Lebanon's anguish

Turmoil In The Middle East

July 30, 2006

To bring readers the words of those directly affected by the conflict in the Middle East, The Sun is presenting a series of brief essays, in this case by people writing from Lebanon. In coming days, this page will present the voices of people in Israel and elsewhere.

Mayssam Zaaroura is an editor at the Daily Star, Lebanon's English-language newspaper.

The ruin of a nation can only herald the rise of a better one. This is what I keep telling myself as I watch my once-beautiful country fall.

Life to us is no longer the future. It is today. The safest route to work. Do I have time to stop at home and check if everything is still standing? No, it's too dangerous. Better just get to work.

The Lebanese have risen to the occasion to help their fellow man. They have become more united than ever -- forgetting religious and political differences to open their homes to those who have none. Veiled Shiite women taking refuge in a church and thanking the nuns there for their shelter. People once displaced by Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 now open their doors to those left homeless in 2006.

As I walked out of my friend's building today, I was carrying boxes and bags because he was moving. An old woman sweeping the stairs stopped and looked at us. "You're leaving?" she asked, a tinge of desperation in her voice. "No," I said. "Just moving. I'll still be here." "Then God be with you," she told me, breaking into a wide smile.

Our days are spent calling family and friends every hour to make sure everyone is safe. Our emotions are always at the ready. One minute we are laughing and returning to some sense of normalcy. Then we see the gory images flashing across our screens. And the laughter dies.

A friend and I had to go do an interview at 4 one morning. We were getting ready to leave, and for a while both of us were silent. Then the question on both our minds emerged: "Shall we drive with the car light on or off? Maybe it's best we try to keep them on so they don't think we're someone we're not. We don't have anything to hide."

The sound of the planes is terrifying. They circle for hours before they strike, looking for their prey. No one knows where the bomb will fall, but after a while it doesn't matter. You just want the sound to stop -- it doesn't matter where the bomb will fall and who will die in the name of collateral damage. Until they circle again.

My niece and my sister-in-law were trapped in the south -- in the heart of battle. My niece is 5 and had no idea what is happening around her. I talk to her every day, and her voice gets lower and sadder everyday. By chance of birth, she is French and is awaiting her embassy to get her out.

She's lucky. She will, I hope, get out eventually. Many other children, her friends, won't. How do you explain to a child why their friends died in a war between Hezbollah and Israel?

Stephen Sheehi, formerly a professor at the American University in Beirut, is a professor at the University of South Carolina. This essay is excerpted from an article that originally ran in The State, Columbia, S.C.

My family and I are due to be evacuated from the American University of Beirut, where I have been teaching for the past three years. We will leave Beirut with only a knapsack each as we relocate to Columbia, where I will be assuming my new position at the University of South Carolina.

For three days in a row, we were scheduled to be evacuated by the U.S. embassy, only to have those plans canceled at the last moment.

What has been most disturbing is to see my two sons (Shadee, 6, and Jad, 11) completely terrified. The bombing is sometimes so loud that it shakes your bones, making the kids jump to hold me as I pretend that my own heart did not skip a beat.

I have met people who have lost their homes, who escaped carrying their possessions on their backs along mountain dirt roads, who are sleeping outside in public parks, whose young and old relatives have been killed senselessly as they slept in their beds or fled in their cars.

My elder son sums up my discomfort. He told me on a recent night: "Poppy, I used to be scared of imaginary things. Scared of the dark especially after watching scary movies and stuff. But, I know what I should really be scared of now. Real things, not imaginary."

As proud as I was of his wisdom, my heart also broke. What lessons he had to learn so young.

Raida Hatoum writes of her life in Aley, Lebanon in this series of personal e-mails. She works with Najdeh, a women's nongovernmental organization in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon.

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