What do you dress a six-month old in for a funeral?

funeral in Lebanon

wardrobe worries

What do you dress a six-month old in for a funeral? Sadly, several friends have lost family members in the time we have been here in Lebanon. Since we did not know the people personally we stayed away at first. In our culture mourning is something done in private with close family and we had no intention of imposing ourselves at such a difficult time. But in the Levant the custom is for those mourning to surround themselves with as many people as possible in the days directly after the death. The bigger the turnout, the more supported they feel.

So recently, when we learnt of more sad news, we immediately changed our plans to be able to pass by and pay our respects. I knew by now that head to toe black was de rigueur, and I was eager to take my blue coat off once in out of the rain.

The dilemma was the baby. Unlike some baby girls her wardrobe isn’t all pink, and she does have some more solemn bits and pieces. I briefly wondered if I should dress her in dark clothes, but then feared the opposite reaction: that people would say, Haram, a baby in black, that’s bad luck. Though superstition means nothing to me I did want to avoid making a faux pas at a delicate time. So instead I dressed her in neutral colours, replacing the red cardigan with a white one in the hope that would be the most suitable option.

Once we arrived we went, as is the custom, to express our condolences to the bereaved, who were seated all together. Before we reached them, more than one set of arms reached out for the baby. I gladly left her with a friend and returned to pick her up later. I did notice there were no children present, but I was expecting that. In the East like in the West, people do not always want to laden their children with sadness too early, and without them they can make themselves more available to support the family in mourning. And no doubt everybody but us had relatives nearby who could babysit.

But I remembered when an acquaintance dropped off a package at the home, but refused to come up to the flat. She said she wouldn’t because of the baby, as she was on her way back from funeral and was dressed in black. And I suppose that is why, although the family-friendly Lebanese always do offer to carry the baby, there was a note of duty in those arms that relieved me of her before I approached the bereaved family. A baby shouldn’t go that close to death, they seemed to say.

So what do you dress a six-month old in for a funeral? It’s a trick question. You leave her with someone else, and they’ll find another time to visit the family over the three days of public mourning.

FOOC take 2

Just heard from the BBC that my piece on the rapport the Lebanese have with luxury will be aired today, Thursday, at 11am (UK time) on Radio 4 as part of the programme From our Own Correspondent. It will also go out on the World Service several times. I’ll update with a direct link after the broadcast.

UPDATE: You can listen online here.

Streets of Beirut XXIX

This is the ideal type of property for a growing Lebanese family.

Lebanese family property

keeping close quarters

A floor per generation and a shared terrace for fresh air and hanging out the laundry. Everyone within shouting distance, free childcare from the older generations downstairs, help around the home from the two upper flats, and entertainment from the youngest additions.

Of course some of these small blocks of flats are occupied by unrelated owners. But even in the most modern buildings in town, you will find generations stacked on top of each other. Proximity and practicality take a natural precedence over privacy.

What are the Lebanese like?

buildings beirut

spot the whitewash

In the weeks while I was disposing of a year’s supply of clotted cream and croissants, Ahwet el-Ezez closed, the water tanks are finally full, the LA Times covered the issues surrounding Horsh Beirut and no indictment was issued though the government has fallen – yet again.

Staying in my former homes and visiting old haunts with old friends left me feeling geographically disconnected. It didn’t help that I kept having to give different addresses – none my actual abode – depending on who was asking, for post to be redirected and lots more. It seems you have to give out your post code just to buy a newspaper in Europe.

But when our landing back in Beirut was met with enthusiastic applause befitting parents at a baby’s first steps (though I don’t think it was a first for  Read the rest of this entry »

Open house

Ghabi Beirut Streetlife

at home in the street

Have you noticed how when you call a plumber, an electrician or some other repair service, the chap always tells you he’ll come by, takes directions, and then hangs up? There’s me with my pencil poised and diary open, scanning my limited availabilities, and he just says he’ll come by and that’s it.

As if I have nothing else to do but wait in for him, I think, annoyed. Still, had he given me a time slot he would have felt it his duty to miss it by a mile anyway. This way he can’t be wrong but he’ll not turn up for a week and then when I call back he’ll put the blame on me being out. Preposterous.

But in his defence, we don’t have the same view of home. Home for the Lebanese is not just a bed and a roof, somewhere to store a change of clothes and park the car until both are re-employed and off out again. It’s a centre of life not just a rushed recharge point. You pop in and out, never straying too far or too long, and  Read the rest of this entry »