Monday, July 17, 2006

'Living in the moment has taken on new meaning, as I can't live out of the moment.'

The following letter was written by Jay Saxon '05, who was studying Arabic in Beirut this summer, to his friends and family the evening of July 17. Saxon is currently north of Beirut awaiting evacuation from Lebanon.

Hi everyone,

Night three here, and nothing has changed. Well, nothing significant, and at least not for the better.

All is quiet now. About two hours ago, the building was literally vibrating. I was on the phone being interviewed by the anchor of Birmingham's ABC station.I was literally 10 seconds from getting off the call when the first bomb hit. I stopped mid-sentence, they recorded it... I don't know if it will be on air or not, but we'll see. It was the first bombing we've heard since we got up north, so it must be bad. Israel just bombed the living hell out of something in Beirut, which is 40 km from here, and we still felt it. Whatever they hit, it was big. We didn't even feel the bombs when we were in Beirut, so this one was massive.

I also saw anti-aircraft artillery (apparently the military lingo is "AAA") in the sky for the first time tonight. We're in the mountains, so we have a clear line of sight towards Beirut. AAA is strange -- imagine a large red dot that hops around in the sky like a firefly, crossed with those fizzly fireworks that leave long fuzzy tails in their wake. That's basically exactly what it looks like. It's not so scary when you know it's far away, but as we watched it started moving closer to us, which pretty much made me want to piss myself. Then it fizzled out.

Right after that an Israeli jet, way, WAY up high, circled overhead and disappeared. Since then, silence.

A number of people actually got through to me today on the phone, which is surprising, considering our phones and internet have now started to go intermittently. I'm ok as long as I have an outlet to the world, so if those go, I will not be a happy camper. If you try to call and can't get through, that's why.

Today was incredibly boring. I know that sounds strange, but you have to understand what I mean by boredom. This isn't lazy-Sunday boredom, when you're twelve and get into trouble, like when I used to run around Forest Park and throw glass bottles of caffeinated beverages at concrete walls just to see if they made a noise. This is boredom born of a mind that can focus on only one thing, but that is so so sick of that thing that it lists aimlessly around but settles on nothing, knowing only that time is passing and that escape is beyond reach. We have nothing to do here, we can't go anywhere, we can't leave, and we just wait. Some people have actually gone to class, because they believe the program director when she says things are fine and staying in the country to finish the program is a good idea (more on this at some other time, but yes, she has actually said that). I can't focus on anything that isn't the here and now, so class does no good for me. Last night was the first night in five days that my conversation has revolved around anything but this situation. Living in the moment has taken on new meaning, as I can't live out of the moment.

People in the program have been actively nasty towards those of us who are able to call home (if you ever go abroad, have as smart a mother as I do who decides to add international calling to your cell phone plan) or who have been in touch directly with the State Department. I can think of no other motive but jealousy, but it is sad to see these people we thought were our new friends resenting us for simply trying to get all of us home safe. It's made the experience all the more depressing, as these situations make a person's true character shine through. Sometimes that shine is pretty dull.

We are also in a prison state. I mentioned this before, but it has gotten worse. Today, the guards locked two iron gates blocking the only stairwell exit to the 2nd floor here, where the women are staying. They have no fire escape. Their only means of escape in the event of a fire (or, more realistically, a bomb) is the elevator. I forgot to mention that there are rolling blackouts throughout the country, and we lost power five times today In the event of a power outage, their only means of escape is to jump out their second story window. Problem is, they fall pretty far, as their window opens onto a cliff. We complained to the director of the program, and she didn't care. She said "if something happens, the guard will let you out." Right.

I can't make that up. It's ridiculous. Tonight, I had to give State Dept. evacuation forms to my friend, and she had to come down to my floor on the elevator, where we opened the door the one inch it would open (the elevator is locked on our floor, so we can't be naughty in there) and hand the forms through the iron bars. I literally feel like I'm in prison. We are adults (not just adults in the I'm-over-18 sense; there are people in our program who are married with children, in their forties and fifties), and we can't make our own decisions. I'm not trusted to even be allowed to knock on the door of a woman. It's truly morality police; it's a tiny glimpse into the problems that are endemic to this entire society, and I hate it.

That reminds me that I've had no interesting political conversations (I'm living too much politics right now), but Michael has. For those who don't know, Michael was my flat mate in Budapest; he's from Seattle, decided to come here, and convinced me to come as well. Hi, Michael! You can all blame him (please, no hate mail though) for my being here. Obviously, I jest. Anyway, Michael was speaking with a couple of LAU students (I believe they were Lebanese) about the situation; one actually told him that she was glad that Israeli civilians are dying, that they deserved it. I have many shifting opinions about this conflict and its players, as I've expressed privately to a number of people, but I know one thing for certain: the massacre of innocents is abominable no matter who does it, when, or where. Both sides are guilty in this, and both have blood on their hands. As for any further political observations, forgive me, but I will not make them. This is neither the time nor place, and my perspective is not balanced. Regardless, I couldn't believe this girl could feel this way. I can conceptualize anger, frustration, guilt, sorrow, retribution, and vengeance as ideals. I can't, and have never, been able to conceptualize malice. I used to think that vitriol was only bad when you actually experienced it, but I am coming to learn that the mere existence of people in this world with such despicable hatred in their hearts diminishes me; I think I am beginning to understand why I feel so small.

Josh, a guy in my program from California, has a blog which I just found out about. His observations are fairly interesting, particularly as you can trace how he's felt from when he first got here until now, and I hope you will look at it if you're curious. He also has some interesting pictures (I can't email pictures, the server can't handle it)I believe this is one of his first trips abroad, as he like me is (was) in the beginners' Arabic class. Welcome to the world.

More than anything, I want to get the hell out of here, yesterday. Tensions grow, we feel worse, stress levels spike, the food gets worse (there is a total blockade, so restaurants are starting to hurt. We ate at Subway yesterday and the bread was two days old and stale), and we grow weary. We now know for certain we will be evacuated, but we don't know when. It could be tomorrow, but will likely be Wednesday. It could even be Thursday. The news is reporting that a cruise liner has been rented so that the most people at once can be evacuated; one of my friends went exploring on Google, and found this link. Apparently, that's the ship we may be on. Notice the large landing pad in the back; that may be how we get there.

I notice I say "we" a lot, and nobody knows who I'm talking about. It's weird, these people I know so well but who didn't exist to me six weeks ago. I am living with a guy named Nick, from Michigan, who goes to Rhodes and runs marathons basically every month when he's not in a war zone; Michael, mentioned above (hi, Michael! Thanks for bringing me!) is down the hall; Lindsay is from outside D.C., went to UGA, and is starting a Master's in Middle Eastern studies in the fall; and Rachel goes to Berkeley and lives on a small island near Seattle. My other friends Mike and Nadia stayed in Beirut, and somehow got to Cyprus. We don't know how, but I'm glad they're safe. Harry was the last one, and he left early, back when the rest of us thought it was silly. He's currently on his way from Amman back to Florida, so I guess we were wrong.

I don't think I have more to say now. Boredom, fatigue, and weariness now overtake us; in some ways, they have replaced the fear, as fear can only remain for so long before being replaced by complacency. Again, I want to end on a humorous note, but one thing I must say; no matter what the media tells you, this is war. This is not a conflict, a disagreement, a tit-for-tat; it is war.

To close, I want to reassure you that we did manage to find a bit of amusement today. We made two decisions: one being to make a playlist for the experience (songs include Outkast's "Bombs Over Baghdad," R.E.M.'s "End of the W'orld as We Know It," and Eagle Eye Cherrys "Save Tonight." I promise if you listen to the lyrics of the last one, it will make sense.) and the other being to make t-shirts that we can wear when we get home.I don't know how we'll do this, but I promise, it will be a hot item next season. Yes, I know that both of these things are strange activities, but what else are we supposed to do?

That is all. Our internet may be gone for good soon, so if you don't hear from me, I am sorry, and wish us the best. Again, please forward this to anyone I left off (I tried to add people, but I know I failed in part), and please keep us in your hearts and minds. Thank you to everyone who has emailed and called; my spirit is lifted greatly by your kind compassion. To adapt something Cornel West used to say: religious people, please pray for us; agnostics, wonder if it will help; and atheists, just send some good vibes this way.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this blog, and I no longer have your email address, so leaving you a message here is the best I can do. Just wanted to let you know that you're in my thoughts, and I'm praying for your safe return to the States.

(your former DPC intern-coordinator)

10:33 PM  

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