A Good Land

By Nada Awar Jarrar

The war continues and is somehow incorporated into their love and the uncertainty of their present life. The city they once knew as vibrant and untiring begins to lose its light, its colour fading, its energy sapped. The Israelis continue their relentless bombardment of Lebanon and Hizbullah fights back in the south, firing rockets into northern Israel.

Everywhere, as always, civilians bear the brunt. Layla wonders how this ruthless aggression by one country towards another that is so much weaker could occur. It is not naïve to wonder about the total absence of justice, she tells Kamal. How could this be happening to us? Ask the Palestinians what they think, he replies with bitterness.

When they can no longer bear to hear news of the fighting, Layla and Kamal go for long walks, crossing back and forth through different Beirut neighbourhoods, and revisit their childhood haunts one by one, the raouche rock that juts out of the sea and reminds Layla of long evenings strolling in its view eating corn on the cob and drinking jillab; the narrow byways of their own neighbourhood as Kamal recounts stories of his childhood with his two brothers; and Hamra Street once filled with the cheerful people of Ras Beirut.

Kamal tells her also about days of roses, when Beirut was bright and breezy and full of promise and he, a young man with ideas big enough to encircle the whole world, was in control of his own fate. There was nothing that could not be openly discussed, he says, no one we really needed to fear and everywhere around us, woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, was the certainty that change was within reach.

He stops in mid-sentence and looks beyond her. He gestures at that gilded, far-flung past. It felt unlike anything else, we could not help but be touched, be wholly embraced by life in those days. Where did it all go and how will I ever manage to describe it to you as it truly was? He shakes his head. Then civil war broke out and it became clear to those of us who had dared to dream of a different Arab world that the people were not free to make their own decisions, that there was too much at stake for the West here for us to be left alone. And our own leadership was the biggest hurdle to overcome.

But Layla understands exactly, pictures fluid days, waves of time and thought that rise and abate without obstacle. Surely this is what you and those like you managed to see, she tells him, the certainty that this country, despite its fragility and history of turbulence, would always be worthy of being loved?

Excerpt from A Good Land, by Nada Awar Jarrar. Published by Harper Collins Publisher, London, 2007.
Reprinted with permission.