As a lot of you know I spend 25% of my time in Lebanon for work. I've been here the past two weeks and was scheduled to fly back to Cairo last night, but with the continued bombings of the airport and approaching roads no flights will be leaving any time soon. The sea is blocked off and now many of the roads to Damascus - the one outlet - have been destroyed. So I really have no idea how long I might be here. My American mentality tells me that I should be able to get simply show my passport and be escorted out of the country and go home. It's just setting in that it could be a while before that happens. The embassy was talking yesterday about taking some of us out through Syria, but now that doesn't seem possible with the roads.Update: Leila left a substantive and interesting comment below; I encourage readers to check it out. She also has a bunch of related links on her blog here.
The atmosphere is changing tangibly. Yesterday things were open and people were out. Now almost all the shops, cafes, etc. are closed. Although luckily there are still a few shoe stores open near my apartment where I can buy horrendous stiletto-heeled shoes if I get really bored - the shoe and accessory shops seem to be the only places open, which I think is because those are the shops run by foreigners who don't understand the codes of doing business here. On my way to Starbucks this morning (also closed - a very bad sign) I overheard an argument between some of the Lebanese shopkeepers loitering outside their closed shopfronts and a Filipina woman who was starting to open the shop she works in over whether she could open the shop. She did - another shoe store. Meanwhile the food stores are mostly staying open but people are starting to get nervous and are buying out the food and water. I don't think there should be a problem with food any time soon as the roads from the North where much of the food is produced are fine. I'm just hoping this internet cafe will stay open for access to the outside world (Lebanon is one of the few countries that explicitly blocks Blackberry coverage so that's no help).
I've spent time in Gaza and the West Bank, but not extended enough lengths of time to really feel the impending sense of panic of being surrounded, bombarded, and completely powerless. I've certainly never felt that in the years I've spent in Israel - this is a completely different element and scale of aggression. That feeling is starting to settle in now. For my friends and colleagues here who have lived through this before it is acutely real - they know exactly what life will be like if this continues - the threat of taking the country back to the depths of the war, reversing the incredible reconstruction and development efforts - is unthinkable to me, but to them it is another cycle of what they've already experienced, and they continue to feel completely powerless, as many Lebanese are caught between this battle between hezbollah and Israeli. Although most respect hezbollah for the social services it provides to half of the country that the government is not equipped to do, most in Beirut and much of the rest of the country don't support waging war. But they've been expecting this. Last week one of my colleagues was lamenting that she had let her American green card expire which made her nervous in case something happened that she would have to get out. I couldn't quite imagine that something could be imminent that would serious enough to make her leave her life here. And obviously when it happens it happens too fast to expect.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Report from Beirut
The following is an excerpt from an email by my sister-in-law, currently trapped in Beirut by the Israeli siege. I thought that I would post it (with her permission) since it is a perspective I haven't seen much of on the net (which may simply mean I'm not reading the right blogs). For background, she is an American working for an international development organization. I fixed a few spelling errors; otherwise this is just as she wrote it. (It was sent this morning.)