April 13, 2008

On Toilets and Civil War

While coming back from a picnic today, I passed by this installation in downtown Beirut that was just about to be unveiled. They were still scrubbing pots, so to speak.
These toilets are supposed to serve as seats for the public for tonight’s concert.

This particular exhibition is a commemoration of the old civil war, which officially started today, on April 13, some 33 years ago. (1975 – 1990).
The date is often seen as the ‘official’ beginning of the Lebanese Civil War. On this day, in 1975 a busload of Palestinians got ambushed in a Christian neighborhood, after earlier that day an assassination attempt had been carried out on a Christian leader. Nobody ever got caught of course, for either event, but that is quite common for this country.

However, is it not only a commemoration, but also a reminder, or a strong warning, to people of the possibilities, and the ludicrousness, of a new civil war. So why the toilets, you may wonder?
People in Lebanon have been hiding in toilets for 15 years, so you’d figure they’d have learned something in the meantime.
For those unfamiliar with the mechanisms of a (civil) war; the toilet (or bathroom) is supposedly the safest room in the house during shelling because a) it has either no windows or very small windows, and b) most bathrooms in Lebanon have a double ceiling, because the water tank for your shower is right above the bathroom.
The people that I know usually hid out in the corridors, or the underground basement of their building, but quite a few must have spend substantial time in the toilet.

Hence the title of this installation.

I think the initiative is cute. But I fear that the decision of a war or not is not in the hands of the common people. I figured out that much. The past few weeks have been uncommonly quiet. Why people would not blow up other people now or engage in street fights regarding bread prices, but a couple of weeks ago they felt a strong need to, gives me the uncanny feeling that it is all orchestrated.

I’ve got two bathrooms. All ready and set. Just kidding.


Anonymous said...

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Sietske said...

Okay, I suggest you do Please Not See Here. How am I going to get rid of these spammers?

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

A good one, will work on that. Thanks.

EDB said...

I wish non-fluent English speakers would use Arabic or French instead of bad English for hyperbolic slogans. You see it everywhere-- from Hezbollah's Ashura billboards ("Disgrace, how remote!") to the use of "hiding in toilets" to signal seeking refuge in a bathroom.

Another all time favorite of mine was a sequence of billboards lining the highway to Jounieh, which commemorated the apparently accidental death of a young man over New Years Eve. The billboard showed this young man standing on a ski slope showing a "thumb's up" sign, underneath the dates of his short life. Underneath that: Mikael so-and-so. We will never forget you. WHO'S NEXT?!"

Yeah, Mikael. You were really special. NEXT!

Anonymous said...

Sietske, you can delete spam-comments when you are logged in at Blogger. There should be a trashcan-button next each comment to delete it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Sietske,

Part of this post (including the first photo) is going to be quoted and linked to at Global Voices Online.

Hope you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

Take one or two pots to your railway-staion.


Anonymous said...

Take one or two pots to your railway-staion.


Le Moose said...

The 600 toilets have all disappeared...Where oh where have all the toilets gone. Where is a decent working toilet when one needs one?

Anonymous said...

@ Michel, many Lebanese on the countryside still have arab-style toilets (hole in the ground) aka Turkish or French toilets. Knowing Lebanese these toilets will re-appear here and there in some houses

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