Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Do People Know How Much We Hurt?

How do I even start this? How do I write about my Beirut? My heartbreak, my home, my safety, my loss. again.

I suppose I just start.

I have experienced true terror a handful of times. The first was in 1983. The first time I evacuated Beirut. We had gone to visit my jiddo Emile, my teta Hilda, as we did every summer. Just after we arrived,the airport was shut down, Israeli soldiers were everywhere, the mountains were filling with smoke. We spent the next week in the staircase of our building as shells fell around us.  My brother Wadie was almost hit by shrapnel.

My father, Edward, was in Switzerland. He knew we were in danger. I had no idea he wasn’t with us because he was Palestinian. I didn’t understand. Although I was born in 1974, I never knew about the war until the summer of ’82 — the first summer we didn’t go. The summer we spent in Illinois. I did cartwheels in the living room trying to get Mommy and Daddy’s attention. But all they did was watch the news and eat nuts and look worried. I wish I’d known how my Mommy’s heart was breaking. I know now.

We got on the boat and fled to Cyprus leaving my family behind. The boat was filled with pilgrims going to Mecca. I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know Muslim  or Christian or Jew. I didn’t know anything. I knew fear and I knew confusion. I knew the sound of bombs. An inexplicable sound if you haven’t felt it before, for it is a sound you feel and not a sound you hear. It is TERRIFYING. Your body shakes. You feel helpless and you cry, that’s what happens. No sound effect can really replicate what it feels like when they’re real.

I never thought I’d hear that sound again. I went into my Mommy’s bed the night before we left. I was scared. The balcony door was open because there was no A.C., no electricity. As the curtains fluttered behind me I shivered and shook in my non-existent sleep. I felt the breeze behind my back and knew for certain the bombs would get me as I lay there vulnerable. But I was frozen in terror. Shivering and shaking, teeth chattering.

I wanted to move to the other side, switch places with Mommy, have her wrap her arms around me and keep me safe — but then she would feel the bombs on her back, I reasoned, and she would die. I can’t lose mommy, I thought. I’d rather die than lose Mommy. I’m so so so scared.

I wrote about that experience and it got me into Princeton. Wadie, my brother, did too. I didn’t see Beirut again till 1992. I was 18. It was awful, destroyed. Where were the beaches, the fruits, the vegetables, the clean water, the fun, the bikinis, the people the joy? I remember feeling like I had walked into a cobweb-ridden home, frozen in time. I cried.

Each year after, though, I went back. It got better and better. It became home again. All the things I loved: the cucumbers and apricots and watermelon and sunshine and beaches and laughter and love and warmth and family and perseverance and resilience and strength and beauty and joy. They were there, and they continued to come back, along with the people who had fled, stronger than ever, year after year.

The most wonderful summer ever was twenty years after the scary escape. In 2003: Mommy, Daddy, me, Wadie, his wife Jennifer, all of us were in Beirut laughing, playing fighting, eating, drinking, beaching — being a family. Back home. My parents originally fell in love in Beirut. In the late 60s/early70s. In fact, Daddy who is so so so revered as a “great arab,” actually rediscovered the Middle East he had lost as a child through Lebanon, through Mommy, who is, as I love to say, 3000% Lebanese.

And so we buried Daddy there, 4 months later. In Brummana, in the mountains next to Jiddo’s home. In the Quaker family cemetery. That’s where he wanted to be.

It was terror that came back to me when Daddy died, and, oddly, beautifully, it was  Lebanon that saved me from it. It was the same quaking shaking shivering feeling I had had in the bed with mommy 20 years earlier. When Jenn walked into my bedroom and said we were going “to go say goodbye” I fell to the ground with the same feeling I had then, in Beirut, in ‘83, convulsing shaking crying gasping.

But the beauty was that when Daddy died, Lebanon became what I had. All I had. My safety, security, my home, my family, my everything. My good times, my laughter, my healing, my wholeness, my fun. My roots. My security…That’s the only word I can write.

And now this summer. Evacuated again. Throwing up shaking fearing, hurting  crying. Again. And again the feeling I keep having is that terror. That terror that I had twice before. The feeling that it’s gone, it’s over.

You summon your courage, your optimism, your humor — the things that people love you for — you decide that tomorrow Beirut will be back, that you will see Daddy again (oh how I kept turning my brain away from thoughts of him when he died — it was too difficult to fathom the reality) the idea that you will never see something or someone you love again is unbelievably terrifying  when you know really that  it’s over, it’s gone and it’s getting worse every day.

And now I’m here in an internet cafe in Damascus. And what now? This is what I think of when I think of Arab terror. My terror. Our terror. Do people know how much we hurt?

NAJLA SAID is a founding member of Nibras, the Arab-American theatre collective, whose inaugural production, Sajjil (Record) won best ensemble production at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival. Najla is an actress, comedian, and writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Mizna, an Arab-American Literary Journal, and HEEB magazine. She trained at The Shakespeare Lab at the Public Theatre and The Actors Center in New York, and graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with a degree in comparative literature and a certificate in Theatre and Dance. This spring she won ecstatic reviews for  her starring  role in the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s  presentation of Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire.  She can be reached through najlasaid@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail