The ships are coming, as odors of garbage overflow the city.
The abat-jours of Beirut are more red than usual today. Before the ships, the flies have arrived and they have been eating us up for the past week. My husband wraps himself in his beige blanket, even as he sweats, giving in to the August heat. His scheme is grand: to trick all the flies away. I fear for his sanity.
I think of Perec’s words about the beauty of the ordinary. With the hyper-inflation in Lebanon, and the continuous state of tension, my focus has shifted from the larger -isms to the day-to-day details of bread, butter, cheese, darkness, light, heat, and medications. Could it be that, in a twisted manner, “only” when subjected to war, do we start noticing the basics of life, even appreciating the lines woven into a beige blanket?
A baby girl was found in a black garbage bag on August 27, 2021. No blanket. I gave her a name: Nay.
The abat-jours are so red and vibrant. The flies line up on them, and from afar, they look like watermelons. Someone is always waiting in line in this city: for bread, water, fuel, gas, medication. My neighbor, Susu, joins me today on our balcony for a sobhieh. I make a huge jazzve of Lebanese coffee: I want us to have seconds. We can still afford to drink coffee. Susu has been working on her exit plan—Melbourne. We have also been working on ours—Armenia, possibly. Every day, we sadly witness bits and pieces of Lebanon shaken by mass exodus and brain drain. The ships, carrying fuel, have left their destination. Once they arrive, anticipations of war will escalate.
I offer Susu jam from Artsakh. Most other items have gone bad in our fridge. The beautiful people of Artsakh sent us this gift last August, after the Beirut Port explosions. The tastiest jam of baby plums. “You are lucky! At least you have a homeland!” exclaims my neighbor, as I narrate to her about the war that happened in Artsakh last September. We spread the mauve jam on small pieces of toast, and enjoy the aftertaste. What happened to the women who made this jam?
Susu’s treat for today is meghli—a sweet dish prepared when someone has a baby. I ask her about the occasion. Nothing. We are alive. And also for Nay. No one made meghli for baby Nay. There is a magical breeze on our balcony. When I notice that the meghli has pine nuts on it, I give her a zaghrouta. Pine nuts, like watermelons and coffee, have become luxury items for us. Her sister sent her some from Australia, so we can enjoy one more meghli. Before the ships arrive.
“This world lacks good neighbors,” she says almost jokingly. “Good neighbors, like us, who accept each other are much needed in Armenia and in Lebanon.” For over fifty years, our families—the Haddads and the Baboudjians, who come from different backgrounds—have lived next to each other, celebrated together and also grieved together. Susu’s words remind me of Viken Berberian’s: “Peace is possible only when both sides acknowledge the other’s right to the everyday.”
“Zepure ge tarnam, meghmig anneman, sarerits gichnem, nesdem ko teran”...“I become the breeze, so soft and unique, I hurry down the mountains to rest in front of your doorstep.” I hum a popular Armenian song. I explain to Susu how we can transport ourselves far away, and escape from our troubles, even without physically traveling. I teach her how to pronounce the word “Zepure,” and she struggles with the “p”: “Zebure,” “Zebure.”
We laugh so hard. Hiding our tears.
Nayiri Baboudjian Bouchakjian
Nayiri Baboudjian Bouchakjian is an educator, writer, and storyteller, who grew up in Lebanon witnessing the civil war, countless assassinations, and explosions. An educator at heart, she has been teaching English Language and Literature for the past 18 years. She loves working with teenagers, empowering them and coaching them to become better versions of themselves. Having trained and mentored over a dozen students for international public speaking competitions, Nayiri believes that teaching should be accompanied with respect, empathy, and motivation. She writes to soothe the banalities of living in a war zone, which more recently has also become a hub of economic meltdown. She is currently working on her memoir which includes stories about growing up in a multiple trauma land, being a caregiver to both her parents and taboo issues associated with body image, and mental health. She has edited two books and is currently working on the third one, along with some translation projects.