Following is one last excerpt from my book Coffee with Hezbollah, scheduled for release by New World Digital, Inc. tomorrow, February 1, 2010. The book is a political travelogue about the hitchhiking trip through Lebanon that photographer Amelia Opalinska and I conducted in the aftermath of the July 2006 war orchestrated by Israel.
Previous excerpts as well as a promotional video can be viewed by clicking on the links below:
One dollar of every book purchased will be donated to SOIL, an NGO currently bringing effective disaster relief to Haiti.
For additional information about Coffee with Hezbollah or to PRE-ORDER the book, please visit: http://belenfernandez-writings.blogspot.com/.
Belén Fernández (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Location: Tyre and Bint Jbeil, south Lebanon.
Context: Amelia and I meet a Jordanian United Nations official named Setan for dinner in Tyre. He has recently been promoted to the title “the Great Setan” by removing us in his UN vehicle from the village of Bayada—which we had inadvertently become stuck in while trying to hitchhike to the war-ravaged town of Bint Jbeil—and accompanying us on a tour of Spanish soldiers at UNIFIL headquarters on the Israeli border. It is midterm election day in the U.S.
Amelia and I met the Great Setan at 7.03 PM instead of the appointed time of 7.00, prompting an altercation that could only be resolved by changing the subject to the Jordanian city of Petra’s participation in the New Seven Wonders of the World contest. We proceeded to a restaurant by the sea, where Amelia and I set about choosing a table in accordance with the UN safety guidelines we had studied in the Great Setan’s office:
- Keep an eye on your vehicle at all times.
- Don’t sit by the window.
- Always have a plan of escape.
We attempted to reconcile the first and second rules by offering to sit by the window and watch the vehicle while the Great Setan sat in the corner. He opted to disregard Rule #2 for the time being, however, and displayed a considerable dearth of spontaneity when it came to Rule #3.
Over piles of lamb meat the Great Setan discussed his Palestinian wife, who was 32 years his junior, mother to three of his nine children, and used his UN salary to purchase unnecessary furniture. He was presently scheming to enact a second Nakba in order to displace her, the first Nakba having been the Palestinian displacement of 1948.
Aside from his wife and Lebanon, the Great Setan’s only other experience with displaced persons had been in Sarajevo, where he had served UN peacekeeping in the early 1990s. He noted similarities among the three missions, in that they were all products of postwar territorial divisions, and that none of them possessed a clear mandate.
* * *
The complex of issues posed by displaced persons resurfaced the next morning, when Samir came over to report that the man whose house we were occupying had produced deeds of ownership. Amelia and I asked if the question of the right of return could be postponed until a later point in time, such as the following day.
Samir approved the roadmap for peace without consulting the owner of the house, and gave us a ride in the correct direction of Bint Jbeil. In the car he notified us of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, and explored the postwar division of totalitarian empires in Mesopotamia:
SAMIR: Does thump mean same thing as bang?
Further research revealed that George Bush had simply derived his own arithmetic of pain to describe the Democratic electoral victory, and that the terminology had nothing to do with Iraq. (The president had then downplayed the thumpin’, by:
- recommending Republican interior decorators for incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s new office.
- announcing that this was not his first rodeo.)
Samir left Amelia and me on the side of the road, hinting that a captured Merkava tank at the entrance to the city would mean we were in Bint Jbeil and not Bayada. We were then picked up by a man named Ali, on his way to what remained of his house in the town of Kafra; he nonetheless offered to drive us to Bint Jbeil and to retrieve us later and drive us back to Tyre.
Ali deposited us in a neighborhood consisting of collapsed houses, scattered furniture, and charred bicycles:
ALI: Hezbollah good.
Amelia and I:
- recalled that we had not seen the captured Merkava at the entrance to Bint Jbeil.
- wondered if we had entered Bint Jbeil through the exit.