Saturday, January 13, 2007

Being in Tripoli

Tripoli this week is wet and cold. Colder still as Tante’s apartment does not have heat. Just one tiny little electric heater that she pulls out to warm her feet in the evening when she watches TV or entertains. While I am fine with cold weather outside, now that I have discovered the fine art of layering and shopping at REI, I still do not like the cold inside especially when I am already bundled up and am still cold! The cold reminded me of a trip I took to Potosi, Bolivia where I was so cold, I went to bed super early to keep warm under the sheets. I did the same my two nights in Tripoli.

Looking at pictures with Tante. Evelyne and her sister and brothers as children. Pictures of Tante as a young woman and before she was married and of her and her husband after. She married at 40 and her husband was 60. A pastor like her father.

Time passes and we have these faded two dimensional reminders of change. It is a subject that is on my mind a lot recently as I visit the place I grew up after 26 years. All the new buildings when expected green and space. My memories buried under concrete and asphalt. Mansour’s son, Jimmy, and how much he looks like the Mansour I remember. Being forced to think about things that I haven’t had to think about such as the place where mother’s plate fell on the stairway outside, the sound of it falling and breaking while I ate my first cucumber sandwich.

As Tante started putting away the old photos, the local mosque started letting out a sad call to prayer. It made me so sad thinking that yet again Lebanon is in this uncertain period. Rumors, what are they? Where do they come from? The radio? The television? The newspaper? Conversations and interactions between people? What I read in the paper is nothing, talks, talks, talks. I have no clear idea of what it all means.

Tante’s apartment is like going into a time capsule and going back 40 or more years. A midtwentieth century version of an apartment in one of Naguib Mahfouz’s novels. The apartment building’s entrance is on the side, down an alley. A men’s shirt store, a butcher, and a pharmacy are underneath while a minimarket is around the corner. A dark staircase with an elevator that works when there is electricity. Cold when we walked in, the kind of cold that comes from an apartment with no heat on a cold day.

We ate cheese and bread. Then the cold started creeping into my bones and when the electric heater wasn’t working, I decided to take a walk. Cold and rainy outside too but the walk did me good. Maneuvering around cars and pedestrians keeping a sense of where I came from so that I would not get lost. Lots of women with head scarves. No foreigners or light skinned people anywhere. Even in my raincoat on and a hood, I felt like I stood out. While I am used to standing out, I am much more uncomfortable about it when I know that my country is so disliked. Finally found a little shop with food. I stumbled around with my few words in Arabic that I can say. I can understand a lot more.

The apartment is so interesting. Fifties looking features including a fish tank with pictures of her late husband, awards and reminders like a shaving brush and a tie. His life instead of that of a fish.

A song for a door bell. "My Fair Lady?" Closed up rooms with old curtains covering the windows. Big windows open to the street. You can see all that is happening on the street from one large window. We ate all of our meals there.

Fatouche. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, lemon juice and oil. Potato kibbee and omelettes with parsley- bakdounis.

The sun brightly shines in the window. Tante likes to sit here and watch the neighborhood. I can see why. People go to work, young men stop for a smoke and to chat outside the 24 hour internet “café.” A cat picks through garbage outside. Then a man picks through for recyclables to sell. People go shopping for el-Adha. Songs all night and day. Right now I hear a car alarm and mosque chanting. People walking in streets while honking cars go by.

One neighbor is Palestinian and Christian, married to a Moslem. She has to work today. 2 minutes after she drove off, her parking spot was taken by another woman. Tante does not drive, neither did her husband after he had an accident. They took taxis everywhere. This other neighbor always picks the garbage on the street. You can hear the banging and pounding of the butcher downstairs. Tante said that this apartment was bombed and destroyed in 1975. Luckily she was staying upstairs with her neighbor.

A friend of Tante’s tells me he likes Bush because "he is pro-family and against gay marriage and abortion." I laugh to myself as he must have no idea where I stand politically. I concentrate on asking him what he thinks is worse, over 153 thousand dead in Iraq alone or two people of the same gender loving each other enough to want to marry. It is hard for me to understand how anyone could support Bush here.

Later he tries to convert me and convince me to marry. He is a nice man but he tires me out. A minister also dropped by Tante’s and tried to convert me and tell me my job was to be married. I no longer have patience for these conversations and will not let them continue. I change the subject after telling him that I disagree and do not waste my time on the conversation. It’s not the politest technique but quite frankly, how polite is it to tell me that I live in the dark because I am not married and do not believe Jesus is the world’s savior?


bluegrrrrl said...

Beautiful descriptions and reflections on your thoughts, impressions, memories of being in this place. Conversations such as you describe with Tante's friend and the minister wear on me too. Sounds like you handled it effectively. I don't think politeness requires subjecting myself to assault by somebody else's values.

Margaret said...

I feel that women give men way too much verbal space, bluegrrrl. I've had it. Thanks for understanding.

Julie said...

Thanks for the comment Margaret. The boys are doing well. Nate has started to show some intrest in the potty.. next step will be getting to actually say the word potty.. but I'm going to work on him saying momma first.. he still isn't speaking much.
Fanstastic post and description. I love the part where you laugh a little when he starts to express that he likes bush..
Keep up the good work Margaret.. world needs more of you.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to use your blog for comments, it's the first time I do it so hope it works!!
I wanted to let you know I loved your writing about Tripoli and La Tante Malake!!! I felt the cold and dampness and a certain loneliness in tante's life despite her being surrounded with friends, I loved the pictures too and how you write about all this, so sensitive and touching
as well as creative!!
Your indignation and revolt about the attitude and comments of some of the men there were also very strong and reminded me of my being so upset while traveling together.
Take care dear Margaret, I send you all my love,

Margaret said...

I am so glad that you are in my life, E.

Margaret said...

Reading your posts and comments always reminds me of how many ways there are to contribute in this world. I am so glad that you have the will, desire, and energy to be a mom.