Achrafieh

This is “Episode III”  in the memoir I’m writing for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Previous installments are here and here. This one is about the recent bombing in Achrafieh that I wrote about on October 20th. 

My pencil scrawled over my sketchbook again and again.  I had homework I should have been working on, but I was in a drawing mood. My co-worker, Sam, sat next to me scrolling through his Facebook news feed. It was a late Friday afternoon, and I was bored and wishing I could go home early but I had a 5:00 class that I would be hard put to skip.

Sam’s phone rang, and he left the table to answer it. I was only half-aware of the conversation, as I was mostly putting effort into simply trying to stay awake. But I heard Sam’s tone change suddenly.

“Wait, what happened? Are you okay? Is everyone okay? Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind. Okay, take care all right?” As he hung up he caught me looking at him. “There was an explosion near my parents’ house in Achrafieh.”

I inhaled sharply, “Damn, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, they’re fine but they’re still seeing what’s going on.”

“Ah.” Despite the fact that “explosion” didn’t exactly drip with positive connotations, I didn’t feel much tension yet. I believed he was talking about some kind of gas leak, a minor explosion that was caused by stupidity or neglect.

Rex, who overheard the conversation, immediately grabbed the office phone. “An explosion in Achrafieh is not a good sign,” he said almost normally as he dialed his mother. I was almost surprised to hear her loud, panicked voice through the receiver. Rex, on the other hand, almost sounded bored, “Okay! Okay yalla mish mishikleh, [it’s no problem] calm down.” Then he hung up without further ado.

I looked down at my sketchbook. This was definitely something far more serious than some stupid gas leak. As more of my coworkers called their families, Rex plunked himself next to me, pulled up a news website and began reading up-to-the-minute headlines. It was soon confirmed that the “explosion” was actually a devastating car bomb in the middle of a residential area.

It was almost surreal, and at the same time…almost normal.

Something I had come to learn over the years is nothing seems out of place when you’re in the thick of it. Although there was some worry, the entire office had a vibe of mere curiosity about what was going on. (And, of course, there were the good-natured arguments over the who’s, what’s and why’s of the whole situation). I smiled inwardly at a coworker who was scouring Internet sites for The Italian Job, a movie he wanted to see even as chaos erupted only minutes away. While one guy was reading out the latest numbers of casualties and injuries, another was playing a Flash game while another was arguing with a friend over why the phone lines had been suddenly cut.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the absurdity of it all. If this happened in Canada, I could only imagine the level of fear that would pervade the very walls of the room around us. Here? We complain about not being able to find a movie we want to see and argue politics. Then we head to our classes, pack up our stuff and go home to mothers waiting anxiously in their living rooms in front of the evening news.

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2 thoughts on “Achrafieh

  1. Just like you said. When you’re in the thick of it, it just seems like a slightly askew day. Especially if you live in an environment as turbulent as ours. Yet, from my side, in a different country, listening to the news on TV…it felt heavy. We were in a restaurant, and everyone was collected around the 2 wide-screens….watching in confusion. Arms crossed, debating the why’s and who’s. The images flashing across the screen did not help matters. Everyone worried about the injured, their own families, and most importantly, the security of their country and what this would do to the situation. Sure, the Lebanese are good at taking things in stride…a terrible day amidst the bad ones…

    • Thou speaketh the truth indeed. That isn’t to say people here weren’t stressed out, but it only occurred at home, or after we learned more details. Then again, car bombs—though not an everyday occurrence of course—are also not unheard of. Just like the 2006 war…probably looked a million times worse on TV than it did to those living in Beirut at the time.

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