The Dark Room, September 1987, Beirut.
A reminder, by Jamila Mohamad Hooker, Beirut, Lebanon, 2013.
The floor is ice cold and it is so dark in the basement that I can barely see my toys. Mama is holding me in one arm and my brother Ali, who is one year old than me, in her other arm. We hear loud noises coming from outside. Bombs. The floor is shaking. Tears are running down her face. I look up to her: “Mama, waynuwe baba?” Where is daddy? She holds me even tighter than before. “Khalas habibi, khalas.” It’s ok darling, it’s ok. My oldest brother Tarek is sitting in the corner across from us talking to Hassan. “I saw a dead body.” Mama screams at him “Tarek, stop!” I’m thinking…a dead body? Where did he see a dead body? What does ‘dead’ mean? I feel safe when I am laying in Mama’s arms, but why is Mama’s body so sweaty and shaking? It scares me. Bilal who is older than Ali and me, around seven at this time, walks up to us with a medicine bottle in his hand. “Mama, can I drink this? I am thirsty.” Her voice is shaking “No habibi, no. This is medicine, baba will be back soon with water and bread. Just be patient habibi. Come sit down.” She touches his forehead and feels his temperature. He has a fever. “Bismillah.”
My father is walking back and forth in the room. He looks at my mother and takes a deep breath. “Nabila, we need to leave as soon as possible. We are all in danger. What if something happens to the boys? Soldiers are going from house to house taking boys to war. Do you want them to take Tarek and Hassan, maybe even Bilal?! There is no hope in this country anymore. Soraya is in Germany with Rafiq and my other brothers. I can speak to my boss and see if we can get visas through the help of the Middle East Airline. If not, I am sure your father can make it happen. He has a lot of power at the airline.” She looks at him with her big and shiny dark brown eyes, full of fear. “Tayyib.” Okay.
The war in Lebanon is going on for 14 years, when my parents decide that it is time to leave Lebanon to find a safer place to live. A place where their five kids can get a good education and do not have to be scared of bombs and guns. Germany. At this point I am almost four years old. I was born in a war, but I have only spent four years in the city, which used to be called “the Paris of the Orient”, “the Pearl of the East”. People from all over the world would come to Lebanon to spend their holidays relaxing at the beach and the following day head up to the mountains to ski, but this was long before I was born. At a time, when my grandfather Abu Nabil was a young man enjoying his life to the fullest. Beirut used to be known for its beauty. Oh by the way, my name is Jamila, the Arabic word for beauty. I never got to know the “Pearl of the East”. Even 21 years later after we left our home country there is still no peace in the Middle East. I went to College in Germany for Middle Eastern Studies and American Studies. I am very interested in my culture … and in Frank. Read More