Friday, 22 June 2012


"Let's go visit Mary today"-Dimbery says over the breakfast,-"She will be very happy".
I think it over. Why not? We can postpone visit to the library till afternoon. However I worry a little bit; what about the owners of the house? Would it be appropriate to just knock on the door of the house whose hosts I never met...."Don't worry",-Dimbery starts removing plates from the table,-"Madame is very old, she can barely walk or talk and mister can't even do either of those".
That makes me feel more at ease and we decide to get ready to go. Mary lives very nearby so we decide against the stroller. I dress up the kids and we head outside. 
Dimbery leads us along the narrow road of an old fashioned block till we reach one of those old Beirut buildings which is probably on the removal list already. When we are finally out of the elevator on the fifth floor, my feeling of uneasiness returns and I start to doubt fairness of our intentions. Small old woman opens the door, invites us in and instantly the feeling of antique feels my heart. Everything around seems to be at least one hundred years old. The old woman starts kissing and hugging my kids as if they were her own grandchildren. 
Mary greets us with a generous smile. "Come in, come in! I'll put some coffee and popcorn".
Dimbery drags the kids to Mary's room. I enter the kitchen, with Nazzoura on my hip, never seizing to be amazed by the age of every item in the house. The old woman looks at me smiling. "I am so happy you passed by,"-she says in shaking, tiny voice,-"Do pass by from time to time, nobody passes by here, it's only me and my husband. I have hypertension ..."-she shows me her swollen legs-"Doctor told me not to stand, but there are things to be done...." I look around, suddenly remembering my grandmother's house. Everything smells of the past. It is almost colored in black and white. Land of countless stories embraces me. I eagerly call for Oussama to come, knowing that he would be excited to hear them.
The old woman's eyes shine as she passionately talks of one hundred year old coffee pot, family picture where her father's uncle proudly represents some important political figure, pile of sewing machines whose missing parts will probably never be found, copper kitchenware that was used by her mother but now serves only for decoration.
Coffee is ready",-Mary calls, I smile, tell the old woman we'll be back in a while and enter Mary's room. 
Instantly the smell of church incense (bakhour) traps my attention. "I brought it from Ethiopia,"-Mary says, seeing me surprised at the scene of the pot on the floor with burning herbs. "It's from the church",-she adds,-"Everyone in my country lights it in the house".
I look around. Mary's room is small although comfortable. Piles of old unused items fill its corners. "They never opened them for the whole five years that I'm here",-she laughs. She shows us the balcony from which she waves at us. Kids seem so excited to see their house small with miniature Touti's dress hanging to dry.
We sip the coffee, eat popcorn, listen to some Ethiopian music, everything seems so real and simple. Mary tells us about her life, they are four children; three boys and one girl. Her older brother works in Germany, another one in Dubai, one in Ethiopia and she is here in Lebanon. She hasn't seen her family for five years. Suddenly she becomes sad and tears feel her eyes. "She misses her fiancĂ©",-Dimbery laughs and winks at me. I sadly smile. "I am planning to go next year inshallah,"-Mary says, slowly sipping her coffee. 
She start talking about her work, Madame is very good to her, her daughter passes by every night and together they bath her father, who can't move. However Mary has to take care of him throughout the day, change his diapers etc...there are house chores too along with cooking. She cannot complain at all-she says- they are very good to her. Every Sunday a guy comes and takes over so that she can go to the church. Her salary is two hundred dollars now, they raised it this year. 
Kids start nagging, they want to go home. Nazzoura is very sleepy. We thank Mary for the coffee and popcorn, she thanks us for coming. I kiss the old woman and promise to pass by soon. We go down by the half-broken elevator and head home along the same narrow road. Suddenly we hear Mary shouting overhead. Kids and Dimbery wave and shout back, laughing. Then she disappears again among the clustered balconies of an old building, deep inside the walls of her owners' family. 

Saturday, 2 June 2012

From the airport to my house and from my house to the airport!

Beautiful sunny morning. Me, Dimbery and kids are walking along the Mar Ilias street, playing hide and seek on the road. Touti needs ballet shoes so we enter into the shop, kicking each other at the doorway. The shop owner looks at us with a broad smile full of hope and anticipation. I ask about the shoes, along with Touti's nagging that she needs pink ones. He smiles again and politely informs us that only white and black are available, but if that cute girl insists he can paint them in pink in one day. Then all of a sudden he glances at Dimbery and asks me in mysterious tone: "Are there any problems?" Me and Dimbery exchange dull-puzzled looks. Seeing us confused, he continues in plain Arabic, handling impatient Touti her magic ballet shoes: "I have ordered one now from Ethiopia, she will be here next week inshallah, but I wanted to know ....are there any problems?"

 I finally get what he is talking about and playfully turn to Dimbery: "Are there any problems, Dimbery?" I ask her, enjoying the fruitful situation. Dimbery gets it too and starts an innocent talk about language difficulties that Ethiopian girls have upon their arrival to Lebanon. The owner does not seem comfortable anymore, he nods impatiently and offers Touti a larger size to try. After a short silence he resumes his thoughts-out-loud looking at me. "We all order from that agency; all our sons ordered from them, they are very good. Here is her picture.....she is Ethiopian no?"-he puts some papers on the table in front of him. 

Colored picture of a beautiful Ethiopian girl seems heart-breaking to me. "Yes", Dimbery confirms " she is Ethiopian...."-she turns to me and adds smiling-"her hair is nice". "We had one Nepalese",- the shop owner continues in a matter-of-fact tone, "She stayed three years and then left. My policy is: from the airport to my house, and from my house to the airport" , he proudly adds,"she never went outside the house unless accompanied by us. That way we were happy and she was happy. "-he concludes with a self-confident smile.  
"I bet she was",-I take the shoes and pay him ten thousand liras. "Bring them back after the class, so I paint them pink in one day"-he reminds us and looking at Touti adds in playful silly tone, that is manufactured especially for kids: "Bye-bye"! 

We step out and start talking about the incident. Poor girls. Dimbery keeps repeating his words, "From the airport to my house, from my house to the airport....." Shame on him she says. I sadly nod. We'd like to talk a little bit more, but kids prevail and we're into the hide and seek game again.