I grew up in the neighborhood of Bir al-‘Abed. As pictures emerged of Malak Zahwi and Ali Khadra (two of the now five people killed when a car bomb went off in the neighborhood on Thursday 2 January 2014), I noticed how some people appeared amazed to see these "civilians" dead in Dahiyeh. It made me realize that my Dahiyeh might not resemble the Dahiyeh many Lebanese have never even visited, but have certainly conceived in their imagination. It is something they ignored, they judged, and (some) even hated.
Your Dahiyeh is a Hizballah security zone. My Dahiyeh is where I enjoyed endless chocolate and vanilla ice cream cones from Hassoun`s shop for five hundred Lebanese liras. My Dahiyeh is Ayat`s delicious hamburger meal and Abu Mohammad`s candy shop—where I always managed to come out of with enough sweets and chocolate bars to give myself a stomach ache no matter how little my allowance was back then.
My Dahiyeh is Sadaka`s pink glowing bicycles sitting right outside our balcony that the Hajj always brought outside first thing in the morning; clean and polished, making every little girl`s birthday gift dream come true—or at least something to dream about every night before going to bed.
Your Dahiyeh is a stereotype of an all-Shi‘a, all-Hizballah land. My Dahiyeh is me, my family, and our fifth floor neighbor, tante Marie—the neighborhood`s nurse, who was there through the worst of the civil war. My Dahiyeh is the most welcoming and respectful attitude you could expect while accompanying my aunt—who is a nun—every time she came to visit us at our home.
My Dahiyeh is my dad`s stories of his inherited home that had been through it all, where once only a few other houses and nothing but orange groves surrounded the area. My Dahiyeh is our second floor neighbors, the Kalakesh family, whose house was always clean, neat, and smelled like fresh detergent. It is our next-door neighbor Hasib who always felt perfectly at ease singing and shouting to his mom and brother (Ali) from the ground floor parking lot. It is our neighbor, the famous guy who was always on TV giving interviews in formal suits, but who wandered around in his underwear and flannel shirt whenever he was on his balcony. It is Bazzi`s frightening deep, cigarette-infected voice that I was convinced was that of Satan himself. It is Umm Tarraf`s Lebanese bread bag, which she managed to balance on her head even though her back was as low as an eight-year-old`s.
Your Dahiyeh might be where people have privileges, and do not suffer as much as you do. My Dahiyeh is where middle- to lower-class families lived with little electricity and not enough water, and drowned every winter (as many Lebanese do) in the heavy rain—which I loved watching fall from our dining room window.
My Dahiyeh is the closet that reached our ceiling. I used to hang my paintings and drawings on each of its knobs. Israel`s 1996 “Operation Grapes of Wrath” on Lebanon meant my paintings had to disappear while I was staying at my teyta`s home in the north. My Dahiyeh is my painting of "The Grapes of Peace," a painting I used to relaunch my homemade exhibition space in that very same closet... in my Dahiyeh.
[This article was originally published on Beirut.com]