Sunday, March 18, 2007

hidden wounds

A balmy breeze caresses our faces as we drive into the driveway of the Hamad family. Mrs Hamad is in her pyjamas, sweeping the verandah. A cigarette hangs from her mouth. Her son, Hussain was hurt by a cluster bomb- a legacy of the brutal Israeli war on Lebanon. He is at the hospital, and so we leave, to return later. On our return, Mrs Hamad is dressed, but the cigarette remains. Hussain is not yet back, but is expected shortly. We make ourselves comfortable on the verandah, enjoying the late afternoon sun on our faces. With the mountains encompassing us, we are enconsced in a valley in the South.

Hussain arrives with his father and sister. His elder brother and another sister join us, and we settle into a relaxed visiting atmosphere. Hassan is a shy thirteen year old boy with a cute face. His brother, Mohammed is two years older but looks younger. A few weeks before, Hassan took an ordinary foray into the family garden, only for his life to be irrevocably changed. He reached for an orange from a branch, but instead got the taste of a cluster bomb.

Hussain is reluctant to talk, but his brother coaxes him with a gentle smile. "I was alone at home when it happened", he says. "At first I didn't realize what had happened, then I felt pain. My stomach burst open, and my hand felt like it was going to fall off", he explains simply. Hussain casually supported his left arm and ruptured abdomen and rushed to the top of his driveway, where he called for his neighbour, who took him to the hospital.

The garden is enticing, with it's fruit trees and delightful view. It’s a place where one should feel secure But none of the children will now enter into it, although it has been thoroughly checked and found to be free of any other bombs. The whole area has been searched- no other cluster bombs fell in this region. Hussain's experience was a once-off.

It’s not just his intrinsic need for safety that’s been stolen-he’s been robbed of a part of his personality. A bubbly, outgoing boy before the incident, he is now withdrawn and quiet. The physical wounds will fade to scars, but the emotional ramifications will forever haunt him. “I feel like less of a person. I feel ugly”, he whimpers. Mrs Hamad looks over wistfully at her son. “Before this happened, he was so loving and easygoing”, she relates. “But now, he is so aggressive, and he doesn’t want to be held.” She impatiently brushes away tears from her eyes, as her husband reaches out to comfort her. The daughters are silent. Hussain lowers his head.

But every child, every person has been affected by this war. Mr Hamad says, “It is not just Hussain. I speak to my friends and they too complain their sons have become aggressive and emotionally unstable.”(Stats of children affected) It’s not just the parents of the buried children who have lost their kids, but all parents in this war where one hundred percent of children were affected.

I ask Hussain if he feels sympathy for an Israeli child who has been injured by a Cartouche rocket, and he is flabbergasted. "Of course!" exclaims Mohammed, unable to stay silent. "Pain is pain- we don't want others to suffer just because we suffer."

Mrs Hamad echoes this sentiment, “My heart cries out for an Israeli mother who has lost a child, or has an injured one. I know what she’s going through.”

Although young, the boys have strong political views. “Hizbullah is our party- if it weren’t for them, Israel would have destroyed Lebanon. The Lebanese government is doing a good job, but there is corruption and they are a weak international force.” They believe that Israel will strike again, and that they will see another war on their beloved homeland in their time. They don’t want another war, longing desperately for peace, but reality tells them war is inevitable.

“Dialogue can only prevent conflict, if both parties are willing to respect the rules of dialogue and engage in fair play”, comments the astute Mohammed. “If dialogue does not produce results, as in this case with Israel which is just a big bully, and knows America will defend it, then war is essential.”

“Another war will also occur unless Israel returns Sheb’aa farms”, adds Mr Hamad. I ask the boys if they will join Hizbullah, and fight for their country if war breaks out in later years. Mohammed is keen to join Hizbullah right away, but has to wait until he turns eighteen. Hussain is reluctant, but says it is his duty and he will do so. Mr Hamad looks extremely worried and says if there is threat of war again, he would pack up and leave the land to which he and his family were born. “I care more for my family’s protection”, he says, defending his position. “My sons are braver than my husband”, chuckles Mrs Hamad and we all laugh with her. The joke is appreciated by Mr Hamad who laughs uproariously. “I want to be a martyr”, quietly intones Muhammad. Silence descends. After a moment of reflection, Mr Hamad replies with brevity, “If my sons want to fight in jihad, then I will not stop them. I am proud of Muhammad.”
The daughters have been a silent witness thus far. The elder girl, Fatima, is at university and wants to be a television journalist. But she’s worried her hijab might prevent her from getting a job in television media. The younger sister, Ruwaida, has just completed school. She does not wear hijab, and is interested in discussing pop music, Hollywood stars and Western fashion with myself and my two companions- David from Ireland and Steve from Australia.

I ask them if they would fight if they have to. Fatima nods her affirmation, Ruwaida replies in the negative. Mr Hamad glances with shock at Fatima, but his look is laced with pride.

The interview is over, but our visit is not. We laugh and chat, and are served everything from the ubiquitious coffee, to fruit and sweets and chocolate. They urge us to remain for dinner, but with the sun preparing to rise on the other side of the Equator, we have to bid them farewell to drive to a deeper valley to meet with a Hizbullah fighter.

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