I am making a list. A list of objects needed when the next war begins in Lebanon. I am not being morbid. I am being realistic. After all, it has been over four years since the last “big” war in this country (July 2006), and over two years since the last “mini war” (May 2008). Still more ominously, nothing seems to have changed since those past two wars. The same inept politicians are still arguing over the same issues, the country is still tiptoeing on the double-edged sword of corruption and inefficiency, the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen, Israel is still desiring the destruction of the last non-Palestinian armed resistance group in the Arab world, there are many Lebanese and Arab factions that still share Israel’s desire regarding Hezbollah, the situation in Iraq continues to reconfigure Sunni-Shia sectarianism as a, if not the political discourse in the region, and it is hot in Lebanon. On the streets, it feels like I have swallowed the sun, and now here it is, pushing upwards against my skin. The electricity keeps shutting off, a victim, they say, of the heat. With the electricity gone, there are now water shortages in homes. Cars are overheating, their gasping bodies can be seen regularly on the sides of streets where they have been pushed to by people who feel let down.
My list contains objects that I will need to live through the next war in as much comfort as possible. Making this list makes me feel somewhat secure, as if I am in control of this not so dusty corner of my destiny. Paradoxically, planning for how to live a war relaxes me. It feels like common sense. I did not have to work hard to gain this knowledge. I just had to be there, be here, inside my 30 year old life in Beirut.
I catch myself thinking about my list throughout the day. I think about it as I watch people argue in taxis, as I smell the burning tires blocking off major Beirut streets, their black smoke rising through the city in a protest against electricity shortages, as I hear the familiar and old rumors of elaborate Israeli espionage rings turn, day by day, into cold hard fact.
Olives. Dried Thyme. Bread. Two decks of cards. Dried Toast. Canned Tuna. Whiskey; a nice single malt and a bottle of Jameson. Cat food. Soap. Cereal. Vodka. Candles. Olive Oil. Matches. Kleenex. Cat litter. Internet cards-but not too many because more than likely there will be no electricity. A car battery to store and route electricity. A transistor radio. Toothpaste. Empty gallons. Battery operated fluorescent lights. Batteries. A fan. Scrabble.
Friends of mine are also making lists. And the details of differences between the lists speak volumes both about our personalities and our histories. Out of conversations over which objects to gather, memory fragments of lives punctuated with cycles of violence are revealed. When the war begins, we will gather each night at a chosen house, as we have for the three wars that we have experienced together. We will drink, play cards, listen to news, compare notes on the situation that each of us got from “our sources”, and we will argue about what exactly is happening outside the confines of our house, our neighborhood, and our city. We will sit on a balcony, and if the war comes closer than it did in 2006, we will move to the hallway, and if it gets closer, we will move to the entryway of the apartment and finally, to the parking garages-a repository of many anxious memories. Other friends look on, bemused and a bit terrified by our planning and by our spirited debates over which objects to make sure to buy as soon as these now old and familiar rumors of war, also turn day by day into cold, hard fact. But mostly, people understand that the true utility of these objects is fantasy, and the regimented fantasy of safety is better than not feeling safe at all.