Stories from Afar & Up Close

Where are the women?

First, I followed today’s news on the internet: ‘Roads to Airport and Kuwaiti embassy closed with rubble and burning tires’, ‘protestors smash shop-windows on Corniche Mazraa’, ‘hand-grenade thrown at protestors’. When the reporting became delayed, I went to friends with a TV, to actually see what was going on. Streets blocked by burning tires and garbage containers upside down, the blazing contents giving off thick clouds of black smoke. Throngs of young men on scooters, going this way or that, trying to find out where to go to join the fight. Small groups of soldiers from the Lebanese Army trying to push back the protestors without using force. Sounds of gunshots, images of broken windows, the firemen in t-shirts trying to extinguish cars set on fire. Young men on both sides of the street, screaming, burning each other’s flags. When the mosque sang, they stopped the chanting and the running back and forth to bend down and pray on the sidewalk. Sounds of small grenades and explosions, rattling of gunshots.

For whatever political reasons, the army didn’t crack down on the protestors, nor on the people they encountered so violently. It seemed there was a certain space for these men to express their anger, to contain what apparently can’t be avoided.

Vuilnisbak, op de kop Vuilnisbank, deel 2

I walked towards the areas of unrest, to a friend’s house in Bourj Abi Haidar. The streets were empty, except for small groups of men hanging on street corners, or sitting on doorsteps. Every once in a while there would be a garbage can upside down, or some other construction of scrap metal and junk, with the smoldering rests of fires and tires. Shops were closed, the metal shutters down, and if I remembered to look up, I saw people peeking down between the sunshades on the balconies, keeping themselves inside. Whenever I would see someone going in the opposite direction, I would ask them if there was ‘anything up there’. No, there was nothing and no-one, except for broken bricks blocking the road. It felt, strangely enough, like the aftermath of a big football match, or a large festival; everyone has gone home, all that rests is cleaning up.

And then I saw him. He was casually leaning against the wall, brand-new sunglasses on his nose, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. And he had a Kalashnikov at his waist and a string of ammunition around his neck. There was no doubt about it: this corner of the street was his, and his alone. He was the one to determine what was allowed to pass and what wasn’t. He didn’t hide it, he was just standing there, as if he finally had received what had been his all along.

And then I knew: it’s not another riot. It’s war. On the way back I saw two others had claimed their own corners, typical militia-style: sitting with one leg stretched out behind a small wall, just low enough to shoot over, just high enough to hide behind.

When I came home, the doorbell rang. ‘Lebanese Army. Don’t worry, it’s not your apartment we are after, but we would like to have a look at the streets from your rooftop-terrace.’