Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Broummana Diary

After nearly getting sunstroke waiting for the US evacuation at the Port of Dbayyeh, it was a relief to sit in the shade at the Charles Helou bus and taxi terminal, near the Port of Beirut. It wasn’t that the American evacuation was total chaos, or resembled the fall of Saigon, as some people have been quipping. I wish it had been like the fall of Saigon – there would have been a bit of urgency, perhaps. Instead, it was a combination of things that made the whole process so irritating, because they all seemed so unnecessary: the vagueness of the arrangements; the snail’s pace of the lines, when there were lines; the stifling heat and lack of shade (many of the evacuees had small children); nervous breakdowns; vomiting; fights, cursing and arguments over turf as we waited to move forward; Civil Defense personnel lobbing water bottles at the crowd to cool them down but almost splitting open the heads of little kids in the process. We were told we were going to Cyprus, but even that didn’t seem 100 percent ironclad. A rumor spread that the day before, a Canadian or American boat had ended up in Turkey instead, and you can imagine the effect that news had on the Armenians who were waiting next to me.

After giving up on the "organized" evacuation I decided to go to Syria by land, through one of the northern Lebanon border crossings. I showed up at the Charles Helou terminal and declined to take any of the cars headed for Damascus via the Bekaa Valley – there was the danger, and the steep prices of at least $100 a seat. At Charles Helou, there were the usual coffee and food vendors, drivers looking for fares, and people trickling in, until eventually the bus left for Tripoli. Only a handful of us made the entire trip to the border; the rest got off on the way, and others were picked up. We wound our way up the northern coast of Lebanon, which has barely been targeted by the Israelis. The only effects of the war I noticed were an absence of cable cars heading up to the Harissa cathedral near Jounieh, a bombed-out Lebanese Army post just outside Tripoli, a few relief trucks on the other side of the highway, headed south, and absolutely no mobile phone coverage. The bus dropped us off on the Lebanese side of the border. We walked a few hundred meters, did our Lebanese paperwork and ended up on the Syrian side, where several hundred Red Cross workers and other Syrian volunteers were ready and waiting to help people, under tents set up to protect people from the heat. I obtained my Syrian visa after calling the Ministry of Information in Damascus (I’m a journalist) and ended up completing the entire process in about as much time as it takes when there is no war.

After getting past Syrian customs I found an air-conditioned bus headed for Homs, full of refugees from Beirut and South Lebanon, but with some available seats. On the Syrian side of the border I felt some of the tension leave the bus, and me as well. Earlier this summer a friend gave me a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, about the bombing of Dresden in World War II.
I opened it, then stopped at the following lines:

"… there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like Poo-tee-weet?
I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.

I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that."

We got off at the Homs terminal and I found another air-conditioned bus, leaving right away for Damascus. I fell asleep and when I woke up we were approaching the capital of Syria. The guy sitting next to me asked where I was from, and I told him Broummana. He said he was from Zahle, and informed me that the Israelis had just completed another series of bombing raids on the Bekaa, including the village of my friend from the southern suburbs of Beirut. What my friend had feared finally took place – his village became a target. "Once upon a time, the place was a Hizbullah office," he later told me. "Once upon a time." The bus arrived in Damascus and I caught a taxi into town. The first bus had cost $6.50, the second $5, and the third cost a dollar, as did the taxi. I asked the driver about the congestion and availability of taxis in Damascus, with around 200,000 displaced persons suddenly showing up from next door. He said that most of them were hanging out in Sitt Zeinab, south of the city, where the Shi’a religious shrines are located. The driver began relating stories about how some of these Lebanese were practically penniless, how they would go into restaurants and order only hummos and salad. "Not like the Iraqis," the driver said, referring to the wave of people fleeing to Syria in the last several years. "Those people have some money." I told the driver that Israel should now hit Syria, so that it could get rid of Lebanese, Iraqis, and Syrians. "Three-for-one, huh?" he asked, smiling and nodding. "What does it matter, 60 percent of the Syrian people are dead already," he continued, in what I took to be a comment on the socio-economic situation. I wondered if any other countries would end up dumping their populations here as the US continues its quest for a new Middle East.

Marlin Dick, Damascus, Syria


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, so you did make it out.

"yea, though i shall drive through the valley of the shadow of no mobile telephone access, i shall fear no israeli f15s."

good to read you. i think the blog is really lucky to have you and knox writing for it. write more and i'll buy you a drink.


2:15 AM  
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