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“Farewell Beirut”, by Mai Ghoussoub , (November 14, 2008)

Farewell Beirut is fundamentally an autobiography and is of 220 pages and containing 15 chapters of short detailed stories that late Mai Ghoussou witnessed.

Mai Ghoussoub, a writer, sculpture, theater promoter, and a co-founder of the publishing house Dar Al Saki, was 54 when she died of complication from a surgery in London on February 17, 2007.

Mai participated in the Lebanese civil war by caring for the downtrodden Palestinians living in shantytown of refugee camps. She lost an eye by a rocket that hit her car while aiding in a clinic of Nabaa in East Beirut, and she suffered greatly for three years out of that injury.  Mai decided to leave Lebanon in 1979 and lived for a while in Paris and then moved to London.

Mai suggested to her old school friend Andre Caspar, who was hitchhiking in the USA, to join her and open a library that would offer Arabic books and manuscript.  The library led to instituting the publishing house Dar Al Saki in 1983. Mai married Hazem Saghieh, a writer and newspaper editor.

During an art exhibition in Shore Ditch London, Mai and her Israeli actress friend Anna Sharbati donned Moslem attires and held tennis rackets to stir any climate of conservatism in London, but nobody noticed them.

Mai recalls that at the age of 12, she was attached to her French teacher Nomie.  To please her teacher she wrote a lengthy fictitious essay that ended with an injunction for revenge on harms done to her.  Nomie gave her only 10 out of 20 points because the want for revenge is the basest of emotions… Mai retained that lesson and struggled with it most of her turbulent life, especially during part of the civil war.

First story.

Tiny and sickly Latifa was barely 9 years old when her Syrian father “rented” her for a year to work as maid (house helper). Latifa was to get up before any member of the family and go to bed in a corner of the kitchen after every member was asleep and work non-stop most of the time. Latifa, treated worse than a slave, endured all the miseries and humiliations. Latifa’s father used to show up drunk once a year to be paid without even bringing his daughter a token of a gift or spending any time with her.

Latifa was raped by the eldest son of the family and she was no longer permitted to leave the apartment. During the civil war in Lebanon, tiny Latifa was to brave the snipers and rockets to bring food to the family.  Latifa joined the militias of the neighborhood and moved with them; she covered her face with a hood (cagoule) so that nobody would recognize her, but her large eyes could not conceal her.  Latifa never took revenge on her “masters”, but tried her best to move forward.

Latifa got famous as “Um Ali”, and one of the toughest fighters in Beirut.  She was killed mysteriously and her “masters” had no photo of her to plaster it on the street in remembrance of a “martyr”.  Latifa lived incognito and died incognito.

Second story.

Said was the only son of the owner of a small grocery.  His family was constantly worried for his upbringing.  Said was a short, stocky, jovial and smiling helper; he delivered the groceries to the homes and was liked by the entire neighborhood; he wanted to join the “hospitality” business.

The civil war changed Said: he joined the militias and became a tough fighter.  There were plenty of rumors about Said’s deeds during the war; a sniper, a blackmailer, a leader of a group of fighters and anything that warriors are expected to end up doing among scared and humiliated citizens.

Said opened a small hotel after the war.  The author was unable to label a definitive judgment opinion on Said as she recalled him when Mai was settled overseas.  Can a man be fundamentally good and change to the opposite when circumstances change?

Third story.

Hashem is an Iranian refugee in Beirut, fleeing the new Khomeini Islamic regime.  Hashem is well like and funny and has strong and definite positions against the Western States and cultures.  He immigrated to Denmark during the Lebanese civil war and married the tall, beautiful and blonde Kirsten.  Kersten did her best to assimilate Hashem’s culture and tradition; she befriended his friends, learned to cook Iranian and Lebanese dishes, helped bring Hashem’s family to Denmark and had promised him to wear the veil when they decide to return to Iran or settle in Lebanon.

Hashem fell in love with Maria, a Chilean girl, while attending a Danish language center.  Maria didn’t care for Hashem’s friends or even his health; all she cared for was her relationship with Hashem.  Kirsten didn’t like the situation; she never reprimanded Hashem verbally: her eyes and silence and posture expressed her displeasure.

Hashem was killed in Danmark in 1989; Kirsten set up an official obituary in her church and in the mosque; she organized the funeral to its minute details and delivered the eulogy; she persisted on keeping Hashem’s memory every year and obliterated Maria from the picture. From now on Hashem solely belongs to Kirsten.

Mai volunteered her aid in the clinic of the Chatila Palestinian camp at the start of the civil war; she cataloged the medicines and shelved them accordingly. A young Palestinian leader visited the camp and saw Mai; he sent one of his sbirs to fetch Mai to his headquarter. Mai and Abu Firas enjoyed a secret amorous affair for long time until Mai’s brother got injured.  Abu Firas made the error of visiting Mai at the hospital; Mai’s family and acquaintances got wind of her marginal affair and she had to leave Lebanon to Paris when her brother recovered.

Mai never carried a weapon or engage in any skirmishes.  Mai was comfortably installed in Paris when she received a long distance call from Lebanon; Mai refused to take the call of Abu Firas:  instead, she wandered in the streets of Paris to relieve the anxiety of the onslaught of her memory of the civil war.

Mai had questions nagging at her “would she ever be able to convince herself that she didn’t participate in the civil war?”, “would she be able to erase the facts that she met assassins and didn’t oppose their deeds?”

One thing that Mai is convinced of is that she allied to mercenaries on ideological grounds and let her country go to hell.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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