work around the town. You are not to let those Syrians do anything that any normal human being is supposed to be able to do, because they are not worthy.
Day X of guarding. A Syrian woman goes into labor in my hometown. It takes her husband an hour between calling this or that to be able to get his wife out of their apartment, into a car and in to the nearest hospital so she can deliver her child. One more Syrian to protect those God-fearing Christians from. What a tragedy.
Day Y of guarding. A male Syrian worker is kept up by his employer at work beyond the 8PM curfew time for Syrians that the guards of my hometown set up for them. He complains about it because of how worried he was at the impeding hell he’d have to go through at the hands of those guards, manifesting primarily by a lovely town policeman who has been around as far as I can remember, bolstered by a support from the Frangieh household, that has seen him pull through a bunch of corruption scandals and still maintain his position. When that worker reached his home, he had the phone number of his employer at the ready, as the latter had told him to do, to ask the guards to call him. Our town’s policeman looked at that Syrian for a minute and told him: say this to your employer, slapping him across the face so hard he was left with a bruise over his left eye for the following week.
Day Z of guarding. Another male Syrian arrived from Syria to join his family at the very welcoming town of Ebrine. That young Syrian, aged in the early 20s, didn’t know of the rules that some random self-appointed people at that town had set up. So at 9PM, on the second day of him being in Lebanon, he decided to leave his house and visit a shop at the town renowned for opening late in order to purchase groceries. He was spotted by our town’s policeman. Why are you here was not even asked. Are you not aware of the rules was not even thrown out in the air. The next thing you know, that policeman was hitting that young Syrian like his entire existence depended on it. A few minutes later, he was joined by 5 or 6 other young men from Ebrine, with all their built up testosterone, and they let that young man have it. It wasn’t until his father showed up, and saw his son being tossed around from one macho to the next that they stopped. My son isn’t aware of your rules, he told them. He’s only been here for two days, he pleaded. What a shame.
I presume a bunch of thank yous are in order:
THANK YOU to those guards who found it’s their Jesus-given right to protect the townspeople against the nonexistent dangers of Daesh at the heart of Maronistan. I’ve never felt safer, or at ease at Ebrine as I do now. 1984 is alive and well. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.
THANK YOU to the Qa’em Makam of Batroun for turning a blind eye to the practices of those guards and the arbitrary rules they’re setting up for everyone and the sheer immaturity with which they are governing a town that has no actual governing body. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.
THANK YOU to my hometown’s policeman, roaming around with that SUV on which “Baladiyyat Ebrine” is plastered across. I am eternally grateful to those muscles you used to beat up unknowing Syrians whose only fault was them being Syrians renting at the premises of someone you didn’t like. I am eternally grateful to you being the man that you are because if it hadn’t been for that, none of us would be safe and sound. None. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.
THANK YOU to the Frangieh household which has stuck with that policeman through thick and thin. Pistachio goes a long way round this town. Corruption? Who cares. Madness? Nobody gives a shit. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.
THANK YOU to the people of Ebrine who haven’t spoken up against the guards roaming their streets, who believe their presence is absolutely normal, who think those duties are actually protecting them and who have forgotten how it is to live under duress, under an all-seeing eye monitoring your every move. What goes around comes around, indeed. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.
THANK YOU to the Lebanese government, in all its facets, for turning a blind eye to the rising self-governance taking place across the Lebanese republic. Extending the mandate of parliament is definitely more important. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.
Some people, like those guards and that policeman, deserve Daesh. So, in frank Lebanese let me tell them: tfeh.