Kamel Houmany will die beneath a red blanket in a concrete schoolroom, 50 miles from what’s left of his home. Though many in Lebanon are mourning their losses, the Houmany family must ration their grief. They have nothing left to give beyond the last days of their father’s life.
Riddled with cancer, Kamel seems thinner still in the space of an empty schoolroom. He fills only a fraction of the foam mattress on which he lies. Eight months ago he came to Beirut to receive chemotherapy. But that treatment is over, and now the doctors can do nothing. Two days ago they sent him home with just a few days to live.
But Kamel and his family may have no home to return to. Their village of Nabatiye has been engulfed by the war. His sons had been attending school in south Beirut, where the war also caught up with them. Israeli planes have been bombing the southern suburbs of the city. Now, they have joined their parents in the schoolroom, where today they sit slumped over a wooden desk, keeping quiet vigil with their mother Fatimah.
But quiet is hard to find. Days are filled with the sounds of 400 other people, chased from their former lives by the fighting - angry and scared and eager for home. At night, explosions rock the darkness.
“He did not sleep last night,” Fatimah explained to me, her eyes never far from the still figure of her husband. It’s clear that she didn’t either.
No longer able to eat, Kamel sips water from a blue plastic bottle provided, like everything the family now owns, by aid agencies. His shriveled stomach cannot handle pain medication. His skin tight to his bones, Kamel’s face is half hidden by a large white bandage, the result of an accident Fatimah had while trying to bathe him in a plastic tub. There are no showers at the school. A medical group is coming by later, she says, to change the bandage.
While others crowd 10 or more to a room here, the Houmany family has been given this room to themselves – a borrowed space in which to grieve. With no electricity to run the overhead fan, the summer heat closes in. It seems the room itself is holding its breath.
On TV tonight, talk will be of the war. But what you will not see is that Kamel Houmany will die beneath a red blanket in a concrete schoolroom, 50 miles from what’s left of his home.