My 8 minutes of terrorizing fear happened in this way:
We walked into a McDonalds, so that he could get his habitual (to my chagrin) 8 billion oz. of Diet Coke that his mind yearned for every morning.
The restaurant (if we can call it that) was at the end of the Corniche – a beautiful stretch of Mediterranean seaside that runs along the city of Beirut where the palm trees are ridden with bullet holes, and shaggy rocks host men bathing in swim trunks whilst their wives sit and watch, covered head to toe in their Burqa’s.
We entered, he ordered. In those 30 seconds, as we were waiting, an SUV pulled up outside. I remember it with absolute clarity. It was a mid 90’s Pathfinder, and i know that because i owned almost the exact same model after graduating from college. However this one was gun metal grey, but not shiny… a matte grey, as if it didn’t want to attract attention to itself. The windows were darkened, the car itself had absolutely NO discernable marks. In fact, it seemed almost TOO shelled out, if that makes sense (and if not, it’s ok… life really doesn’t make any sense anyway).
Out of it, three men emerged.
They were Middle Eastern. Full dark heads of hair. Long scruffy beards. Clothing consisted of jeans, shirts, light jackets… even in the intense heat…it was odd.
I was watching them, not because i had reason to, but because i was by the window and my intuition asked me to. I was in the Middle East, in an American restaurant, and i judged. I felt very real fear.
I asked myself, in this moment… “is one of these men a suicide bomber?”
So i said to him, “Hey… look at those guys. Do we need to worry?”
“No.” he said. But i knew there was more… because with him, there is ALWAYS more.
“How do you KNOW,” i asked. Shaken, not yet stirred.
“There’s a list of telltale signs,” he said, “I remember them from a book.”
of course he did. because he remembers EVERYTHING. that he’s EVER learned. like a photographic memory bathed in a sponge-like brain that never forgets. basically the opposite of the ‘learn-it-for-the-moment-then-if-not-needed-for-the-moment-then-forget-it’ me.
First, he said, if they were suicide bombers they would be shaven. it avoids suspicion. So you would see a paler chin… a tan line, if you will.
Check. These men, as i mentioned, had full beards.
Second, he said, their lips would be moving. Praying to Allah. Their final prayer.
Third, they would be stiff, albeit robotic… staring ahead, not wanting to make eye contact with potential victims.
these men were talking amongst themselves, engaged with one another. Not smiling, not relaxed, but certainly not satisfying the above criteria.
Fourth, “they would be wearing super big coats, as the bombs they wore would need to be well hidden,” he said. And these men just had light jackets over their shirts (still too much in the 90+ degree heat, but nothing that could conceal something more).
So i relaxed, as did the hairs on my arms.
And we got his Diet Coke, and we left. And then he said it. “I’ve got it,” he said, “how we solve it.”
Back up a second.
The prior 4 days, he and I had been together walking the streets of Beirut. We had seen the rich, protected by gunmen in front of their apartment buildings (threatening us for loitering too long), and we had seen the poor, begging in the streets for just a few Lebanese pounds.
We saw beautiful graffiti (street art?) lining the concrete walls in the city, giving way to political persuasion.
We meandered into a beautiful Lebanese “Patisserie” where the most succulent baklava was handmade and readily available to taste.
We heard bullets ring through the skies in celebration of an elected official, one of them (bullet, not official), landing on the hood of a taxi in which friends of our family were passengers.
And finally, the day before we went on our walk to McDonalds, we visited a Palestinian refugee camp.
The children… so sweet and innocent and beautiful in their youth. Not yet capable (how dare i assume to know that?) of judgement of their Israeli counterparts.
We walked, as Americans, through the alleyways of this camp, witnessing tangled wires to allow for electricity. It was, truth be told, a full commercial network – food, clothing, electronics.
We witnessed an extravagantly ornate bench for two, sitting alone on a rooftop, awaiting the bride and groom that would say their “i do’s” amongst their imprisoned friends. No passports, no home to call their own but this camp.
But still yet walled into a city into which these people were likely born and more likely would die.
We found ourselves in a community center in the center of camp, where NGO’s made a difference… providing art, music, craft, and counseling.
It was in this NGO we met with a filmmaker, born into the camp, but had escaped, only to return, with his children, to this refugee camp to document the struggle within.
Coming home from a day at a Palestinian refugee camp is inexplicable if you come from a life of relative ease. It gives reason a chance to pause. And it stays with you.
So we talked, this man and I, following our trip to the camp.
Why such fighting? Why cannot all these people drop their guns and live in peace? Is there no solution? Is there no hope?
So we started to think, over the next couple days, as we experienced Lebanon.
We went to the home of my mother’s childhood… where we found nothing but overgrown weeds and ruins of her past, all due to the Lebanese Civil war.
We found ammunition shell casings, right on her property where she and her friends used to play capture the flag.
We questioned everything.
“What if women were in power? Would men be willing to lay down their guns?”
That was the best we had, yet it was a sorrowfully weak argument, having seen the role women played in the society – subordinate and passive.
“Why can’t our US government solve this?” we laughed. Not possible, what with all our insanely problematic partisanship.
So we walked.
And on the last day, he needed his Diet Coke, so we walked to McDonalds.
And my 8 minutes of fear happened.
And then, on our walk back, he said it.
“I’ve got it.”
“what? ” I said.
“The solution to all this,” he said.
and i didn’t say a word. Because i thought a diatribe was coming. A very complex, very incomprehensible babble of political theory that even i, as a political science major, would not understand.
But i was wrong.
Instead, he said this.
“Integrate the schools starting from kindergarten. Because when you have circle time with your brother, how can you then turn around and kill him?”
And that was it. That one sentence.
And truly, it might just be the solution to it all.
So i ask. How do we make this happen in the Middle East?
How do we get men to unstrap their guns and wallets from their midsection (from which all their testosterone emanates) and put those in power with different solutions?
and by those, i might just mean women.
Because we would integrate those Palestinian and Israel babes. And those girls and boys would grow with so much love for each other they would not conceive of fighting as an option. Because they would grow as brothers and sisters, living together on land that has enough space for them all.
Yes, maybe he’s bat shit crazy.
But to hear that simple sentence from a man that is arguably the smartest one i know, it all, in a moment, made sense.
That walk to McDonalds will never be forgotten.
Because i took it, literally, with MY brother.
HE’S the man.
To all of you in the Middle East,