Remembering Beirut

Writing about exile and migration, through a remarkable comic.

Source: Wajdi Hemissi Photography

When I first started studying diaspora, I didn’t know that it can be such a broad field. There are so many applications to it. When you open the google meaning, it explains that it is the dispersion of the Jews, but it isn’t unifromly that. It is the dispersion of Palestinians, Chinese, Africans, even Lebanese citizens…etc.

There are multiple works by many writers; most notably Edward Said, father of post-colonial studies and writer of the famous book “Reflections on Exile,” which tackles Palestinian exile in addition to the different meanings of diaspora and exile itself.

Another distinctive example would be Zeina Abirached, a prominent Lebanese writer who had lived through and was raised during the Lebanese civil war and then moved to Paris. She had written a comic book called “I Remember Beirut” which tackled how she perceived the war as a child.

The book goes around about the two sides of Beirut, West and East back then, and explains how her family moved across the two sides and around the country under shells.

The war-torn country had its impact on the family’s psychological state and happiness, but it also contained great memories of things that they used to do on the daily; like driving, having ice cream, going to the pool, etc.

In Said’s sense of the meaning exile, this non-belonging, which doesn’t necessarily have to be in a sense where the citizen is outside the country, Zeina was truly exiled as a child. She and her family had to leave their home and go throughout the country in order to survive, and in addition, they never truly belonged throughout the comic. They were asked about their self introduction and if they were tourists, which in a sense they were since they had never crossed to the other side of Beirut.

The language used in the comic is not too sophisticated, but well enough. Abirached beautifully maintained a composition and wording that truly gives the reader a sense that a child is literally talking to them.

The illustration of drawings in the comic is very great, too, for Abirached attributes perfect facial expressions and backgrounds to the comic which fits perfectly with the context of each page. She even adds daily routines like what they used to watch on television. Each having a resemblance of its own.

Can one be exiled in their own country? I surely think so with this remarkable comic, which gives us different meanings and applications to Edward Said’s amazing creation of the field of study.