Zena El Khalil – An artist and a writer
– New York always represents a certain type of freedom. One that does not seem to exist in the Middle East. New York is always about people being people: drinking coffee, walking their dogs, painting, reading, hanging out, studying, loving, living. What I’ve grown to learn -the hard way- is that New York can be also a monster.
– My heart, my hearts, was rooted to my land. But I sang to build bridges. While the French and the British and Germans fought their macho wars on our land, I sang about love. To my family, the brave warriors who guarded the Syrian and Lebanese mountains with their lives, I asked them to make peace with our European guests. The world was changing and we had to adapt. I truly believed that life could exist without turbulence.
– New York was not the same. After the two buildings fell, I was seen only as an Arab. (…) It seemed that the more people hated Arabs, the more I wanted to be one. The more questions people asked me, the more stories I told them. I told them about how the Amreekans blew up my mother’s house in 1983. My mother, who had nothing to do with all this. My mother, who had, only ten years before the explosion of her home, won the regional beauty pageant. Her brother, who dressed like John Travolta, his room plastered with Hollywood pinups. His white pants bursting with sexuality. His masculinity that could never behave behind his zipper. His hair, a black bulky heap. His hairspray, endless. His gels, infinite. House gone. Brother and sister, the whole family, homeless.
– That buildings are blown all the time, all around the world. That in Palestine, people are killed every day. In Palestine, children die for no reason. In Palestine, children are killed by bulldozers demolishing their homes.
– Suddenly, after September 11, 2001, all Arabs were expected to explain themselves. What if we didn’t know?
– I was worried that my bra would show through my white T-shirt. There were always so many things I never cared about, but my breasts and anything that had to do with them always embarrassed me. It’s not that they were too big or too small. They were just breasts.
– In La vie en Rose, our people were drowning.
Just like their buildings, the people were becoming sexy and alluring on the outside, but hollow and empty on the inside. You had to look good. it was the only way. People were so humiliated and broken from the war, the only thing they could do was to forget.
– After the civil war ended, I saw the marginalization of Palestinians in refugee camps. I saw how people wanted to forget about them. I saw how people blamed them for everything that had gone wrong in Lebanon. And slowly they start to disappear from the reality of people’s minds. And the cement wall around them grew higher and higher, isolating them from the rest of the country. Their situation was not taken from the government. The government refused to acknowledge them, refused to grant them social services.
Restricted them from getting jobs or gaining citizenship. And now they sit there, in their holding cells called “camps”, with no identity, no hope, no future, no electricity, no water, no schools, no fresh air, and very little sky. Just sitting and waiting and hoping to one day return to their homeland. Generations of children have now been born right here in Lebanon, but they too only dream of going home. They live in squalor and poverty but their hearts burn bright with pride and they are filled with a firm belief that their lives in these camps are temporary. They believe in Palestine. They believe that they come from a great nation. And they believe they will return.
Zena El Khalil
– Lebanon was, and always will be the mistress of hysteria. Lebanon was, and always will be schizophrenic.
– What on earth could convince a man to leave his young daughter behind and come and occupy my home?
– Many years later she died of a broken heart. She never recovered. Stress brings on cancer.
– And it was there, when I was all the way on the other side of the world, that I realized that I was nothing. I was just another face in the crowd. Another consumer. A nothing.
– “Don’t resist”, the sea whispered to me. I didn’t this time. I fell to the ground and cried and cried and screamed. I screamed into the darkness, asking how long did I have to continue living in fear like this? How long were we, Beirut and I, going to continue to be raped like this?
– The Israeli army is good with patterns. They are mechanical and precise like clockwork. They bombed us every night. They bombed the South of the city. They bombed bridges and highways. Last night they hit the airport again. I wondered if there is anything left there to hit.
– It is right to make love when others are dying. It is right to make love when children are being killed by bombs.
– “Fuck it, I’m not letting my whole summer go to waste. Like radiotherapy isn’t stressful enough- if the summer passes by without us going to the beach at least once, I’ll join Hezbollah and start fighting back”.
– I’m sorry if I am sounding so harsh. I’m just so upset because one day the Amreekans are sending their bombs to Israel to attack us with, and thirty-four days later, they come to us wanting to be friends.
– They offer us green cards lotteries like we are hungry dogs and then question us for eight hours when we land in their country.
– How did people deal with loneliness and disappointment before they had Xanax and the comedy channel?
– Zena, do you think one day we can talk about these days in the past?
Thank you Zena El Khalil