Tuesday, July 18, 2006

'We're basically coming and going as normal'

Omar Muakkassa '06 writes from Lebanon.

Hello everyone from beautiful Beirut!
So, I have a very different perspective on this conflict than does Jay. We come to Lebanon about every summer to visit family. I was born here and both my parents were here during the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990. We left in 1985 when things got really really bad.
Anyway, when Hezbollah captured those two soldiers, I predicted that things would get bad really fast, but nobody believed me. The next morning we heard that the airport had been bombed and that there was a naval blockade preventing us from going to Cyprus, as my parents did during the previous war when the airport had been closed.
My cousins left a couple days ago to Syria, but most of the roads to Syria had been bombed so they had to take a huge detour in order to get there. But, American citizens were urged not to go to Syria, so we had the really difficult decision of whether or not to go with them, ultimately we decided it would be best to wait for the U.S. evacuation.
But, during this whole time, I had the best "only in Lebanon" moment. Before my cousins left for Syria, we stayed in a hotel north of Beirut to make their trip easier. This hotel was an all out 5 star resort. Amazing pool and spa, very comfortable rooms, electricity generator, etc etc. The whole thing was operating as if nothing was happening. Pretty fancy for a refugee camp if you ask me.
Another really funny thing that happened was directly after the Hezbollah rocket hit the Israeli ship, I was at my cousin's house in a tall apartment building from which I had a full view of Beirut. When news broke that a ship had been hit, we saw fireworks erupting from the Hezbollah-dominated neighborhoods. At the same time, they were still firing anti-aircraft weapons at the planes. It was as if they were holding fireworks in one hand and anti aircraft weapons in the other. My cousin and I just started laughing. People here are handling things well. Those who don't want to leave are just waiting it out. They drink a lot.
After my cousins left, my parents insisted that we go back to Beirut. About our place in Beirut, it's about 2 miles from the southern suburbs of Beirut, which are heavily Hezbollah dominated. So when a missle hits that neighborhood, we hear a very very loud thunder-like noise, our building shakes, and our windows rattle. That happens about a dozen times a night. When my brother and sister and I expressed some interest in not being so close to the bombardment, my parents brushed us off. They were here when strikes were not targeted and there was a chance that their building could be the next one hit. Their advice was "just go back to sleep if the missile wakes you up." Psh. But luckily, our neighborhood isn't targeted at all, so things should be fine, if we can avoid going insane from the sound of the missiles.
So ... I write to you from an internet cafe in Beirut. We have no electricity in our apartment, so we are trying to be out of the house as much as possible. I echo Jay's sentiment about the boredom. Luckily I'm not in lock-down like he is. We're basically coming and going as normal. Beirut is definitely starting to clear out though, so there isn't a whole lot to do other than sitting here in the internet cafe reading news about our current situation.
As it stands, we are hoping for an evacuation tomorrow. We hear that the State Department has ships in Beirut, so we're hoping to get on one tomorrow or the day after.
Okay, it's 11:40 we are supposed to get home before the nightly bombing starts again. So I will try and update you on our situation if we aren't out tomrorow. And Jay, my number's [...] Call me if you need anything.


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