Thursday, August 03, 2006

They bid us farewell

With the Israel’s ‘48 hour’ ceasefire long gone , the millions of us that remain in Lebanon look forward to the days ahead as if a hurricane of epic proportions is coming our way. A good friend of mine, we’ll call her Sally, is one of the thousands of foreign nationals that were plucked from this country in what’s being called the largest evacuation since World War II.
I must admit, there’s feeling of unease about watching half of your friends flee for their lives as you stay behind. Its also troubling to witness everyone scatter all over again, to London, Stockholm, Miami, Phoenix, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Amman, returning to their previous lives before they fell in love with Lebanon. Every passing day reminds me more and more of our destroyed past.

Here’s Sally’s story:

I flashed my British passport like a night club VIP membership card and was met with a sympathetic and patriotic smile. The old and frail woman standing next to me (holding a Lebanese passport) received a different welcoming....turn around, go home, no sorry, no smiles, no consolation. I’ve never experienced selective evacuation before, any evacuation for that matter.

As I watched her walk away I wondered what would happen to her. I still think about her now. Maybe I should have begged the seventeen year old British navy soldier standing in front of me to take her with me? Maybe I could have squeezed her into my carry on? Instead, like so many others in this members-only club, I left her behind.

And so with a mixture of guilt and relief I embark on a journey which I’ll never forget with hundreds of strangers and our Queens’ Royal Navy. Arriving at Beirut port reminded me of a low budget Hollywood movie, sailors waving proudly while the ‘survivors of war’ stood bambi-eyed in awe. That scene lasted around 10 seconds. Like a troop of Japanese tourists at Disney World everyone whipped out their digitals for the perfect Kodak moment. One guy had dressed for the occasion, sporting the Lebanese and British flags like a football supporter….a definite favourite for all the Sky News viewers at home. He was however in competition with the sailors carrying crying babies.

Once onboard I became evacuee number 17/2 allocated to mess hall 18. When I say “hall” I really mean “very, very small room”. This was no cruise around the Mediterranean. 9 hours + 17 strangers + confined space = an intimate experience. After a couple of hours we were led to the top deck for some fresh air. By this time we had made ourselves at home and the top deck resembled a bustling café in downtown Beirut, albeit the regular spray of sea water and sailors speaking strange Navy language.

Time for dinner. Soggy pasta, meat chunks - maybe tuna, who knows? Never failing the Lebanese tradition, this sparked a one hour conversation about food. We were only on the ship for 3 hours and people were reminiscing about lush green tabouleh.

We arrived on safe territory late in the night. As we disembarked the sailors lined the top deck waving and shouting “Yalla bye”. Another flash back to the low budget movie, however I found myself waving enthusiastically. Looking back at the warship the sailors got ready to make their way back to Lebanon to pick up more VIP members.

We were bused to a huge warehouse, the British Army were there to welcome us. For those traveling back to the UK buses were ready to take them to the British Army base where they would wait for a flight home. For me, and a few others, taxis were ready to charge us tourist prices for the short journey to the nearest city, so we could make our own arrangements to get back home, for me Dubai.

Sitting in a bar in Cyprus with a couple of friends who were evacuated on the Canadian ship (a 19 hour journey) and through Syria, we spoke about the people we had left behind, argued about when it would all end, agreed that we would all be back in Beirut when it ended. Then booooom…we jumped off our seats. Israel hitting a Hizbollah strong hold in Cyprus? No just fireworks. But then their aim hasn’t been spot on so far….

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This kills me. These past six years under Bush, I can't tell you how many times I have said, "I am ashamed to be an American." Clinton can have as many 21-yr-old interns as he wants, just bring him back (not his racist wife though).
My prayers are with Lebanon...and all it's people (Muslims, Christians, etc)

10:54 PM  
Blogger TemeculaMike said...

Yep ... its Bush's fault for standing tacitly by while Iran shipped thousands of missiles to Hezbollah, for not forcing Hezbollah to disarm and encouraging Hezbollah to attack Israel (which started this mess). Good post Anonymous --- not.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

conviction is nothing without experience

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous 10:54 :

Bush just trying to clean up Clinton's mess.Same story like Reagan had to cleaned up after Carter.

Somebody must do it. It's just happened to be GW.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous tool said...

dubya's great grandpapy was hitler's banker yo!

fack!

1:22 AM  
Anonymous tool said...

fack!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1312540,00.html

for the interested, off-topic, etc...

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously, how does anyone defend Bush? Two reasons...either because you think it shows weakness to not like your prez and back him, or you are a Republican/christian.

Unless you are super rich you are getting fucked by Bush, and you keep asking for more not even knowing what is going on....sad really.

To sit and say to yourself he is doing a good job....it's hard for me to imagine someones state of mind.

1:39 AM  

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