The man shrugged and raised an eyebrow. “We’re Hezbollah,” he said. Then the kicker: “You will come with us, or we will take you by forces’ The kitschy Nasrallah paperweights I had just bought didn’t seem so cute. Into the car we went. It seemed as if the Beirut traffic had magically cleared for us. We sped down alleys with the two clean-cut and decidedly pious men \(my male friend was instructed to sit in between our “escort” Our speed gave me little time to ponder our fate. Instead, I thought of one of my students who lived in Haret Hreika 12-year-old girl who, because she was the only student at the center who didn’t wear the hijab, was the sole test subject of the hairstyling and makeup class. The students would style her hair in Princess Leia buns and paint her face with glittery blues and pinks. I doubted that Hezbollah would accept her as a viable character witness. They took us to their now-destroyed headquarters in the heart of Shia land, about two blocks from the Hezbollah television station Al-Manar. We approached an armed security checkpoint decorated with black flags, some with indecipherable Arabic calligraphy. My friend and I communicated our fears to each other by pressing our legs together and stepping on each other’s feet. We passed through the gate and were given a peek inside a surreal world, one that was at once instantly foreign and familiar. The area looked just like any other AFTERWORD I BY LEAH CALDWELL Meeting Hezbollah IMI y introduction to Hezbollah came on an early morn ing in southern Beirut. I rode bus No. 5 from the Burj Al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp, where I taught English, eastwards through Haret Hreika Hezbollah stronghold. Every day I watched the surroundings from the discomfort of the sweaty, gender-segregated bus. We passed bombedout buildings that served as permanent reminders of the decade-long civil war; the Beirut Fried Chicken that serves dirt-cheap grills; balconies that display Iranian flags; and what I liked to think of as Martyr’s Row, a wide highway with faded posters of martyrs’ solemn faces floating above rose gardens or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in Islam. On a particularly hot day, a friend and I decided to get off the bus for some relatively fresh air. We bought some Hezbollah souvenirs and practiced our Arabic with the shopkeepers. Then I took a photo beside the Hassnian mosque. I took a photo. In a Hezbollah-con trolled area. When a plainclothes man with a gun approached us, I knew I had made a huge mistake. “Photography is prohibited,” he said to us in Arabic. “Give me your camera!’ I apologized and showed him that I had erased the photo. My friend and I began to walk away. He grabbed my bag and pulled me back by my strap. “Give me your passports,” he said. We didn’t have them. A white Mercedes with black tinted windows pulled up beside us. More men with guns got out. “You will come with us,” the first man said. “We just need to make sure everything’s okay” We protested: We don’t even know who you are. We want to express our deepest apologies to you. This is a big mistake and we are sorry. You are now a part of our family. We welcome you back anytime. 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 1, 2006
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