My Only Valentine

Photo by Newsha Tavakolian

The only Valentine I received yesterday from a member of the female persuasion was a telephone call from a 13 year-old Shia girl from south Beirut named Fatima.

I’d met Fatima and her family last summer during the war with Israel when they were living as refugees with some twenty other people in a public school classroom not far from where I live. The family — besides her parents she also has a younger brother — had impressed me by being religious but totally apolitical. Young Fatima in particular seemed endowed with an old soul. “We don’t believe in politics and we don’t believe in war,” she told me. “We pray and we fast and we believe in God.”

So today, I stopped by their home in an apartment block with intermittent town electricity. The father rents a mini-bus which he uses to make some money ferrying school kids and commuters around the working-class suburbs. It’s about as much he can hope for these days. Fatima, who is the best student in her school, wants to be a lawyer and write poetry.

And it turns out she had written a poem for me, which she read by the light of a florescent storm lantern.

“Is there anything more beautiful than the name ‘Andrew the American’?
It is straight like an arrow that shoots though bodies.
It exists in all religions as a golden symbol that shakes the ages.
Have sympathy on me and my poems,
Maybe you’ll see me as a human being,
And look at me as a sister.”

–Andrew Lee Butters/Beirut

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