Damour, ricordare per ricostruire

Damur, 1976La stampa di Beirut torna ad affrontare i controversi temi della guerra civile, della memoria, dell’amnistia e dell’amnesia. Un interessante articolo dell’anglofono The Daily Star, da mesi acquistato dal gruppo Hariri.

(The Daily Star, 23 agosto 2011)

The barber of Damour has 50 customers. As he shaves the face of a white-haired man, Elias Abi Shakra, himself getting up in years, says “all my customers are my age.”


But soon enough, Abi Shakra may have some younger faces to pamper. Once home to some 20,000 people, Damour was devastated by a 1976 massacre. Those members of the town’s 3,000 families who were not killed fled and were folded into the masses of the Civil War’s internally displaced.


Since the war’s end, the town has encouraged its original families to return. This homecoming, occasionally aided by the government, has been slow. But lately, the town is experiencing a revival of sorts. Young people, the so-called “third generation” displaced, are slowly but steadily making their way back to the town.


Amanda Abou Abdallah, a 24-year-old filmmaker whose family hails from Damour, has been collecting stories about the town for a documentary about the town and the massacre. She says that although various people, themselves often displaced by violence, inhabited Damour in the years following 1976, by the war’s end it was almost completely in ruins.


When her family came to visit in the 1990s, “there was nothing. Everything was demolished.” Some former residents began to rebuild, aided by payments from the newly created Ministry of the Displaced. Abou Abdallah says that her grandparents, who had been living in Nabaa, “rushed to build. They built a three story building, and then payment [from the Ministry of Displaced] stopped. They really didn’t have money to continue [building].”


Without the government payouts they had expected, her grandparents stretched their finances to finish their house. Others were unable to do so, and the skeletons of partially completed houses are a common sight in Damour. Less than 200 families had returned by 1999.


Abou Abdallah’s father was a teenager in 1976, and after several moves, including one year of refuge in a school, he eventually settled in Bikfaya. His daughter says he wants nothing to do with Damour. Given the trauma suffered by he and other members of his generation, this isn’t altogether surprising. “He still believes it’s going to happen again,” Abou Abdallah says.


Shaker Abou Abdallah, the secretary-general of the Damour Municipality, says that between 950 and 1,000 families now live in Damour. Most of the permanent residents are elderly, he says, an observation borne out by its quiet weekday streets. Elderly residents sit in conversation at a plastic table near Abi Shakri’s barbershop. There is almost no traffic, be it car or foot.


The town fills up on weekends with people from Damour who come for church or to spend the weekend outside of Beirut. Lately, though, there are more local children in the town’s four schools. Young people are coming back.


“They started [coming back] months ago,” says Shaker Abou Abdallah. “[Mostly] newlyweds.” He says that in the past year he has seen 20 to 30 young families return.


Rita Ignatios Harb is one of those young returnees. Like Amanda Abou Abdallah, she grew up outside of the town, in Jdeideh. Aged 30, she was born after the massacre, but says she always felt a connection to Damour.


“When we first came back to see it I was 11. We went to my grandmother’s house, and other people were living there. I became very attached to this place … My family told me about it, and when I was young we used to come on weekends and explore the destroyed houses.”


Her father built a house with money from the Ministry of Displaced, but chose to remain in Jdeideh, where he had children and a job.


“At the beginning,” she says, “it was a small number of people who returned. Some people were traumatized and were worried that something like the massacre would happen again.”


Harb was undeterred, and when she married three years ago, she and her husband, who is not originally from Damour, moved here. She is thrilled with the move. “It’s a beautiful village, a beautiful climate,” she says, praising the banana trees, the sea view, and the relaxing calm of a place where “no one bothers you.”


She says others of her generation are coming back, and has personally convinced two young couples to do so. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that land and real estate prices are cheaper here than in greater Beirut.


Harb moved into the house her parents built, but other third generation displaced are buying land and or building on their own, as help from the Ministry of the Displaced is spotty or nonexistent. Amanda Abou Abdallah for example, is considering a land purchase.


The arrival of Damour’s third generation displaced is aided by a policy that aims to gather the 3,000 families of pre-1976. At the municipality, which does not sell land but facilitates sales, Shaker Abou Abdallah is frank.


“We don’t sell [land] to anyone,” he says. “First of all, your family must be from Damour. Second, they must be from a Christian area.”


“We try to select the population in Damour,” he explains. “We try to choose decent people, not pot smokers and troublemakers”


“Damour is a big town, but our mentality is that of a village, says Abou Abdallah. “It’s not as if we’re living in apartments in Beirut and we don’t care for our neighbors. We want to preserve this atmosphere.”


It’s not clear how long this village lifestyle will last, even if new arrivals are from Damour. Abi Shakra says young people aren’t visiting him for haircuts yet, but Abou Abdallah says the small surge “is doing something new” to the economy. People are “suggesting new projects. There’s someone who is establishing a printing press … and there are new beach resorts being set up.”


Nonetheless, Abou Abdallah says, “we’re trying to focus on the younger generations. They are the future.”