Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lebnaneyyat - Children of Hreik

We were supposed to work with water bottles today. Empty plastic water bottles.
I'd collected some over the week and they came in with a few (few awey) themselves.
the deal was that we would work with around 20 kids, 8-12 years of age; that way it would be most effective.. i could work with up to 25 and if they were more we would divide them in groups and give them different activities.
so we had around 30 bottles between us, and around 40 kids. Aged 6-15. yup, a little off the mark after all.
We ended up buying more water bottles (as the situation got a little dangerous with the bottle-less kids), and seeing that i could not speak of recycling and using resources that surrounded us, and empty the bottles to the ground, i walked around the area, demonstrating how you watered trees. We watered the trees in haret hreik.

A few hours into the mayham, i found a few of the more difficult guys gathered in a corner, lying on their stomachs, or crouched on their knees, scribbling on pieces of paper and looking at each other's frantically as if they were in some competition. I worry about competitions, and so jogged over.. where were their bottles anyway?

I inquired to the bottles and they pointed to them by tossing their chins towards them or shouting over their shoulders and returned to their scribbling. They had , quite naturally, made bombs and rockets. Some of the water botles were in pieces. THe rockets were in shards once they landed you see. They could even tell you where each of the rockets had landed. But their sentences came in short bursts, or ended abruptly midway.. you were a nuisance. what in god's name where they doing..

i walked up closer trying to read over their shoulders.. i was impressed they could write.. the pages they leaned over were drenched in words. I just couldn't manage to read them. and then when i could, i still couldn't understand.. what was this?
then i came across one word, ' el bawarej..' and it dawned on me..
they were writing bits and pieces of Nasrallah's speeches, racing over who could remember the larger chunks.

Shocked at first, i calmed myself with the memory of the kid on the plane who sang nancy 3agram songs between intervals of 'twinkle twinkle little starts' and 'fre're-o jack-o' on the plane. If they could remember the song, why would they not remember the speeches their lives depended on?

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she asked, her friend standing next to her watching me closely, both of them looking very suspicious..
'aywaaa..' i answered feigning skepticism and curiosity myself at the drawl with which my name was pronounced..
'Betsumey ya Alia..?'
I smiled. Definitely more cunning than Lebanon had me used to. 'Aywa basume' i said after much thought.
I asked them if it made a difference to our friendship. They stayed quiet and could not answer. I talked for a while of something i knew would make no difference , was not in place, and that i probably knew very little of anyway, so i just trailed off, and got busy tying a knot for someone. They skipped off.

THey were back. This time giggling and pinching each other, pushing each other to ask the question.
'Beteftarey 3ala adhan sunney wala adhan shee3ey..'
not so smart. all they had to do was wait. The shi3ey and sunney adhan were fifteen minutes apart.. in a restaurant, a playground or on the street, i was taught you could tell them apart that way. i responded, and the shock on their faces was indescribable.
A few stories by one of the girls gave away the strength of their political orientations and loyalties at home; and thus quite obviously, which adhan they ate to. The area we were in easily dictated the question of whether or not fasting availed here.
The thing that came to my mind on reading the shock on their faces was that they looked as a man who i would have tricked as to my religion or marriage status would have seemed. That is what IMMEDIATELY came to my mind. The giggles suddenly stopped, one girls gasped so quickly and spontaneously she almost choked on it. They looked at each other, tried to regain their composure, mumbled something inaudible and tripped as they walked away. Would it affect our friendship; i wanted to ask again..
but the answer was clear. And for a second i felt as uncomfortable as i would have felt had i been a child and told i could not play because i was Egyptian.
What it is about the way they did it that pronounced such final rejection i do not know...perhaps it was the uncertainty, no , the sort of 'obligation' with which they did it..
it was not that they didn't want to be friends with me, it was the realization that they 'couldn't' be. True, we later overcame it, and things were fine when we played (they were after all 9 and 10), but still there was that moment of realization, almost revealing a kind of treachery they could not reconcile themselves to.. or a million questions and phrases that repeated themselves in their minds, so that such YOUNG faces were immediately creased with concerns, and a burden, i would not have imagined possible at that age. and the contrast of such a concern or burden to the giggles that preluded them was profound.

It's a different experience for us altogether. H, who was lebanese later told me.
When the kids found out Mark 'doesn't fast', and told him he couldn't play, when they teased him, and even though it was short-lived, it echoed and rippled alot deeper with all of us. Everything they said and did brought back painful memories for all of us.. we all had some of these experiences when we were young.. and we lost so much more than a game or two on account of it.
When they teased him, it put us all at great unease, but more importantly it hurt like hell..
it wasn't that they were kids and we were adults, it was that we were catapulted into the world of insecurity, distrust, fear, bombs, separation , we had hoped to have climbed out of. All our childhood fears and experiences threatened to return.
it's a constant reminder of how fragile the situation is... of how much work there is to be done.
it's very different for us ya Alia.. it's not just about working with kids..


This time we made worry dolls. In Guatemala it is said that, the Mayans believe that if you tell a worry doll ur worries, and place it under ur pillow the worry people come at night and take them away. The day before, we gathered 'round, i told the story, and explained how we would make the dolls using match-sticks.
'You talk to dolls?' One girl asked me with an expression of exaggerated skepticism and disbelief..
'yup' i admitted -- looks were exchanged , eye-balls rolled, lips curled, and laps slapped as some boys cracked up.
'Do you pray to the dolls?!' one little wrapped girl asked -- her expression was less skeptical and more hopeful - more like - 'please don't tell me we can't work together..'
'No , i talk, i don't' pray..'
i tried in a futile attempt to explain how sometimes talking about a problem makes it go away in here -- gesturing towards my chest, where problems at times, pile up.
On the other hand, i pulled out my trusty worry note book, where my little worry dolls were pasted.. i explained you could also 'write' ur worries.. There was less skepticism, more interest at the prospect of writing the worries -- good,i thought.. maybe i'll still have some of them tom.
Still however, there were no signs of appreciation towards my worry dolls.

The next day, almost all of them showed up; more notably, was a significant level of excitement towards the making of the dolls.
Perhaps it seemed fun.
As tedious as the whole process was however (imagine breaking matchsticks into arms and leggs, wrapping them in thread and yarn to make clothes, and cutting pieces of cloth to clothe them) a strange silence reigned over the playground as the kids were immersed in a (short lived) deep concentration as they perfected their worry dolls. The experience was very similar with the notorious all boy cast (so named 'kata2eb el 3azab) that i worked with the next week.

Jad, ( a five year old) was even making several worry dolls and hiding them - at the end of the day we found he had glued them to a piece of paper and then many others producing a replica of my notebook.. not only on his own, but in secret. He would write his bedtime stories for the worry dolls to come to life to.

We did not only have worry dolls; the Guatemalan ones had painted sand on their matchstick heads as hair. We had long blond haired ones, long black braided locks on others; we had a king with a crown, a clown, some wore scarves, others waistcoats, some held umbrellas, and some held truce flags.. the creativity with such tiny structures was incredible..
Then was time to pack and leave..

The questions.
How do you speak to them.. what time exactly .. was their a way you asked for things.. would they not break under the pillow? was it a pinnochio sort of phenomena? Do they need to be warm in the winter; can i name them?

And then she came through. Older than most of the others, Hajjar always seemed a little shy at showing too much excitement at what she should have outgrown.
Tightly wrapped, Hajjar approached amongst the crowd.. the crowd needed knots, more glue the scissors, a name, an answer...
she stood in the middle of all of them and asked a question in her normal tone of voice.. not bothering to raise it over the din. Particularly interested in what she had to say, and fearing she might change her mind, i reached for her hand, and tried to pull her closely.. she resisted, and kept asking the same question over and over.. head tilted slightly downwards, eyes looking up, and speaking softly.
At this i tried to come closer myself..
(Are they solved)
She looked up at me which such concentration keda.. i can't say 3asham, because it was just too intense a look, as if she not only wanted to hear the answer, bas see it in my face. She squinted, her look challenging, shy, and yet there was something almost desperate about it.
But what was i to say..
There was little scope to explain anything in such a din, and i had already learnt better than to sugar cream or magic wand anything..
I once again brought my hand to my upper chest and gestured there..
The gestures i made as if to say that the vanished in here.. where the burden accumulates the most..
She nodded the disappointment clear and unmistakable. She attempted a meek smile at me, but could not even keep it for as long as it took her to turn her head and walk away, her neck craned, shoulders slumped, and her face clad with a disappointment i would have never wished to have seen; nor brought about.

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