Neighbourly Love: Reem Haddad Realizes Why She Likes Living in Lebanon

By Haddad, Reem | New Internationalist, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Neighbourly Love: Reem Haddad Realizes Why She Likes Living in Lebanon


Haddad, Reem, New Internationalist


It took the death of an elderly neighbour to remind me why I am still living in this chaotic country.

That day, I woke up to the wailing of several women. I looked out the window to see a coffin being brought into an apartment just opposite mine. Our buildings are so close that I could easily see the proceedings. Three women were staring in shock at the coffin, holding each other and crying out for the return of their loved one. On the balcony, several men paced nervously and fumbled with their cigarette packs.

Disturbed by the tragic scene, I began to turn away when I noticed almost all the neighbours in the four buildings which make up this small community standing on their balconies, heads bowed. Some were praying, others were wiping away silent tears. Young and old stood in silence.

I vaguely remembered the elderly man and his wife standing on their balcony staring at me and my husband only a few months ago. We were newlyweds and moving into our first home. I found their stare disconcerting and commented to my husband on their perceived rude behavior. Much in the impatient spirit of a young career couple, we pointedly turned our backs to them.

In the days to come, however, I found many of the neighbours' attitudes annoying. I thought that living in a community with buildings so closely facing each other would be rather exciting. Before moving here, I lived in a high-rise apartment and had a lovely bird's-eye view of some parts of Beirut. In this community, however, the view was people staring at us from their balconies.

But as I watched the neighbours standing in silence that day, shaking their heads and weeping over the man's death, they suddenly took the shape of caring neighbours rather than nosy ones. It dawned on me that they stared at us for a purpose. In this closely-knit community, women wanted to know if new tenants posed any threat to their offspring running round the neighbourhood and men needed to study the strangers who might intrude in their families' lives.

I also began to notice other details. Men, for example, came out on their balconies when pedlars arrived.

By now, neighbours had figured out that my husband has late working hours and I am often alone in the evenings. …

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