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2:30 AM

Lebanon: Balance of Balconies

Wrote: American Muslima Writer |

Lebanon has some beautiful buildings but most are plain concrete usually painted white or cream at one point maybe with tileing for decor, older buildings are riddled with bullet holes, a constant reminder of how fragile Lebanon's times of peace are. Nearly every building though has a series of balconies for each house and are anywhere from 3 stories to 20 stories. Some are long and wide others are small and narrow but nearly every home has one balcony.
They serve a variety of purposes. Sometimes stairs and doors are too narrow to get in plush couches and large fridges so using pulleys and ropes they haul them right up the side of the building through the balcony. Other times balconies are used as a storage for extra supplies that want to remain unseen to proper guests. A third option is for a clothesline set up since Lebanon's weather is usually mild and warm so air drying clothes is least expensive. You can either string wires to walls or have a collapsible one OR BOTH (like I used to have at one point). A fourth option would be to enclose the balcony and make it another room for a maid or child or for more storage that is rain proof. The best option of all though is to have some patio/plastic chairs and table outside and drink tea/coffee and eat fruit or nuts in the morning or evening. The Lebanese are very social people and love sitting together as families or with guests (who visit unexpectedly and often) on the balcony and discuss life, politics, and religion. Kids weave in and out of adults grabbing drinks and snacks on their way. Randomly an adult will pull a child who is looking too far over the edge back away from danger of falling.
In the city I lived in the longest called Haretil-Naime/Naime (NA-AM-MAY) was south of Beirut for about a 15 minute drive on clear traffic days and 30-45 minutes on heavy moderate traffic days. Masha'Allah I loved my house even though it was in a poor section and it wasn't very big. Why because it had THREE balconies. The largest unfortunately was facing South East towards three factories (full of men of course so I'd always have to be sure to wear hijab). My daughter used to be able to sleep through the daily pinging of steel hitting steel all day. Eventually you just tune it out. The second balcony was used for storage and laundry since it was off the kitchen and faced all the other residence's balconies (where they had their clothes and storage). My third balcony was the reason i chose this house. I was on the top floor of the 5 story building (6 stories including ground floor). Remember this height for i will refer to it later. It had a beautiful North West view of the Mediterranean Sea.
In summer you had glorious sunsets and a cool sea breeze (though we weren't really close to the sea- a good 20 minute walk) and in the winter stormy clouds and lighting over the sea. In the mornings I used to love to make coffee or tea and sit with my husband and watch the sunrise dawning on the eastern mountains and reflecting on the western clouds and sea. Our neighbor on the top floor of the neighboring building kept trained pigeons so they would be released at dawn to fly in majestic circles. Everything was fresh and calm. Then my daughter would wake and we'd lean carefully over the navel high railing and wave goodbye to my husband as he walked down the sloped road to catch a shuttle van- that runs from Naime to Beirut's Cola intersection- for work. After he was out of sight we'd go in and I'd make breakfast and start the day. It was so wonderful to have this time to reflect on nature and life.

Then my love of balconies dwindled a severe turn to loathing them...... They were a source of literally nightmares for me in day and night. My daughter learned how to walk and climb and suddenly that navel high railing didn't seem so high. All furniture had to be permanently taken off the balcony and kept inside. Only when I was outside could she go outside too. We didn't have an AC though so we kept this front balcony doors open for breeze. My daughter at this time not only learned how to climb but how to play hide and seek. She'd go somewhere while I was busy in the kitchen or cleaning the rooms and hide and as a mother knows when there is silence there is trouble. So I'd have to go find her and see what she was getting into.
Around this same time I started meeting the neighbors (after half a year--yeah I'm a little anti-social sometimes) and my downstairs neighbor under me had three children. So she used to come up and have tea or I'd go see her. One day I told her my love of the balconies but I'm worried now about my daughter climbing and her daughter was a climber too. She said this is a problem all over Lebanon of teaching the children not to climb or Jump off the balconies. "JUMP!" I squealed. "Oh yes, many children pretend they are Tarzan, superman, spiderman, take your pick, and wrap a cape around their necks and jump off a balcony to their death in attempts to fly." "YA ALLAH!" I teared up. "How many kids have done this?" "Oh dozens especially around here where the mother's might not have had much education (like my neighbor who married at 15) and don't know to always watch their kids." I was sooo distraught by this. "You can hear the mother's and family wailing (which is not allowed in Islam but is understandable) when a child jumps, for a week. It's something you don't forget." I shuddered. She left and I held my daughter so tight and prayed this would never happen to my daughter. I talked to my sister-in-law who has three kids and lives on the 7th floor in Beirut's busy section about balconies and kids. She told me her first two just obeyed her not to go on the balcony but her third she literally saved from death as she saw her daughter balanced about to fall and dragged her back by her shirt. The next day they installed metal bars across the whole balcony and on both balconies. It may look a bit jailish but her kids can safely play all day out in fresh air without worries.
This is a rental house though so I could not do this. So many times my daughter would be silent and hiding and I had no clue where she was and I'd tell her to talk to me but she wouldn't (lil tricky girl). I'd race to the factory balcony and look for her then with trepidation look down to see if she had fallen to her death. I'd then rush through the bedroom down the hall into the kitchen and to the balcony to look again over the railings. Finally back through the kitchen down the entry way to the living room/dining room to the sea balcony and look down. Alhamdulliah every time she was safe and just hiding in a closet or something like that and I'd hold her close and sometimes cry with fear of loosing her. It got worse when I would have to do this many times a day everyday because of course hide and seek while mommy is busy cleaning is a favorite game now. I would start daydreaming (remember I'm a writer with a VERY active imagination) and having nightmares about her falling and either I was there to see her fall or I was trying to hold her little slipping fingers. The worst was when I'd dream that she had JUST fallen and I jump after her and try to throw her onto my neighbors balcony and let her live while I die trying to save her.
I was so happy when I got to UAE and my house was on the 1st floor(2nd with Ground Floor included) and there was no balconies and the windows opened to a woodshop factory's metal awning so finally I could rest with peace of mind that there would be no more falling. My new house is Ground Floor so I have NO worries PERIOD. For sure if I ever live in Lebanon again I will get super high railings or jail bars. Living everyday like that was hard on my mind. Once I did hear a family wailing somewhere down the labyrinth of houses and streets that is Naime and it gave me chills and I wondered if their child had jumped. It is something you don't forget.
So though I dearly miss my Sea view I don't miss the pain of thinking horrid things.

4 intelligent thoughts:

iMuslimah said...

Assalamu alaykum-

My heart would be in my throat if I had a balcony. Its bad enough I have a full flight of stairs inside our apt. We will be doing some serious child safety around here.

How did u end up in Lebanon? That would be a another good post :)

American Muslima Writer said...

UGH STAIRS!!!! *Clutches children tightly*
Stairs in my mind are just like balconies in safety risks. Worse here UAE and some places in Lebanon they are made from Marble/tile and the edge of the stair is soo sharp. One of my friends told me she knows a little girl who was blinded because she hit her head on the edge of the tile stairs and it hit so hard it messed up her vision. I always hold my daughter's hand until just now that she's 3 and big enough to walk on her own but I'm alawys in front/behind to catch her if she falls. insha'Allah. For child safety there is NO going overboard (unless you're preventing your childs natural development).
OOoooOOooo thanks for the post idea. heh that will be one to really look forward to people as I had the weirdest and sometimes wildest first two years of being in Islam.--which finally took me to Lebanon.

Miss Muslimah said...

Ah!that is a great idea!
Looking forward to hearing your stories....
im starting to get addicted to your blog....you gotta pump out these posts a little more quickly...I say at least 2 posts a day! Lol...so get with it-chop chop!

American Muslima Writer said...

Miss Muslimah you really made me literally laugh not just a internet lol. Ok ok I'm happy to finally be in demand. I will try to pump my fingers across the keyboard a little faster. Hope you all can keep up because when I write, I WRITE!
By the way now you finally know how i feel about your blog. #1 i check daily to see what's new. :p get pumping yourself girl and read my comment on my post about the SOldier shoots Qur'an k.

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