In this excerpt from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War I pause to take a good hard look at myself in the mirror. I am horrified by what I see.
One morning I looked in the mirror and saw a line of while along my scalp. I didn’t know what it was. I pulled my hair back off my forehead, certain it was just poor lighting. I leaned closer to the mirror and looked again. My hair had gone white at the roots. I used my fingers to part other sections; the white was everywhere. It was as if someone had injected me with a potion that turned me into an old woman overnight. I pulled down the toilet cover and sat. When my tears tried and my chest stopped heaving I stood up again and stared at the woman in the mirror. I had been too busy hiding from bombs, caring for my family and hardly sleeping at night to pay attention to how I looked. I washed my face and brushed my teeth each day, and may or may not have applied lipstick, but the last thing I had time to do was study myself in the mirror. Nor did I wonder when I ran a comb through my hair what my roots were doing because it was not important. But now I was quite distraught. I had lost weight, too, and the first place it showed was in my face. My cheeks had shrunk into hollow pits and I no longer looked thirty-three. I looked forty, fifty, maybe older.
How cruelly war tramples your self-esteem.
I was reluctant to leave the peacefulness of Ghazir and return to Beirut. Despite the bombings, Parliament had managed to convene to elect a new President, but people were openly pessimistic about the chances for a long-term truce. This scared me. For the first time I considered the possibility of leaving. I can still remember the shame I felt. My husband, Michel, had called me ‘the woman with the nerves of steel.’ Foolishly I thought I would disappoint him if I admitted I could no longer tolerate the war. But was that just a convenient excuse? Deep down didn’t I really think I would be failing myself if I abandoned my destructive lover, Beirut?
The city I loved, the place I called home was vastly altered. The discos and night clubs were shut. My favorite landmarks—the historic mansions and ancient souks—had crumbled under heavy shelling. Gardens of hibiscus, bougainvillea and cypress with their old thick stubby trunks, lay abandoned. Open spaces had become garbage dumps. Miles of sandy white beaches had been turned into shanty towns for the city’s new homeless. Balconies which had once been dressed in layers of pink geraniums were transformed into distorted metal forms protruding from gaping holes. In my dreams they recurred as the shrieking mouths of blinded captives nailed into concrete, dying from starvation and neglect.
On our street the buildings were pockmarked from shrapnel and bullets; the awnings on the shops torn and tattered and broken windows lay in disrepair. There was a severe shortage of water and electricity. Noisy generators hummed across the city in place of the shelling and black electric wires were strung haphazardly across streets and alleyways.
When I saw all this I wondered if I would ever dance again with my tantalizing lover, Beirut.
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