Friday, 18 July 2014

Out of Office

Out of Office

Walking through the gateway to the ancient souks in Byblos last weekend, I felt very far from my office in Geneva. The setting sun warmed my back and coloured the fabric of dukans, market stalls, brighter than their faded pigments. The tumbling leaves of fig trees and skeletons of date palms cast shifting, dappled light on cobbled stones, tempting me to believe that the breeze creeping up through the narrow streets could move light as well as strands of hair and flora. 

I had written about Byblos just months before, so to stand there, between the tawny stone castle and the turquoise sea was a dream. It felt like a very long time since that last look back towards my office, an office where I discovered something very special: that wherever I can put pen to paper, I can earn a living. 

In Arabic, the Mediterranean Sea is known as البحر الأبيض المتوسط al bahar al abayad al mutawaset, in literal translation, the white Mediterranean Sea. When I asked my teacher why they call it al abayad الأبيض, the white sea, she said it was because of the waves that crash onto the shores of the Levantine coast. It takes it's name from the foaming line of white surf that cusps against the land, as far north as Izjenderun in southern Turkey, down to Latakia in Syria, to the beaches here in Beirut, to Tel Aviv in Israel, to the troubled shores of Gaza City, and before the coast curves into North Africa, to the small Egyptian town of Arish.

The white waves touch every town and village on the coast. Old fishing towns like Sour, or Tyr, in southern Lebanon echo their counterparts in Israel, less than a hundred kilometers south. The fishermen in Byblos fish from their white sea, sat on the walls of their ancient castle.

Just as the fishermen in Akra, Israel, did five years ago when I was there. Though in Israel the fishermen were further out to sea. Can you see them, on the reef line? 

Further south along this coastline that Lebanon shares with the White Mediterranean Sea is the Gaza strip, where yesterday Israel launched it's first ground invasion since 2009. Since last week, airstrikes have left homes in rubble and over two hundred people dead. Stories drift into Beirut from journalists and families, and the stories are full of pain.

Last weekend, I caught a taxi into the mountains to photograph July's full moon. As we drove up towards the ancient Christian pilgrimage site of Harissa in the mountains, we chatted about Lebanon and my driver asked in French, est-ce que tu a peur? Are you afraid? 

The question struck me for a moment, and I realised the answer was no, for me at least. If I was ill-informed, badly located, friendless, it would be a different story, but I think I have landed on my feet.  From Harissa we could see the coastline stretch north and south for miles. I was far more concerned about stories from further south, of people living in southern Israel who were that very evening celebrating airstrikes on Gaza as though they were firework displays.

Out of office, gravity works overtime.
News of the historical, steady violence people levy against each other in this region arrives every day, and every day I discover my privilege. I did not grow up with hate or fear, nor do I carry either of those burdens with me. For this privilege, I am so very grateful. 

Thanks for reading. 

For  more reading from Lebanon:

Landing in Lebanon
The morning and the evening light
Taking time to slow down

1 comment:

  1. Helen, love the notion of writing being an 'out of office' job. I too am discovering the joys of this! xx