a simple solution from a complicated man.

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 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.

The Solution.

“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,



La Corniche… upon which we walked morning and night.

Palestinian refugee camp boys smiling sweetly for me!

how can this Palestinian boy hold anything but love?

Twin girls at the refugee camp, Burj Al-Barajneh.

a beautiful old Palestinian woman, birthed here, will die here, at this refugee camp.

crossing the border into Syria – an unimaginable feat today. how lucky we were to say “we entered peacefully.”

a beautiful Palistinean girl. no passport. no home.

the massive complication of wires in a self sustaining society within the refugee camp.

more complex wiring.

bullet ridden holes on the sides of so many of the buildings we walked passed.

the incredibly filmmaker that escaped the camp, only to bring his wife and children back into it, so that he could document the story he wished to tell.

all of us with the group of women associated with the NGO that helped this refugee camp.

casings we found scattered throughout our journey to the Middle East. This one in particular on the grounds of the home in which my mother was raised.

Mom outside a home in her neighborhood in Lebanon where she spent her youth.

The field where mom and all her friends ran around playing… you couldn’t walk 6 feet without finding a bullet casing from the Lebanese Civil War.

Mom’s home. completely destroyed, yet beautiful to see.

Mom, my brother, and me, outside her shelled out home in Lebanon.

This entry was posted in arabic, Burj Al-Barajneh, Middle East, Middle Eastern Crisis, refugee camps and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to a simple solution from a complicated man.

  1. Laura McMullen says:

    One of your best- dear girl- powerful, succinct. The pictures tear me up- so heart-breaking that anyone has to live like that- want to fix but how. Love you

  2. EL says:

    Tearing up as i read and re-read. Really don’t know how to reply, I could write a book about this subject.This blog and especially the pictures took me back to a wonderful and also painful past … What absolutely kills me thinking about this whole mess is that no one is born with hatred in their hearts, it is all acquired as we grow. I love your “brother’s” idea, teach love and compassion early on, and there will be no space for hatred and violence. We are too often blinded by that ” inherited hatred” from generations before us, and something needs to steer that train onto a different set of tracks. The conflict has been going on since forever, and nothing is going to change.
    War doesn’t decide who is right, only who is left….

    Peace to all. Love to you.

    • Salam, Elizabeth. Salam.

    • John Eberle says:

      Been to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Beirut, Hatay (Turkey, right on the Syria border) and Cairo in the past year. Young folks want change and see a more integrated future. Older folks hang on to the constipation of the past. The more folks that get killed or injured or touched by their “foes”, the further out any sort of peace is. It’s at least a generation out today…who knows what it will be in a year from today. Truth is though, we’re all just humans hoping for a better tomorrow. And a better year from tomorrow too…

  3. Ellen says:

    Beautiful piece, Nan. I love his solution but I fear that as they grow, they’ll be poisoned by their parents’ hatred of one another. How do you break the chain?

  4. Mark says:

    We should talk some day about this, with your brother and your mom. And we should discuss what Andy mentioned as a solution.

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