Adonis Diaries

Introspection: Girl Helpers

Posted on: December 24, 2008

Introspection (continue 11)

Something about my primary and secondary schooling

My brother and I were enrolled in a French Catholic Brethren school in Beirut, Furn El Chebak, and my sister Raymonde at a Sisters’ French school nearby.  I could not write or speak a word of French and had to waste another school year to catch up with my French.  My aunt Therese, who lived with us for three years before she forced herself to get married and whom I missed very much, used to be very patient teaching me French.

I recall the first time I was asked to memorize a few French history sentences about “Chevalier Bayard sans peur et sans reproche” and Therese was patient with me for over three hours.  Therese was training us for “dictee” spelling and I was awful and my pieces were fraught with mistakes even after several trials.  At the end of the year, I was one of the best in French and succeeded in both the Lebanese and French certificates. Therese used to take me to movies and buy me French books, “collection green and rose”, and she was basically my unique buddy.

I had no social life outside my family and the family of my aunt Montaha on the next parallel street.  The next school year, I was so good in French that I used to come from school and read French books till it was time to go to bed. I recall that I visited only once a friend at his house and was amazed at the freedom that he enjoyed and the collection of songs that he owned; it was Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Rolling Stones period.  I never received friends at my home and was never asked to be visited.

Dad purchased a black and white TV in 1964 and then a music box, basically as decoration in the salon but which we used occasionally as we grew up.  My parents were well off financially at the time but they cared less for entertainment; and we never demanded anything since we were not used to luxury life and luxury items.  Luxury is a training exercise and you have to be trained to spend money until you get proficient in looking luxurious.

Dad would never give us pocket-money and I never asked him to.  I used to save what I received on special occasions like Christmas and Easter.  I do not recall that I ever asked dad for money, either out of pride or because I reduced drastically my range of desires for products.  When I was about 18 I started taking the tramway alone and saw movies alone and roamed the streets alone for many years alone.  Even during my university years I traveled alone and never missed a new theater performance or a good movie whether commercial or projected at cultural centers.  Maybe Ghassan was a bit shyer than me; I recall during my class of “cinquieme” that once Ghassan needed badly to go to the toilet but refrained from asking permission.  Ghassan left a long trail of excrement on the street on his way home.

Girl helpers

At the time it was the custom for well off family to hire girl child helpers from Syria around Safita.  My family was no exception. The father of any of these children between 10 to 12 years old would visit once a year to collect his money and leave.  We had three child helpers. The first one was named Salimeh and she was my age of 12 but was taller, robust and all muscles; I recall that I used to box her buttocks, hard as rock.  She was not pretty but she loved us dearly and we got used to liking her cheerful attitude.

The next one was even younger and she used to get lost everytime she had to accompany my sister Raymonde from school.  Once, she lost her way and Raymonde was already at home and she saw Raymonde on the balcony and hollered to her to come down to join her and go home.

The third helper was short, hard working and pretty; she had a round face and very large drooping eyes. She was in love with me but I was at the age when I could not stand romance.  I was glad when her father took her away but she was in cry and would not leave.  This girl helper was the last that mother hired.  I guess mother realized that these kids were more of a hassle to her as we had grown up a bit.

Mother was hard on the helpers and she made them wake up very early and work all day long for over 13 hours, but mother was meticulous that they keep clean, eating of our own food and wearing decent clothes.  It was hard for me to accept the conditions of these helpers once I became conscious of their alienation away from their homes for over two years sometimes.

The late author, Mai Ghoussoub described the life of one these kid helpers in her book “Farewell Beirut” and how she turned out to be a ferocious and fearless fighter during the civil war; most importantly, she never tried to get any revenge on her “masters” even though the eldest son had raped her and she was confined never to leave the apartment; the girl was just utterly happy to feel free.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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