Adonis Diaries

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Day 2. Volunteered two hard days of work: Where is this Kawzah (South Lebanon)?

Posted in August 27, 2011

Note: In Context. It is a small village in south Lebanon, this Kawzah, barely 50 families still hanging on, and a tiny St. Joseph church looking neglected from the outside, though fine and shining in the inside.

The church needed a face lift in repainting walls white, the iron fences and doors black, and planting a few plants in the miniature wild garden…and mainly collecting the dirt and a good hosing down of the yard…

Kawzah is mainly two hills: One of the hills is occupied by the UN contingent of Ghana.

Lebanon is the guest of a dozen UN contingents in the south, presumably to providing security to the offensive State of Israel.  The money for this volunteer program is from an old grant signed with Italy in 2007.

Sunday August 21, 2011

It is 11 pm on a clear night. We are departing from Maroun el Ras, the highest small town overlooking Israel (altitude 1,000 meters) and which resisted Israel “preemptive war” in July 2006 for a week.

We entered Bint Jbeil, the capital city of western South, and prevented Israel to enter it, even after being totally demolished. Apparently, Hezbollah was Not ready to confront Israeli advance to that town, and half a dozen Communist fighters took strategic positions on buildings and delayed the advance until Hezbollah fighters arrived and took over the battle.  The Emir of Qatar contributed and rebuilt the city.

We drove through Rmeish and witnessed two humongous wedding parties.  Rmeish has three luxurious wedding restaurants, and 12,000 of its inhabitants flock in summer time.

In winter, Rmeish population is barely 6,000, (an estimate according to the hearsay of the people), still the largest “Christian town” in this southern region.

We passed the wedding that the volunteers from Debel and Rmeish were attending, and headed to another complex Sky Plaza (with an olympic swimming pool) where another wedding was going full blown.

We sat for dinner, overhanging the wedding party.  The restaurant claimed that it has no “a la carte” menu (tonight?), but regular mezze ( an arrangement of a dozen small platters of a little of everything Mediterranean dishes).  We ordered Lebanese beer Almaza.

We were 8 sitting at the table, but hunger was satisfied quickly. It appears that Ihab, Marwan, and I tasted from each dish and saved the honor of the eaters. We were kind of ripe for bed.

Chelsea just dropped her head on the table and was having a night dream.

It was time to pay the bill. Ihab was asked to pay his share.  He was beside himself and told me: “Food was supposed to be free of charge to volunteers.  We were entitled to a dinner. I have only about $5 left in my pocket…”  I agreed with him.

We were home by 12:30 am.

The air-conditioned room allocated to males was displaced to a non-conditioned.

We were expecting a cool night as promised, but our luck deteriorated in this humid night.  I had two alternatives: Cover up my face from mosquito bites and sweat it out, or doze on the balcony, much cooler. Cedric moved his “bed” to the saloon, facing an open door.

Ihab was plainly hot and suffocating.  I kind of overheard him saying that his bunk should have been by the open door and not by the wall:  I was prompt in being first to selecting my bed, though it didn’t make much difference.

As Cedric was just getting to sleep, Ihab woke him up to complain again of the unfairness of paying for the dinner at the restaurant.  I woke up at night, and here is Ihab complaining again.

I stepped outside to the balcony and Ihab followed me. I went back to bed and Ihab joined me.  I think we didn’t sleep much that night.

I woke up around 5:30 am and shaved and then got back in bed and covered my face.  You think mosquitoes give up after 6 am, or after 7 am.  This was not the case.

Around 6 am, Ihab was feeling too hot to staying in bed.  For an hour, Ihab kept zipping and unzipping his small bag. The process is zip, ramage inside the bag, kratch, kritch…zap, and this noise continued for ever, including re-arranging the plastic bag.

I thought: “Either the zipping mechanism is going to break down, or Ihab is going to be surprised of finding gold in the bag…” It was the turn of Cedric to wash and re-arrange his bags.

Around 7 am, the party was having a nice, village-type breakfast, fresh products, real olive oil, jams, cheese, tea, fruits…

We arrived at the church in Kawzah by 8:15.  The volunteered kids were already there and eating manakeech.

Frankly, the piece of mankouch that I tasted was not tasty and was hard to chew on, but the hungry kids were not complaining.

The scene looked “exhausted”, Not ready for work:  The girls were waiting nonchalantly.

I decided to clean up the debris, dirt, plastic hand gloves, just to to have a good visual of the battle field.  Emilie gathered us in groups again:  Priority was to make the church surrounding as white as possible.

By 9 am, we were surprised to witness the Rmeish volunteers step out of the bus:  They had barely slept from a night-long wedding partying.  Mass started at 9:30 and many had an excellent excuse to attend mass instead of working.

The priority shifted toward rendering the outside wall white instead of brown dirt. Michelle galvanized the Rmeish volunteers by working on the ego of their “leader”: “If you work, they will join you“.  It worked, and the outside wall was kind of whiter within two hours.

After 2 pm, we focused on scrapping the ground of paints, white and black. We had four hand scrapers (mejhaf) and I worked pretty hard scrapping, kneeling and stooping.

Mario was the hardest male volunteer and climbed on the roofs to paint white the borders.  Three girls worked very hard, among them was Manuella who took over from me hosing down (shatef) the saloon:  She had one finger blistered by the end of the task.

A water truck arrived and a complete hosing down of the yard was undertaken.

The job was done by 3:30 and we settled in groups talking.  The volunteers of Rmeish and Debel complained that the government has this policy (for the last 30 year, of castrating them from higher offices in public service positions).  Why?

Debel and Rmeish are considered potential hotbed towns for spies to Israel:  They have been recruits in the Lebanese army detached to the south, which allied to Israel for over 25 years against the Palestinian Resistance and later against Hezbollah.

Elie said that the highest rank he could dream off is sergeant in the internal security forces (darak).  Elie said that the only ways to keeping in touch with relatives and families living in Israel was through the Christian churches.

Many Lebanese who fled to Israel in May 24, 2000 returned to Lebanon. A few who returned faced military court, served short prison terms and where released.

(It is to be noted that Hezbollah never entered any of “Christian towns” in order to avoid quick revenge, as it happened in France as the Germans vacated Paris, and waited for the lebanese army to take care of the situation)

I said to Elie that they should keep knocking on all doors and not just wait for any quick changes in policies toward the Christian Lebanese in the southern villages. I said that the current government will be more receptive to their demands if they get out of their shells and connect.

(My contention is that they should open lines of communications with Hezbollah: The successive Lebanese government never considered the south as part of Lebanon, kind of hopeless case, since independence in 1943)

Around 4 pm, tables and chairs were brought by a caterer, along with food to be cooked fresh.

It was the usual: shish tawook (chicken), shish pork, homus, baba ghanouj (mashed eggplant with sesame sauce), and imported German beer, which made me sick an hour after we finished.  I had gas pressing on my chest and stomach for over 3 hours.

We danced dabkeh and I participated vigorously.  The volunteer of Debel insisted that we prolong the party and we arrived at a natural grove, surrendered by five ancient oak trees.  There is an underground cave dug in stone with 12 burying grounds dug in the stone inside.

The people in this region disseminate the myth that Jesus and his disciples, who actually lived in that region for 20 years before Jesus ventured to upper Galilee to preach his message, made this cave a dwelling place in period of persecutions.

They claimed that Israel, on purpose, tried to bomb this place during the preemptive war of July 2006.  My contention was “if they are hiding, why do they have to dig in the stone to sleep instead of arranging a more comfortable place?”  I think this grove was the burial ground of a rich family.

Well, I was in bad shape to participate in the conversation, but I shared a cup of whiskey. There was a swimming complex ten meters up and I was glad to pay a visit to the toilet.

By 8:30 pm we were heading back home.  It took over 2:30 hours to arrive in front of the ministry of social affairs. Cedric had decided to join the car of Hala in order to have a reprieve from Ihab’s repeat stories.

Emilie was feeling sleepy and hungry for a dish of real salad.  We had to wait 20 minutes for Hala to arrive: They paid a visit to the nearby office of Cedric to check the WC.

Cedric drove half asleep and we were lucky to be home at around 12:30 am.

Note 1:  Emilie teaches Arabic at a private school, and work on contract with the ministry of social affairs for volunteer programs during summer.  She is also a member of YMCA and participate almost every year to YMCA conventions and training sessions. (I think it was Emily who congratulated Cedric for having such an uncle ready to volunteer in hard work)

Note 2:  Hala, the chief program coordinator, works on contract with the ministry of social affairs.  When she saw me she said: “I have seen that face”.  It turned out that she was studying computer engineering at LAU Byblos during the period I was teaching courses in Industrial Engineering.  She has a friend of a few Industrial engineers whom took a few courses with me.

Note 3:  Read Day One

Day 1. Volunteered two hard days of work: In Kawzah (South Lebanon)?

August 27, 2011 

It is a small village in south Lebanon, this Kawzah, barely 50 families still hanging on, and a tiny St. Joseph church looking neglected from the outside, though fine and shining in the inside.

The church needed a face lift, repainting walls white, the iron fences and doors black, and planting a few plants in the miniature wild garden…and mainly collecting the dirt and a good hosing down of the yard…

Kawzah is mainly two hills: One of the hills is occupied by the UN peace contingent of Ghana. The money is from an old grant signed with Italy in 2007. (see note 1)

Volunteering two hard days of work for a stupid church?

Not my cup of tea: It would have never crossed my mind to beautify a church, since the concept of religion is anathema to me, a dangerous exclusive concept that was not intended to bring peace and equitable behavior to mankind.

Maintaining a church was not my goal for this adventure: I wanted to get acquainted with the western region of south Lebanon and get to meet the youth…

Cedric woke me up at 6:15 am:  We had to drive to the ministry of social affairs in Badaro to join a bus, for about a 3-hour trip.

My niece Chelsea came along: She just had two days of scout camp, and barely had enough hours of sleep.  She made up the loss in sleeping in the car all the way.  This was the case of Cedric too: He had two hours of sleep.  And I wonder, are volunteers lacking sleep serious about working?

We brought sleeping bag on account that we were to sleep in a vacant school.  No bus was waiting for us.

Instead, Emilie the project coordinator was waiting (see note 2 in Day Two).

Since over 40 volunteers were expected to arrive from the neighboring villages to Kawzah, it was advantageous to cut down on expenses. Consequently, we waited for the chief coordinator Hala to arrive and drove in two cars.

As we were waiting, a tall and chubby guy showed up carrying a small bag and a large plastic bag.  His name is Ihab.  Ihab began his marathon of talk:  He was waiting since 6:30 am for this bus to show up, and then he walked around the corner and met us.

Hala arrived with Michelle.  Michelle had barely two hours of sleep since she spent last night dancing in a bar in Gemmayzeh till 5 am. Chelsea joined the car of Hala.  Cedric and Ihab and I accompanied Emilie.

We stopped at a Bohsali sweet shop by Tyr and waited for Hala.  Ihab explained that the portion of the highway from Saida to Tyre was not constructed because late Rafic Hariri PM decided to build a Mosque in the name of his father, just where the highway was planned to pass. The reverse trip on the highway is fine all the way, and passes by the Main Street of Saida and by the mosque.

Ihab never stopped talking: He has this urge of cutting in every conversation as he recalled a story to tell.  Usually Ihab starts with a long introduction and then forget the main topic.  Ihab keeps repeating his stories.  It is kind he has a Markov memoryless dysfunction Markov Chain process is a mathematical probability method where an event cannot remember the previous event, it has no links whatsoever…

Iqbal is a professional “search and locate” of volunteer associations and NGO that provide expense-free adventure in transport, food and lodging for free work.  This trip was supposed to be free as announced.

Iqbal claims that he has been volunteering for these kinds of associations since 2001 and has visited most of Lebanon.  He claims that he established his own NGO, but it is not taking off, due to his “control freak” attitude.

Although Emilie has done this trip once before, we had to ask for directions for added confirmation:  We were already 30 minutes late for the appointed schedule.

We arrived at 10:30.  The dozen gallons of paints were there, but not the tener bottles for thinning and cleaning paints. The paint rollers and garden equipments were ready, but the plan for beginning the work was still in the “planning phase”.

There was a confusion of how to start, since the expert artisans had not received direction to guide and train the troops.

We were divided into three groups. White T-shirt were distributed. I decided to join the group of wall painters and took the initiative to rub and clean a wall, and then started to paint.

The tone was set and people began to get involved at work.  The sun was scorching and it was hard work at noon time.  It is not possible to work between 11 and 3 pm, but that what we were doing.

It was a field day for the children who enjoyed painting, but they refused to rub and clean the iron first. 

You had more paints on the ground and on shirts and hands than on the iron fences.  You cannot believe the quantity of hand plastic gloves that were wasted: You think they were candies.

The kids also poured more white paints on the floor in the adjacent one room construction than on the walls.

An older person in kaki short hollered to the kids to never touch on paints anymore.  The kids just found another area to bypass the eyes of the kaki-shorted individual. The next day was dedicated to cleaning the mess that the children did!

We had a break around 1:30 pm because food was not ready.  I overheard someone saying that 100  “tawook” (chicken) sandwiches and 100 kafta will be delivered.

I said that quantity was far more than needed and the guy said: “These hard working young men need plenty of nourishment”.  Half of the sandwiches ended as leftover.

We had Pepsi and Miranda for drinks.  Someone asked for hot water for his Nescafe, and I said: “There are plenty of warm potable water, but not that hot for your purpose.”

I told the curator of the church to think of allocating a toilet for this crowd.  One of the doors in the previous municipality quarter was thus opened to give way for a decent WC.

We resumed work around 3 pm, but the energy had gone and we dragged on till 5 pm.  We were supposed to have dinner and an evening of partying (sahra), but the volunteers from the villages of Rmeish and Debel had a wedding to attend to.

The sahra was cancelled to next day afternoon as we finish our job.  Marwan was appointed by Tony to lead us on a tour of the villages of Ain Ebel, Bint-Jbeil and Maroun el Ras in the evening after we had our showers.  The school to sleep in was substituted to a house.

Tony welcomed us to his house in Debel.

The extended family was waiting for us.  It appeared that the houses of Tony’s brothers and sisters, and parents were adjacent to one another, sort of an enclave for the clan. I was kind of apprehensive of shaking hands with the women, but Tony said: “Go ahead, it is alright”

Since everyone was kind of shy, I took advantage to using the shower first.

After my quick wonderful shower, Rita was serving fruits in the open balcony.  (Na3eman Adonis). Hala and Michelle used the shower of Tony’s brother home. Such a clear night: It seemed to me that all the stars in the sky were concentrated on top of me; so many stars, and so close to one another.

I learned that Tony and Marwan spent three years in Naharya (Beach town in Israel/Palestine) after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 24, 2000 without any preconditions or negotiation. 

Marwan must have been a child then and joined his parents to Israel, supposedly fleeing the wrath of Hezbollah for  them joining, facilitating,  and participating in Israel occupation of south Lebanon for 25 years.

Tony did a six month prison term in the infamous Roumieh prison, after he returned to Lebanon. Six months in Roumieh, a prison designed for 1,500 prisoners and currently holding 4,000 prisoners is a brutal prison term: Drugs flow freely in that prison and conditions are very bad.

Marwan joined us on the vast balcony.  Alex, the 11 year-old son of Tony kept lighting firecrackers.  Michelle is scared of firecrackers and I told Alex to bring a book so we can read. Alex said :”7el 3anni” (keep away from me) and resumed firing.

Is this need to hearing loud cracking noises a new gene that grew out of 15 years of brutal civil war?

Seems people who were not born during the civil war (1975-1990) need hearing bombing to feel that life is back to normal!

This summer, firecrackers turned out to be of the very powerful kinds and the ministry of interior prohibited firecrackers.  Two weeks of reprieve for our ears was all that resulted: Firecrackers of heavier caliber surfaced to “disturb the peace”.

Debel is built on a hill, and it is surrounded by 7 hills, two of the hills are part of Kawzah and the others are part of Debel, though nothing is built on them.

I asked Marwan if there is any river crossing the tight valley and he said that only one potable fresh source is available down the valley, and water flows into a small lake (berkeh).

Marwan said that he heard that, in early days, water depth reached the neck of camels, but now water reaches you waist.  Marwan resumed: “Once a year, the village of Debel descend to clear and clean the water source area, but the residents of the village of Anouf throw all kinds of waste in there” (Marwan meant that the Chias of that village do not respect the environment…)

As everyone had his shower by 9 pm, we drove in two cars and passed Ain Ebel, Rmeish, Bint Jbeil, Yaroun, and Maroun al Ras.

We could see the dozen lighted Jewish colonies.  A few colonies use yellow lights and others blueish.  I presume the older colonies use older yellow lighting bulb.  I noticed red lights, spaced a mile away.  Marwan said the red lights might be used to delimit boundaries; it does not explain that the red lights reach deep into the colonies.

There is a new fantastic and new resting place up there in Maroun el Ras, facing down the Jewish colonies.  Families spend their days and evening in individual booths, equipped with a water fountain and a grill.

Each booth is named after an Iranian district with details on the districts, such as area, population, where it is located on the map…One handicap though:  The toilets are Arabic style, which means you have to stoop on your heels.  I can do that for three minutes, but then if my bowel movement is not that ripe, I might end up sitting on my shit… (The night is not over. Expect continue of Day 2)

Note 1:  Italy had signed grant contracts with the ministry of social affairs in 2007, but it will not renew any grants before 2013 for budget cuts, sort of cutting expenses on foreign aids, a million here and a million there so that Italy air force may purchase an extra fighter jet in order to play the game of cat and mouth with presumed “rogue States“.

It is the same story with Spain, France…Italy has one of the largest UN contingent in South Lebanon.  Italy has donated a bus to the nearby village of Debel, a couple of miles from Kawzah. The bus purpose is to provide transport of elder people for tour trips and occasional events such as wedding and tasting of food of student cooks…I used to organize these kinds of tour for elderly people in San Francisco…

Note 2: Read day two




February 2023

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