Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wavin' World Cup Flags in Beirut and Palestinian Camps

Reprinted from OpEdNews
As I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.
K’Naan, “Wavin’ Flag”

Traveling this summer in Greece and Lebanon, I have been on a news fast and have thus missed the day-to-day dogfights that substitute for significant events on cable TV. I have, however, been able to view a few of the perennial battles as they play out concretely in ordinary lives: the resistance to austerity in Greece, the plight of Palestinians in Beirut, and, everywhere, football (soccer to us Yanks).

All over Beirut, as in Greece, the flags of Spain, France, Germany, Paraguay, Netherlands, and―especially―Brazil fly in proud fanaticism. A conversation in Arabic converts to a universal Language of Sport. A joke about a Brazilian player named with the universally recognized word Kaká is obvious in the laughter.

We broke our news fast and switched on the TV when my wife and I reached our rooms in Beirut. “Wavin’ Flag,” K’Naan’s world cup anthem-slash-Coca Cola product placement video clip was playing on Lebanon’s Al Jaras channel. Wait a minute: This is not the same clip we’d seen playing on flat screens in taverns from Athens to Mykonos. Here sharing the stage with the Somali-Canadian rapper and poet K’Naan was Lebanese hottie Nancy Ajram, singing in Arabic before a phalanx of Bollywood dancers. And wait a minute: Is that girl behind Nancy wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, or just a checked scarf vaguely suggestive, a la Rachel Ray in the Dunkin Donuts ad dog fight? With a little research, I discover there is also an official Spanish version with David Bisbal, targeting the Latin American Market. All versions of K’Naan’s original lyrics have been slightly altered for Coca Cola.

The music of Beirut’s streets, however, is construction. The Saudis tear down historical housing for the middle and working classes on the promontory of Ras Beirut to build pricey hotels and apartments (and mosques) for the Middle Eastern elite, while Iran rebuilds homes destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2006 in southern Beirut’s Dahieh District for the more proletarian Shi’ites.

I had hoped to see Dahieh to research a novel I am working on, but Lebanese friends of all stripes tell me that suspicion about Israeli spies by Hezbollah, which dominates the district, make going there unwise. Also, the trust between the Lebanese in general and Hezbollah as the anti-Israeli resistance has been damaged badly since the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the Cedar Revolution that drove out Hezbollah’s ally Syria in 2008.

Still, we did get to see our friends in the Bourj al Barajneh Palestinian Refugee camp, where, as in the rest of the world, we saw in the narrow cinderblock alleys the wavin’ flags of many nations, plus those of Fateh and Hamas. When we arrived at the gate, a tiny doorway in an immense wall―a jigsaw puzzle of concrete, posters, and old paint―a  truck was unloading Coca Cola.

Life has changed for our friends, this family of a woman who teaches at a kindergarten in Bourj al Barajneh. She also volunteers at Shatila, the camp where the Christian Falange, with Israeli assistance, massacred thousands in 1982. She has just received her bachelor’s diploma. Her mother told her she would never forgive her if she did not go to her graduation party, but she was broke and could not afford a dress. She got an advance from her employer to buy one, but then one of her teachers bought it for her, instead. Now her father says he would rather see her continue on to a masters degree than get married. She needs a laptop. She joined a massive march on June 27 to give Palestinians some citizenship rights in Lebanon, which forbids Palestinians from owning property or holding decent jobs. She is hopeful that the times are right for change, but Falange legislators oppose.

Her sister just had a second baby. Every time we come back to Lebanon, she says, she has another child. An uncle has driven all the way from Denmark to visit, his wife covered modestly in a peach ensemble, his daughter uncovered, chic, and blond.

Last time we were in the country, our friend’s brother had been in bed for two months, depressed with dismal hopes for employment, marriage, and a family of his own. Now, he has escaped. When Israeli bombs fell in 2006, he and his fiancée slipped into a crowd evacuating to Cyprus by boat. “Forgive me,” he asked his family, “if I cannot send money, for I will be an illegal.” And he is, in Sweden, and married. He did not tell his mother, or she would have stopped him.

Grandmother still lives in the ground floor, as do all the members of the first generation of Palestinians who were expelled from Israel in 1948. Keys to Palestinian homes hang on the walls. The third floors for the third generation are as far as they can go, if they cannot return to Palestine or otherwise escape.

Around a table laden with fatouche, hummos, baba ganouj, kibbe, and chicken mansaf, the discussion turned to football. Many in the camp support Brazil because of their excellence. When they lost to the Netherlands the night before, the Palestinians built a coffin and held a funeral procession through the camp, complete with breast beating and ululation. Many also support Italy, because as 1982 World Cup champions Italy dedicated their victory to the Palestinians who were under Israeli siege that year in Lebanon. Our friend the teacher says it is better to support Brazil than to choose for political reasons.

Night before last, Germany destroyed Argentina, and parades of Lebanese fans careened throughout downtime Beirut on top of cars, cheering, blaring horns, setting off fireworks, and wavin’ German flags.

Yesterday, our Independence Day, Shi’ite spiritual leader and some say moderating influence on Hezbollah Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah died, and the attention of Lebanon is drawn from images of global celebration to reminders of an unstable national history. Too, Israel is threatening war if Lebanon presses claims for a share in the natural gas off their mutual coastline. Among all sports celebrations and hospitable offerings, everyone assumes that Israel will again attack.

So as the corporate globalists play their anthems to the freedom to consume, and as Iraq, Afghanistan and even Palestine and Lebanon burn, let us remember a couple of K’Naan’s lyrics left out for Coke:

So many wars, settling scores,
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor. 

1 comment:

  1. There are also a score or so of unofficial re-mixes of Wavin' Flag, a great song in both versions, the one about K'Naan's plight in Somalia or the one celebrating World Cup Football.