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 attending the rally in the southern suburbs of Beirut after the July War in 2006.
A friend of mine whose family used to live in the dahiyeh was excited to show me “her” dahiyeh.
The southern suburbs of Beirut are similar to Alphabet City in New York.
They are similar to “down beyond the train station” in Copenhagen.
They represent a place you are warned not to venture to.
Many of us adoptees were sourced from such places.
We represent a particular type of adoption.
Trans-racial. Trans-class. Trans-religious.
A trifecta of individualistic ascension.
As well as an abandonment of everything about us.
The nuns at my orphanage informed me that “darker” babies (such as myself) were saved for American parents.
Europeans tended to go for the “lighter” infants.
I still am trying to process this information.
As well as its cavalier delivery.
Adoption takes away children.
And it leaves behind a worldview.
Such neighborhoods are endlessly written up by academics who don’t actually live there.
This might be referred to as “affected street credibility”.
This might be referred to as feeding an endless outside hunger for the Other.
These are the same professors who took to referring to me by the epithet used for the residents of such neighborhoods.
Yob. Thug. Hoodlum.
For want of a better translation.
In Lebanese dialect, the word sums up the “trans-” triplet above.
I recall becoming the strange token connection to a nether realm for these professors.
When “street trouble” would go down in my neighborhood, they never failed to “check in” with me.
This is categorically mindless and selfish.
Especially when the mediation of such “trouble” was a politically designed effort to clamp down; to assign blame.
What I mean to say was that for 99% of the time, no one cared.
And then there was that one percent of the time when I knew we had just made it onto television.
And would then hear from people who otherwise really didn’t give a damn about me.
Or my neighborhood.
This however is an entirely separate discussion.
In any case, I believe the New York–dialect term for such a concept is: “slumming it”.
Like my father bragging about taking dates up to Harlem.
“A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
The knowledge that at the end of the day one gets to go “home” creates much in the way of “edge”.
As well as much in the way of distance.
I’ve become very sensitive to places that are not welcoming; that are distancing in this way.
Or I should say, distancing to some.
I tend to avoid them as much as I possibly can.
There’s quite a difference between those “on top” with the luxury and privilege to go wherever they want, and those “on bottom” who sense viscerally where is disallowed them.
We might refer to this as: “Global migratory checks and balances”.
I’ve defined for myself what is public space for the most unwelcome here.
And I limit myself to these places as much as possible.
Everything else is pretension and affectation.
Because of the amount of people attending the victory rally, we parked haphazardly next to a gas station.
We started making our way to the main square.
Men, women, and children were all strolling along with us.
There were flags and more flags, and banners that read: Nasr min Allah.
Victory from God.
After 33 days of war, it was a relief to feel a strikingly opposite emotion.
A much welcome relief.
I passed my camera to my friend who walked on ahead of me.
Every once in a while she would turn and grab another picture.
Hundreds of chairs had been set up for the speech that would be given at the end of the day.
There were foreign reporters covering the event.
Many were asked about their picture-taking.
In academia, this is decried as “censorship”, or “intimidation”.
I would argue that ivory-tower treatises that replace the voice of the residents of this neighborhood are a million times more censoring than the similarly skewed imaging of them from an Outsider’s perspective.
I would state as fact that given the dominant discourse concerning the residents of this neighborhood, that meeting such inherent intimidation with intimidation reveals a level of self-awareness that is, quite on the contrary, to be admired.
Similar to the war itself, the Powers That Be don’t like it when those destined for obliteration play by the very rules designed to ensure their silence.
A backlash of sorts.
It drives them insane.
Until the playing field is balanced, this is just how it has to be.
No one stopped my friend’s documenting of the scenes.
We fit in.
At one point I stopped and stood stock still.
I was overwhelmed with emotion.
My friend cajoled me to catch up.
I told her to give me a minute.
She yelled: “Come on!”
I said: “Stop!”
She asked me what was wrong.
I replied: “For the first time in my entire life I feel lost in a crowd.”
When it happens–at very particular times and in quite particular places–it is a sensation completely beyond my ability to deal with it.
Much less explain it.
Later, examining the pictures, I try not to romantically see myself standing just a little bit straighter, head held just a bit higher.
Acknowledgment of Place cannot be denied.
Lessening of Distance to place becomes a goal.
Universal public space becomes a utopian Ideal.
For we’ve reached the limits of traveling in the other direction.
Image: Nasr min Allah Rally | Date: August, 2006 | Place: The southern suburbs of Beirut | Camera: Kodak Retina 35mm/1950s | Caption: I’m to the right of the crowd of guys walking toward the camera.