Behind him extend row after row of huge, gray wave breakers, waiting silently, and casting a shadow over the last remaining fishermen kiosks of el Dalieh, the small, artisanal port overlooking the famous Pigeon Rocks of Raouche. In the background, the sound of the waves crashing against the beautiful, limestone rocks, is barely discernable, as an excavator is breaking what’s left of the rocky shore just a few meters away from where I stand. The rubble falls into the water and suffocates the seafloor.
‘They came suddenly, eight months ago; they came with bulldozers. We thought that they wanted to rehabilitate the port, to expand it. We welcomed them.’ He grinds his teeth and shakes his head. ‘It turned out to be another of their big projects, a touristic resort. We protested at first, this is our land; we have been here for more than ninety years! Doesn’t that mean something? We protested all together, but then they divided us; they broke us.’
Two wrecked, white and blue boats lie before the small kiosk, where a few, empty plastic tables are aligned. A group of women sit chatting and sipping coffee; a brown dog snores at their feet. A sudden crushing sound and then a splash: the excavator throws a mass of rocks into the sea. The women look away. A young fisherman leads a small group of tourists to his recreational boat as another crushing noise makes the women jump and the dog bark.
‘I don’t want to leave, I have nowhere to go. We are only eleven fishermen left, all the others were offered compensations and left. I will not leave. This is my land, this is my sea; I have saved drowning people in these waters. Doesn’t that mean anything to anyone? They want to take everything from us. They want to leave nothing for the poor. Do they want us to steal to make a living? Do they want us to steal so they can punish us? This is my pain I am telling you about now, you must go and tell others of my pain.’
The happy cheering and laughing of the tourists rises from the sea, from below the rocks, as the waves cuddle the boat and startle them. I suddenly remember the day we took a ride on one of those boats; I was ten years old then, with my mother and my younger sister sitting by my side. The wind had made us laugh. We had taken a ride after our usual stroll in Raouche. As a child, I loved Raouche because it meant running free and having some ice cream, but growing up it became something more: one of the few public places left in Beirut.
‘They are planning to take Ramlet el Bayda as well,’ he continues. ‘It is one big project: one big project to connect and privatize the entire Lebanese coast and turn it into one big luxurious resort. They will remove us by force if we don’t leave. Let them bulldoze me with the rocks; I am not leaving my home.’
I decide to have one last look beyond the rocky cliff before I go. My eyes follow the white, bubbly streak formed by the boat which has just left the shore. I watch the waves: high and agitated. I turn around to look at the wave breakers: standing one after the other and all identical, waiting to be transported into the sea, to protect the giant resort which will replace this historic site. My eyes drop and examine him, sitting with his arms and legs crossed. He is well-built and strong, just like most fishermen, but he appears small in front of all that concrete. Yet he is angry and he loves this land, he loves the sea, and that must mean something.
I walk back up to the pedestrian walkway of Raouche. A man is pushing his old, wooden cart, and selling corn and sugar candies. Around him, a group of children are pushing each other playfully and a grey, mustached man asks me if I want him to take my picture. Two women run past me in their jogging shoes and a young man with a bouquet of balloons sits on a bench. I gaze once more at the sea: at the splashing waves and at the blue and orange horizon.