I began to think about the past as I opened an old box where I kept my journalistic articles. I found a series of interviews I had conducted with more than twenty women, entitled ‘Portrayal of prominent Lebanese women’. Looking at their faces on faded sheets of newsprint and in the supplements I could not help but remember the women in my family and neighbourhood who had left their mark on me and who had taken me by the hand to help me embrace womanhood at an early age.
Our house was full of women. We all shared the house with this uncle; and sharing was common among families from Southern Lebanon who had come to Beirut in search of work. Our house was full of women visitors, too, each one a completely different personality. The favourite was a cousin who lived in both Africa and Lebanon and who was twice married. Her social status, in her case based on wealth, was tied in with her strength. She even felt superior to men. She was confident enough to smoke in front of them; to take us to movies whenever she felt like it; to learn to drive a car and to be independent in many other ways. Even her husband asked her opinion about things. When she entered a room, we became like Chagall’s women – flying to her from roofs, windows, doors. Housework stopped. Freedom flowed, perhaps from her beautiful shoes, handbags, sunglasses. With her the women were relaxed, gossiping and pushing the shadow of their men from their consciousness. They were no longer frantic to make themselves available as soon as they heard their man’s footsteps.