Saturday, June 10, 2006

Abou Hassan


"Look at this unfortunate old man"

"This is Abou Hassan" My father replied.

"You know him??"

"Of course I know him" He nodded, an uncomfortable smile stretching the corner of his mouth.

Abu Hassan lives on a couple of low lying stairs beneath the Basta bridge, counting the fleeting seconds and passing cars and people, everyday, all day, the bridge above his head and a mosque in sight, at the exact midpoint between Zareef and the Beshara el Khoury intersection.

"I'll ask if he will let me photograph him. Wait for me here".

"Sure. I'll wait here" my dad replied.

I walked slowly towards Abou Hassan, looking at his old emotionless face, his congested, incredibly swollen legs, and, oblivious to the heat, the multiple layers of clothes covering his tired body and unbathed skin. But I didn't see the life story sitting right next him, hiding between the blue patches of shade and the yellow freckles of sunlight.

"Marhaba 3amm!"

"Ahla.." he muttered uninterested.

"Ana hon bi forsa wou 3am ekhod souwar mnel manta2a. Btesma7li sawrak?"

"..." He mumbled a few words I couldn't understand.

Abu Hassan, my father later told me, wasn't always the old turgid mass of flesh and misery that haunts a couple of stairs beneath the Basta bridge.

Abou Hassan used to wrestle. As a matter of fact, he used to be a local wrestling champion. He was a sports hero in his small southern village, and he'd won enough matches and made enough money to buy an apartment in Beirut and get married. Also, to save a few dimes for the luckless future that was all but too late to rear its ugly head and at him flash its bitter, toothless smirk.

While he was still wrestling, leg varices quickly became Abou Hassan's unrelenting ailment. Everyday was worse than the day before, and the constant pain was constantly hindering his wrestling career. After trying all kinds of medical and herb therapy to no avail, Abou Hassan succumbed to the option of surgery. He spent half of his savings on a failed procedure that left him, in lieu of legs, with two pain-ridden pillars of swollen flesh, flesh which could no longer carry him and, ironically, he now had to carry as the burden of an untold sin.

The sin of being born under a cursed fucking star.

That wasn't the end of Abou Hassan, though, or the end of his tragedy. He managed to pull his strength together, and with the help of a few good-spirited people, he set up shop in "souk el samak" and traded fish for a while. He made enough money to keep himself, his wife and their three children out of poverty, and save himself the humiliation a jobless conservative middle-eastern man unjustly makes himself endure.

Soon enough, though, Abou Hassan was in too much pain to keep the job. As all hope of him being able to work again and make a living faded away, his wife and children convinced him to register his apartment in their name, as a living inheritance. Which he did.

And as soon as he did, his wife, and his three grown children, kicked him out.
And there he was, sitting in the shadow of his sadness, watching the world go by. And here I was, walking up to him, merrily and unknowingly wanting to make him into so-called picture art.

"Shou 3amm, btesma7leh sawrak?" (can I photograph you?)

"la2!" (No)

"la2? tayyeb leish..?" Why not, I asked disappointed.

"la2enno bil 7ayet ma nje7et, ta 2enja7 bi soura?" (I didn't make it in life, why would I make it in a picture)

Fortunatley, my father came to him and told him I was his son, and asked him to let me take the picture. He must have recognized my old man. He looked away and said nothing. I pointed the camera towards him and shot. For him, it was as if I did not exist. And it was the most uneasy feeling I had ever felt, doing something as innocuous as taking a photograph.

As I walked away with my father and he told me his story, I felt strangely sad. And guilty. I felt like I breached the privacy of his sadness. Of his aloneness. Of his need to just be there and slowly melt in the sun.

"I didn't make it in life, why would I make it in a picture" he said.

Yes why would you Abou Hassan. Why would you. I only hope there is a reason for this to have happened, the injustice, the swollen legs, the broken life and the empty black and white shot.

I suspect there probably isn't.

And I have no answers for you, old man. All I have for you is this picture, these few words, and a silent prayer that will probably go unheard.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is heartbreaking. I think humans have lost the last thread of humanity they have to let things like this happen. This makes me feel so helpless.
This picture truly reflects this man's story.

10:25 PM  
Blogger hashem said...

so sad ya Fouad.
I join ur prayer. I feel it will be heard.

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is absolutely heartbreaking...

3:24 AM  
Blogger Yael K said...

This is so incredibly sad. And there are so many Abou Hassans out there -I probably daily walk by without noticing many who have stories and heartaches that would pull tears from me as this story has done. What a world we live in.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Delirious said...

Illo inno sourto naja7it...

5:34 AM  
Blogger Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Wallah haram... I pray for him... the best we can do is to be inspired from his story to be more humane to each other and to always remember that there is a story, a person, a life, behind each shattered and unbathed face on the streets of this world.

Thank you for reminding us ya fouad!

6:12 AM  
Blogger Ghassan said...

amazing story fouad.
well, why did his family kick him out! was he a wife beating drunken father who deserved no sympathy, or are they the assholes?
you couldn't have asked him this I guess...
zareef, you said... mmm. I'll look him up next time I visit.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Mar said...

:( Maybe he'll make it in a picture.If you ever decide to exhibit your art and photography.Move people's hearts for a few minutes of their busy lives. Haram hal zalame :(

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

u know, yeah haram and everything..but haram is not enough..this man was practically a professional is just disgusting how we do not have protection for athletes, artists, system for retirement protection at all.This just made me so just reminded me how people struggle so much in Lebanon, and work 2 or 3 jobs and still end up in debt.
very nice job with the picture and photo, Fouad

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean the story and the photo :)

12:42 PM  
Blogger Mia said...

The photo in itself is wonderful. Knowing the heart breaking story behind the subject made the photo more poignant. I can only offer my prayers to this poor soul and hope they will be heard.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous carmel said...

very sad. when all people leave us we know that our families will be there for us! This man's family kicked him out what a disappointment!!
I join you in prayer for this old man! As if he's doing his purgatory on earth.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Firas said...

Taking someone's photo is not innocuous.

8:06 PM  
Blogger nour said...

injustice is equally painful when you see it in others' faces as in your mirror...

i sometimes lacked the courage to make a contact..

isn't there something that can be done Fouad, some kind of help?

9:25 PM  

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