The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember during the July War on Lebanon in 2006 being pre-interviewed by CNN.
I was endlessly texting a friend who worked with some of the anchors there with corrections to their ridiculous focus on everything except the country under attack.
The pre-interview was conducted via phone to Atlanta, in California-TV talk.
It’s not a dialect I understand or speak very well.
They wanted me to focus on why I?, an “American”?, decided to stay in Beirut?
Which in a way makes leaving a place behind the “default” mode of behavior.
I tried to explain that “we”, in Lebanon, were being bombed to ruins.
And that Beirut was not just “a place”, but “my home”.
And that the story was not about me personally.
It was about the hundreds killed so far.
It was about the million displaced, proportionally speaking similar to the entire Pacific seaboard of the United States uprooted and taken in by inland neighbors.
It was about the infrastructure destroyed.
It was about the fact that were I to find my end in this place, it would most likely have come as the result of a bomb or a bullet manufactured in the United States and paid for by American taxpayers.
I didn’t make for much of a “human interest” story apparently.
This made for much in the way of pauses in the conversation.
Gaps of misunderstanding and an inability to fathom what I was saying.
In any case, there were more important things to report on.
Like the Tour de France.
That’s what I was told on the phone.
As bombs rained down not too far from my apartment.
A willful deafness and denial of our collective humanity.
Image: People combing through rubble searching for survivors. | Date: July 2006 | Place: The southern suburbs of Beirut. | Photo credit: Hassan Ibrahim; AFP | Caption: I don’t have any photographs from this time; I had stopped documenting my life here long before at a point when I no longer felt overwhelmingly “outsider”. The caption reads: “The Israelis have destroyed another 12 buildings yesterday in the southern suburbs. According to certain estimates, the attack has already caused the collapse and fall of a number of stories equivalent to those making up the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York, on September 11, 2001.” This is from the rather conservative newspaper L’Orient-LeJour.