Lebanese Civil War Stories – Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

Saint George’s Hospital was packed. Simon’s mom looked at the multitude of strangers in front of her. They were all in agony. The mothers that had lost sons, the wives that had lost husbands…

She was asked to come down to the hospital. She didn’t know why but she felt it was odd that her sons hadn’t come back home yet. But for all she knew, they were hiding out at some relative’s house.

On her way there, she had heard how her brother-in-law’s son, my uncle John, was hit and taken to the Geitawi hospital. She knew his condition wasn’t severe. But why was she in Saint George’s hospital?

She looked around. Strangers. There wasn’t any face she recognized. And somehow, she couldn’t even connect to their pain. So she sat there, in the waiting room, waiting for God knows what.

But then she noticed the whispers. Why were the people there looking at her through sad eyes, breathing out worried words she couldn’t comprehend with their tired mouths.

And suddenly she felt there was something she didn’t know. And she started to get worried. Her sons hadn’t gotten home. Her oldest son, George, had gone to get his sister from school. Her son Simon had supposedly also gone to do the same thing.

Why weren’t they back yet? They should have been back when she left the house. Something must have happened to them…

And like every concerned mother, her train of thought took her from being in a relatively comfortable state to a mental wreck.

One of the doctors ran in front of her. She stood up and shouted “take me to your morgue”.

The doctor stopped in his tracks. He turned around and looked at her. “My sons are in your morgue. I need to see my sons”.

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Lebanese Civil War Stories – Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

If Geitawi was being bombed on that April 2nd afternoon, the deeper parts of Achrafieh were being hammered. My dad’s cousin was sheltered in their friends’ house on Ebrine Street, named after my hometown, adjacent to Mar Metr Street, made famous by the Orthodox church and its fancy cemetery.

The house Simon, my dad’s cousin, was seeking refuge in was few hundred meters away from the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family convent (Sainte Famille) present on that street as well. That convent was also the school his little sister Mary attended. He was supposed to take her back home but the bombing had gotten too intense.

Simon looked around at the terrified faces around him. There were two younger girls: Rosalie and Marie-Madeleine, sitting next to their mother, who was hugging them tenderly, not allowing them to see the frightened tears frozen on her face. Her husband and his brother were sitting next to them as well.

As the rockets that were falling increased in intensity and frequency, the smell of burning cement, wood and flesh started to fill their nostrils. The mother looked at Simon. He was terrified. He was worried something had happened to his sister’s school. The mother told him he needed to take his mind off his sister for the time being. There was an underground shelter two buildings away. They had to make a run for it.

The woman felt the bombing subside a little. And soon enough, the sounds of explosions had ceased – at least for a few minutes. But it was enough for them to make a run for it.

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Lebanese Civil War Stories – Part 1

Disclaimer: Leading up to April 13th, I’m going to post a few stories that I was told, about what people I know went through during the Lebanese Civil War. These posts will not have a political aspect nor will they be advocating for any party. They’re just that – stories.

It was April 2nd, 1986. My family’s neighborhood in Achrafieh, in the East Beirut at the time, was being heavily bombed. Our house lies between two hospitals and naturally, it was that area that was being bombed the most.

My grandpa was traveling, working in Saudi Arabia. My grandma was left alone with their kids. As it is with Lebanese people, they all cherish and brag about their resilience in the face of hardship. So naturally, those kids were sent to school.

As the bombing increased in intensity, my uncles started coming back home one by one. Soon enough, the only two people left outside were my youngest aunt, Lidia, and my father. Lidia was still in school, while my dad was busy doing what he excels at – being mischevious.

Soon enough, my grandma got worried. She was hiding in with whoever got home in a part of the house where bombs and missiles couldn’t reach. So when the intensity of the bombs subsided a little, my uncle John went out to get his sister from school. Continue reading

Stray Bullet (Rsasa Taycheh) – Movie Review

Currently in cinemas across Lebanon, this movie is a must-see to every Lebanese. It will leave some of you in tears, especially if you’ve actually lived some of the events firsthand. And if you haven’t and you actually can think for yourself, you will come out of it amazed. That was the case for most of the people in the cinema I went to tonight.

Let me start with what I saw when the movie ended. I looked around and there were grown men drying up their tears… men my dad’s age. This movie is that poignant.

Set in 1976 Lebanon during a period when people thought the civil war had ended. The story revolves around a 30-year old named Noha, portrayed by the ever brilliant Nadine Labaki – and we will be discussing her in due time. Noha is getting married to a guy she doesn’t love, in fear of becoming a spinster like her sister. And on the day that her family is preparing a dinner for her fiance’s family, she decides to meet up with her ex-lover.

The events that follow are what make this movie so real. The meeting with the ex-lover, the dinner, the family dynamics, the emotions expressed on screen, the witty dialogue…. This movie is very Lebanese. It was set in 1976 and yet it still feels very familiar. We have all had at least one scene in that movie happen in our households – regardless of how modern and classy you believe your household is. This movie brings us, with our mentality that we have come far since then, back to the ground, telling us: you are still the same people, 35 years were simply added to the date.

Apart from the heartfelt and close to home plot, the movie feels rustic. The art direction here is just terrific. I have no idea about the techniques with which they filmed this but it feels like the movie was actually filmed in those times.

Now to the acting… all the actors and actresses in this movie have apparently given their services for free, which rendered the budget a simple $0.5 million. And the acting is so brilliant, in fact, that I think the actors and actresses gave it their all. I honestly didn’t know Lebanese acting personnel had it in them to give such raw, gut-wrenching and real performances without coming off as fake.

Nadine Labaki, whom I repeat is as brilliant in what she does as brilliant goes, is terrifyingly good. Portraying the character Noha, she reminded me of a review I read by an American top critic of her 2007 movie Caramel. He said to look out for this woman, both directing and acting-wise. While she doesn’t showcase her directing chops in this movie, she more than excels in her acting. There’s one scene at her brother’s house that will leave you dumb-founded. Also the scene that follows that will leave you shaken to your core.

This movie’s title “Stray Bullet” is very poignant. And the content is even more so. It is reminding us, all of us, to beware of going back to times like the ones the movie illustrates without coming off as preachy. Some say the running time is too short. But I thought it was perfect. I wanted more. But I felt it ended right where it should have ended. It didn’t embellish the story with needless subplots. It just lets your mind fill in the blank with your own version of events.

Let me conclude by saying this: Stray Bullet will hit you straight in the heart. It’s that good and I think it’s an obligation for every Lebanese to watch it.