Posted by: sean | June 5, 2007

Summer starts in Lebanon

Things have been odd since I got back to Beirut last week. During the month I was gone, all hell seems to have broken loose. There has been the steady fighting in Nahr el-Bared, the sporadic bombings in Ashrafieh, Verdun and Aley, and finally fighting that broke out Sunday night between Jund al-Sham and the Lebanese Army in Ein el-Helweh, a Palestinian camp in Saida.

I had decided to spend the day in Tyre on Sunday to enjoy the beach, go to the Souk, see a friend and have some dinner with a port view at Abu Robert’s. Before heading back up to Beirut, we kept getting calls from colleagues and the security guy at a friend’s NGO telling us that things were getting worse in Saida and that we shouldn’t go back to Beirut. (Saidi is on the road between Tyre and Beirut.) My roommate had a meeting early the next morning with a Western embassy, so we decided that we had to get back, and that we’d either take the sea road or take a detour through Nabatiyeh instead of taking the highway that passes by Ein el-Helweh.

We found a bus heading to Beirut, and the driver assured us that we’d be taking the sea road instead of going through Saida, so we got in and joined the mix of Lebanese and Palestinian passengers. Of course that wasn’t the case. As our bus was approaching the hot area of Saida, which had apparently been alive with bullets and RPGs earlier in the evening, we crawled toward the turnabout as everyone was straining to look ahead and see if there was still any fighting.

“Ma fi shi, ma fi shi” (there’s nothing, there’s nothing), we heard before a Palestinian woman got out of the bus cautiously and started walking home, wherever that may have been. We passed through the city without incident, and made it back to the Cola bridge in Beirut.

On the way from Cola to Gemayzeh, we went through no fewer than six checkpoints. Twice we had to get out and let the Army (and in one case a rude plain-clothes guy, hopefully mukhabarat instead of militia) check our bags and ID. Well, they checked the three men in the car, the woman among us, of course, was never searched, and her bags went unopened. (Chivalry definitely has its place and time, but I’m afraid that it’s not so welcome when when bombs have been popping up in public places on a weekly basis.)

People are fed up. There’s more and more talk of leaving, and those who had planned to come back from abroad for the summer are reconsidering. A friend of mine who is graduating from the business school at the Lebanese American University told me that at the end of each class, her professor is swamped with Lebanese students pleading him to find them jobs in the Gulf so they can get out of Lebanon as soon as possible.

“The situation,” as we’ve come to call it, is not boding well for the economy. Tourism looks like it will be dead if things don’t straighten out soon, and you can look at the Gemayzeh and see how the street is practically empty compared to what it should look like on any given summer evening. Paranoia has been ever-present, with people franticly spreading the word that “Hamra is next,” or “I heard Monot is going to get hit.”

But in the Lebanese way, this fear has also turned into humor, giving birth to things like a Facebook group that’s started a competition to see who can guess where the next bomb will be. I think you win an extra special prize if you guess two bomb locations in a row…

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Responses

  1. as-tu des photos? j’aimerai bien les voir..

  2. Unfortunately, the only photos we took were of my friends and me in the Roman ruins, so I’ll have to refrain from posting them…

  3. why refrain?


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