A little bit from my memoir: THREE DAYS IN DAMASCUS
We just finished with the last official interview of the day. Thank God. I’m exhausted. After listening to the torture victims today, I am done. How do aid workers do this every day? I need a break. We’re all meeting back up at the Beirut refugee center, before heading back to the hotel. I’m in Beirut, yes. This was before Syria and Omar and I think before Amman. Although I’m not sure, all the stories are becoming one. It’s hard to say what took place where.
As I enter the basement of the center, dreaming of my bed, a bath and a glass of wine, I see a bunch of Iraqis hanging out and chatting in this room. Please God, no more stories. I can’t handle any more stories today. Please let them want nothing from me. Let them have nothing to say to me. I want nothing right now. Just breathe, Kim. I smile and sit with my colleagues.
There are both women and men here, mostly sitting separately. Some women are in the headscarves. Some are not. All ages are present – from young, single, twenty-something men to older women. I take it all in. Iraq. In Lebanon.
Then suddenly someone begins drumming. Huh. Fun. An Iraqi man has grabbed a drum and then another grabs an oud, the traditional Middle Eastern guitar-like instrument, and they are playing together. It’s lovely and Iraqi and makes me happy. We start to smile and laugh and move — the Iraqis and the Americans. I start to loosen up. As there are no translators here, we can say very little to each other, but with music, we don’t need to. So we dance, teaching each other our cultural moves, and laughing to see the other try them on.
Before I know it, a long-haired, olive-skinned man in a bright blue shirt, whom I hadn’t noticed before, with big, big eyes, has taken center stage. This man wants to dance! We all step aside and let him have the focus, as it seems that is what he wants. He is dancing joyfully, fully and with abandon. We are all laughing as he flirts with both girls and boys, and begins to do a mock strip tease. This guy’s a character!
“Oooohhhhh!” we all shout. Someone yells, “Dance baby!” But now, clothes really are coming off. Is he really gonna get naked? The energy is shifting. We are all sitting by now and he has the stage. It’s getting slightly awkward. He’s dancing half-naked with an empty wheelie chair, sending it spinning violently in every direction and I am beginning to feel dizzy…and uncomfortable. I look to my colleagues. They look as mystified as me. This is not a Dervish dance. Something different is happening. I look back at our dancer. The blue shirt is off and the pants are about to be. But this is no longer flirty or fun, it has turned frenetic and desperate. Something has shifted. I feel scared for some reason now because strangely, this dance now feels — like… war. I start to cry. I want him to stop. I want this to stop. I don’t want any more of this — any of it. What is happening? He is now in just his underclothes and comes up to each of us to dance. He wants a partner. No one wants to be his partner. We all shake our heads no —“La”. At the last minute, I almost say “yes”. I feel like he needs someone, but I hesitate; he is scaring me with the uncertain emotion underneath all this. That, plus he’s almost naked. I’m not quite sure what will happen, so I decline him like the others.
We all watch in silence — awkward, apprehensive, melancholy silence — as he spins some more, sweating profusely, his hair and chair flying frantically, until at last, he collapses. It’s over.
The room is silent. No one moves. I can hear my heartbeat. Time suspends, with everyone uncertain as to the next move. At last, he stands back up and actually bows, his apparent performance over. We carefully applaud, unclear as to what just happened or the appropriate response. The blue shirt guy picks up his blue shirt and the rest of his clothes and says to us, “You made him appear, you know,” and then walks out of the room. I think I saw him crying.
I want to go back to the hotel now.
copyright 2013 Kim Schultz no reproduction without permission