Following is an excerpt from my book Coffee with Hezbollah, due for release February 1, 2010 by New World Digital, Inc. The book is a satirical political travelogue about the 2-month hitchhiking journey through Lebanon that photographer Amelia Opalinska and I conducted in the aftermath of the July 2006 war inflicted by Israel. It includes episodes from Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, as well as relevant anecdotes from previous hitchhiking expeditions in Latin America and Europe.
I will be posting additional excerpts from the book in the coming days.
Coffee with Hezbollah can be pre-ordered now at http://belenfernandez-writings.blogspot.com/.
Belén Fernández (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Location: Tyre, south Lebanon.
Context: Our newly-acquired friend Samir—a jack of all trades who picked us up hitchhiking outside Beirut—has been lending his services to the demining NGO Norwegian People’s Aid, whom he refers to as “the Norwegians.”
Samir had just finished commissioning a taxi to take the Norwegians to breakfast and was now organizing a post-breakfast real estate tour. The Norwegians had a temporary headquarters in downtown Tyre but had requested a villa; Samir had located one outside of town that was owned by a Lebanese man from Senegal. Amelia and I enrolled in the tour.
At Norwegian headquarters we discovered that the Norwegians consisted of a Finn, a Swede, and a Lebanese driver. Amelia and I rode to the villa in the Norwegian People’s Aid vehicle with the Finnish and Lebanese Norwegians; the Swedish Norwegian rode with Samir in the red Honda.
The Norwegians estimated that there were up to two million unexploded cluster bombs scattered across south Lebanon. They were presently training a Lebanese team to remove them in order of seasonal urgency from homes, schools, and olive trees.
The hazards posed by unexploded munitions had been underlined the previous day, when a teenager from the Lebanese Norwegian’s village near Tyre had decided to collect them in the basket of his bicycle. Amelia and I:
- recalled New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s invocation of the laws of kindergarten in his proposal to vote France off of the UN Security Council, reprimanding the nation for not playing well with others.
- wondered why the law regarding who made the mess and who had to clean it up was never invoked, and why we weren’t scouting villas with Israeli olive harvesters.
Israeli agricultural methods would have kept casualties to a minimum, as the harvest would have most likely been performed by convoys of heavily armed vehicles with Palestinians strapped onto them for extra protection. The convoys would additionally have harvested any Hezbollah guerrillas remaining inside the olive trees.
Hassan Nasrallah had used Israeli incompatibility with martyrdom as proof that the nation was weaker than a spider’s web, despite having nuclear weapons and an air force. Amelia and I nominated the Norwegian Norwegian Jan Egeland—UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator—to coordinate the olive harvest, given his experience in:
- coordinating 72-hour ceasefires to overlap with Karen Hughes’ appreciation of lives in Kuala Lumpur.
- teaching the spider’s web the rules of kindergarten in Oslo, such as that you were not to put your fellow classmates in noncontiguous enclaves.
The Lebanese Norwegian swore off policies of Finlandization vis-à-vis Israel, citing the imminent toppling of the Siniora government, and argued that “the Lebanese they love the life, they don’t need to reincarnation.” He had remained in his village for the duration of the war, sending his family to Beirut after the spider’s web launched casualty-minimizing missiles into his brother-in-law’s bedroom. Amelia and I asked why the Norwegians needed to take taxis to breakfast and dinner if they had a Lebanese driver.
We arrived to the appointed villa, where the Lebanese Senegalese was waiting on his balcony in a flowing yellow robe. He asked if Amelia and I were embedded journalists and began listing the colonial languages he spoke fluently; Samir asked if the Lebanese Senegalese was an African monarch.
The monarch guided us through the first floor of the villa, most of which had been converted into a taxidermy exhibit. Portraits of the monarch also graced the walls in between appended animals; the monarch provided the histories of the portraits and the animals while Samir engaged in spurts of African dance behind his back. Following the safari, the monarch took the Finnish and Swedish Norwegians and their camcorder to the second floor of the villa. Samir was forced to follow when the Norwegians stopped at the staircase and looked around obliviously.
Amelia and I waited on the front patio with the Lebanese Norwegian, who had warded off colonial land grabs in July:
LEBANESE NORWEGIAN: My wife she tell me, ‘You are stupid, leave the house and come the Beirut.’ I say her, ‘No, south of Lebanon better than cinema.’
According to his version, the Lebanese Norwegian had spent the war sipping coffee under a tree and watching bombs fall. He had received only one visitor, who had promptly annulled his visit when the Lebanese Norwegian lit a cigarette; the Lebanese Norwegian scoffed at the memory, and the idea that Israeli drones could see the cigarette through the tree.