Monthly Archives: August 2010

Let’s sit while Lebanon turns to rust.

Visiting Mar Mkhayel’s abandoned train station as well as others around Lebanon for my play “Aya Se3a Byousal El Tren?” (When Will the Train be Here?) (For more information about the play, click here) was a thrill for I learned so much about our history, our past… But it also filled me with dread and anxiety.

It’s all rusted.

NOW Lebanon couldn’t have said it better: “The abandoned train station in Mar Mikhael is a decaying testament to a long-gone era in Lebanon; a romantic remnant of a past increasingly overrun by sanitized conceptions of the future.” (for the full article, click here)

I don’t know when it all happened. When some of the best things that happened to this country started getting rusty. Trains, a way of transportation that could’ve saved us from so much traffic and pollution, are rotting in abandoned lots. The “toot toot 3a Beirut” has been silenced. When did we become so careless about things that characterized us as Lebanese?

“Sorry, my Arabic is a bit rusty”… WHAT?! We’ve been living right here, why are we speaking, or more importantly, why are we, why am I, writing in another language? When I was researching comparative literature programs abroad, Arabic was cited as a dead language. If only they knew what was happening to it in Lebanon.

Our own history is going down the drain. Some of us graduated from college and we still don’t know when our civil war started. Most of us become silent after the second verse of our national anthem because we forgot the words or never even bothered to learn them. How many of us were killed during our wars? We seem to develop the memory of a gold fish when it comes to our own history.

I love the times I spend with my parents around our dinner table when they would tell us stories of when they were younger. They’re my source of history, my fountain of memories that will disappear if they remain unrecorded.

What’s in your fountain of memories? What would you like to see revived here in Lebanon?

Photos taken by Dima Matta.


Waiting for Godahraba: Lebanese Electricity, The Company’s Sense of Humor

At 11pm, while I was studying for my GRE and my biology final… simultaneously, the power went out. Sure, it happens quite often, often enough that it doesn’t really surprise us. Our Lebanese post-war reflexes kick in: open the front door, press the elevator button to see if the entire building is also in the dark (because surely you don’t expect to have the AC, washing machine and dish washer on at the same time and STILL have power!). Then you go to the kitchen and retrieve alternative ways of illumination. Candles. For the more sophisticated people, rechargeable neon lights. Then, you wait. Sometimes the power goes back on a few minutes later, and it would’ve been a little wink from Electricité du Liban, making sure you stay on your toes. If you’re in the dark for more than this time interval, you assume the worst: “3otol”… Houston, they have a problem! Then, it becomes a matter of gauging how long it will take for them (we don’t really know who “they” are) to fix it. For those of us who maintain the will to live in the AC-less heat, we go to the phone and call this so-called Electricité du Liban. A building that, if drawn by a modern painter, would boil down to an empty canvas. You dial, 1707. You hang up then dial again, and again, and again. You get busy signals all the time. You then devise a clever system of redialing by just pressing two buttons, to minimize movement and therefore maximize ventilation… a strategy that got us through the war. FINALLY, the heavens open, the angels gather and sing, your exhausted sweat glands perform little cartwheels: THEY picked up!! *waiting music* Of course, you should’ve known better, they put you on hold. Now, this is where it gets interesting.  After a while, you realize that you’re listening to the music of Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way”. Yes, the “on-hold music” of Electricite du Liban is “I did it my way”. An omen? A sign foretelling what is yet to come? THEY answer: “Fi 3otol.” (DUH!) “ma mna3ref 2emtan bi zabtoo” (min henneh?!) “ma 3andeh 2ayy fekra shou 3am bi seer” (join the club and thanks for nothing!) “Allah ma3ek madame…”* (MADAME?!!! Sure, add insult to injury, to sweat, to despair and darkness).

* “There’s a malfunction” (DUH!) “we don’t know when they will fix it” (who are THEY?!) “I have no idea what’s going on” (join the club and thanks for nothing!) “God be with you madame…”

Lebanese Train Stations: It’s Not a Train, it’s a Time Machine.

I received the wonderful opportunity to be part of a play that is to be performed at old abandoned train stations around Lebanon. It is set in the 50s, back when trains were still running across our country, back when people got on and went elsewhere, mainly to Damascus. This project is organized by Books in Motion, an organization whose mission is to make theatre accessible to everyone around Lebanon.

For more information about the play “Aya Se3a Byoussal El Tren” (When Will the Train Be Here?), go to the Facebook Event Page.

It is not a train, it is a time machine. Lebanese abandoned train-stations, where railways have been buried, whistles have been silenced and the workers dismissed… and dead.

Walking around what is left of it, one can easily revive bits of the past. The remnants of white tiles with blue patterns, a sink was probably there. Stairs with missing steps, they led to another waiting room. A rusted cistern, provided water to the station. They all seem to be begging for revival.

My great-grandfather was a train driver, he took his granddaughter from her boarding school in Beirut to her home in Damascus. The train would leave at 10am and arrive at 6pm… people seemed in such less of a hurry back then. Trains were the stuff of dreams. Lonely women dreamed of being whisked away on a train by a handsome foreigner, men dreamed of making their fortunes elsewhere. They all seemed so eager to move forward and now we are at an age where it all never stops. How did that woman swiftly hop on the train with her elbow-length gloves and hat box and came back to live in an apartment, all alone, praying to die in her sleep?

We are too angry, too anxious to go places, the train can no longer carry us, we are a burden on a time machine that moves at its own will, because this time machine knew all along that what we were all hurrying to was not worth all the haste.

Photos taken at Araya Train Station by Dima Matta