Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Five Star Evacuation

A few weeks ago I had promised my wife and kids a weekend on the beach in Cyprus, which is 40 minutes away by plane from Beirut. But I could not deliver on that promise because of my busy work schedule, until we were evacuated on board a Royal Navy vessel, the HMS Gloucester, courtesy of Islam and Zionism battling it out in my backyard.

I am not complaining and I am deeply indebted to the British government for rescuing my little British hooligans, their beautiful British mother and my "shocked and awed" self, but the journey was no Disney cruise.

The British Embassy told us to be at the Forum of Beirut, a large concert hall by the port, between 9:30 am and 2:30 pm. My plan was to drop my wife and kids and stand tall in Lebanon. And then my kids cried, "don't leave us daddy", my wife cried, "I will not leave without you" and my business cried, "we are going to go bankrupt if you stay".

On the morning of Wednesday 19 July 2006, I filled my "standard evacuation" Gap backpack with shaving kit and toothbrush, a few work documents, a couple of t-shirts and boxer shorts and lots of precious personal items, like the deed to my house, the birth certificates of my kids, my wife's jewelry and lots of regrets for leaving my father and mother, who are safe so far in their house in the mountains.
My parents, who were faced with the same dilemma during the 15 year civil war, have a "too old for this ####" attitude today and refuse to leave Lebanon again. Before heading to the ship, my mother hugged me and said with tears in her eyes:"don't go to Europe, it is too close to Lebanon. Immigrate to the US, Canada or Australia, leave this cursed country for good. Build your children a new life far away."

We took a taxi and got to the British appointed hangar, where Paul Anka and Julio and Enrique Iglesias performed in recent years, at noon. We then waited under the watchful eyes of the Lebanese police and the British military, until it was our turn to be registered by the local Embassy staff.
A lady in her eighties, held by her Ethiopian nurse, was at a counter near us. Although her nurse had a valid British visa, the civil servant refused her entry to the ship, which was only for British citizens and their direct dependents. The old woman had no choice but to head home.

Four hours later, we boarded the air-condition free buses and headed for the Beirut port, that Israel bombed the previous morning. An apologetic and sweaty Lebanese immigration officer boarded the ovens on wheels and checked everyone's passport and we simmered at 40 C for another hour.

We then headed to the batch three Type 42 destroyer of the Royal Navy and were escorted by groups to our quarters. My kids were impressed by the merry-go-round motions of the ship's radar, her machine guns and Sea Dart missiles that shot down an Iraqi Silkworm missile that was threatening the USS Missouri during the 1991 Gulf War.
We went down the ship's hull, a labyrinth of tight corridors and steep ladders, until we got to our assigned windowless room. We were about 80 evacuees in that 50 square meter space and my wife, kids and I sat on our backpacks and made friends with our newly discovered Siamese brothers and sisters.

During the next couple of hours the ship's crew offered us sandwiches and chocolates which I whole-heartedly ate, considering that my diet was not appropriate at such troubled times. And then the Gloucester departed; destination: Limassol, Cyprus.

My next arm to arm neighbour, Toufic, 65, asked the sailor in charge of our room in a loud voice:"When can I have a smoke and scotch on the deck, captain?"
"You can have a smoke in about 20 minutes when we get passed the Israeli blockade, but I'm afraid we're not offering any alcohol today."

While I got comfortable with my awkward sitting position on the floor, a nurse tread carefully in between our hands and feet and told the part English part German family sitting above me to make place for a semi-blind elderly woman. The wife in a heavy German accent protested, the nurse insisted until a British-Lebanese middle aged man got up and sat in the corridor.

When the time came, we were allowed on the front deck of the destroyer and my kids and I were impressed at the speed of this rather large ship and its stability. Indeed, the trip took five hours and very few people felt sea sick. We were processed again by the British in the port of Limassol and then moved by buses to the RAF airbase in Akrotiri.

By 3 O' Clock AM, my wife and children who had managed less than an hour of sleep that day, rushed to their stretchers with the sheets and pillow that the very helpful British military staff had provided us with, took a sip of water, and slept.

Although I had not slept that day, my priorities were different. I felt sweaty and dirty and all I could see were the toilets and the showers and the soap and the towel that were also provided for us evacuees at the base.

Clean again, I had some tea and slept on the stretcher, which felt, after the 5 hour yoga session on the ship, like a water bed.

I managed an hour of sleep and got up to join a group of Toufic with a group of British-Lebanese men. One of them had spoken to his family back home, (international phone calls and internet access were provided for free), and informed us that the Israelis had dropped 29 tons of bombs in the predominantly Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut next to the Palestinian camp of Burj al Barajneh.

A pumped up and shaven man shouted in Arabic a desperate "Ya Allah!" (Oh God!). And when I asked him what is the matter, he said that he had moved a few months ago from England and opened a body building club next to this area. He informed us that he had won several body building competitions in Britain and he showed us his oil and muscles pictures that he kept on his mobile phone, admitting that he shot himself with muscle enhancing drugs to get that big.

We all praised the British military for their excellent logistics and humane treatment. There was a play area for kids, a tent for mothers who breastfeed and special beds and mattresses for injured people. I must admit that if evacuations were rated, I would give this one five stars. The British military had certainly more manners, more respect and more desire to serve than the staff of any hotel in Paris.

By 1:30 PM we were taken to the base airport where an Air Caraibe Airbus, chartered by the British government, waited for us. Toufic begged and slimed for a first class seat with the right authorities and got it. But before we got on the plane, the military asked for our permission to let the press in and none of us objected.

Journalists, cameramen, photographers, radio and newspaper interviewers flooded the waiting room and in ten minutes photographed, filmed and interviewed many of us. We were news material and that made me feel like a victim and I did not like it. But all those feelings disappeared as soon as we got on the plane whose ownership and French speaking and suntanned crew were Caribbean based. And I told my kids to forget about Lebanon and to think that they were back from a trip in the French Martinique.

We landed in Gatwick in no time, we took a taxi and headed to my in laws house in Central London and I called my parents back in Lebanon and told them that we had arrived and as I was about to end the conversation, my mother said once again: "Go to the far end of the world my son. Take your family as far as you can from Lebanon and do not look back."

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monday, the 17th of July, 2006




It is 9:25pm here in Beirut. The city is silent. The country is haunted by the ghosts of all those who gave their lives away in the past few days; maybe it’s just my own paranoia, but I can feel a kind of presence around me all the time. Especially when it’s deadly quiet.

My biggest fear of all is that someone of my family is going to get hurt. But I have no control over the events that are happening so I try not think about it too much.

It’s been days since I left the house. I sit on the balcony with my father every now and then. It gets too much sometimes to stay inside, the house feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller, as if it was our coffin.
As the news on television is hopeless, I asked my father today who was smoking and I can read a sense of despair on his face… I asked him: ‘what if things get worse and we have to leave the house? Where would we go?’… My question was left without an answer. Instead my father, looked at me, put out his cigarette and went to his room.
But I meant it, where would we go? Go to another area? But nowhere is safe… leave the house to burn? The house I grew up in? This is my house since I was born. It’s small and old and needs lot of work. The furniture is used, it needs painting and there’s nothing of real value in it. But it’s home. It has sentimental value. The thought of losing it breaks my heart.
I fear that if I start running away, seeking shelter… I’ll never find a ‘home’ again, I’ll keep on running my whole life. Therefore I stay.

My mood is changing from angry, to sad, to apathic… lack of sleep effects me deeply. I can’t even see straight anymore. I’m not complaining, I can’t complain. A family of 10 people was buried alive in the massacre of Tyre yesterday, I can’t complain. I’m still alive. I can’t imagine how it must be like for others who lost family members, or who don’t have anymore food and are craving for help.

I am strong. I know I am. But I don’t know till when my nerves can take all of this pressure.
Every time I close my eyes, one image come to my mind. I see myself lying on my bed, a bomb hits my building and I’m blown away and torn apart. The image feels so real that it keeps me awake.

I did not watch television much today. I turned it off after I saw presidents in G summit talk. CNN had a microphone inside the dining room where all the ‘civilized’ presidents were eating. I don’t know if you saw that scene, of presidents discussing the fate of a whole population while they have their mouth full. Let me tell you one thing, if being civilized means being inhuman, I’d rather be a barbarian.

Another day passed by with more destruction and killing. I wonder for how long all of us will have to wait until someone out there acknowledges the fact that what is happening is simply unjust and needs to be stopped.

Sincerely,

- Nadine

23 July, 2006 11:36  
Blogger regevn said...

http://www.fotolog.com/regevn

23 July, 2006 13:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One lesson from conflict in the middle east is that if the governments do not fulfill their responsibility to better their citizens life, the normal people suffer.


In the case of this war, the Lebanon's government has done nothing to disarm a private army in its own country. So if this does what it likes, the whole country suffers.

23 July, 2006 16:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Follow the force, Luke!

23 July, 2006 22:40  
Anonymous blogger said...

SAVE LEBANON !!!
JUST RETURN THE CAPTURED SOLIDERS, AND STOP SHOTING YOUR PATHETIC LITTLE ROCKECTS.

(or at least shut up)

24 July, 2006 00:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I read another ignorant Israeli say that the government has done nothing to disarm Hezbollah, I am going to join the resistance.

24 July, 2006 04:22  
Anonymous truman said...

yes please, join the resistance and get killed protecting nasrallah ´s ass.

24 July, 2006 10:15  
Blogger Eran Tel-Aviv said...

I read you blog "I left for a smile" and tears started flowing in the channels of my eyes. I guess in all of us there is still a grain of human empathy despite all the suferring and horrers we are force fed by the media. The more you zoom in to the story of a war the more you find yourself in the human dimension - this is so difficult to accept no matter what side of the conflict you are starting from. I just wish you and your family to be safe and may be a bit happier. To bad i found this blog now that it has been expatriated. You write with sencerity and candidness and though i don't agree to all of your politics I still respect and honor you for it. The region needs more like you if we are ever to dream peace to beocme a reality.

24 July, 2006 11:03  
Anonymous Michel said...

Eran,

The region certainly does need more people connecting. Bridges have to be built between cities like Beirut and Tel Aviv, Tyre and Haifa. We cannot let politics escalate like this every time there is an incident. There has to be a better level of understanding between the people, rahter than better levels of collaboration between lobbies and activists.

Let's start preparing the post-war.

24 July, 2006 11:13  
Anonymous David said...

I am evacuated, with my wife and child, from my home, in the north of Israel, which is bombarded by the Hizbullah's rockets. I am a 5-star refugee, as oppose to hundreds of thousands of Lebanese refugees, taking to the mountains. I pray for the safety of each and every civilian in the region, and hope we'll be able to return home safely soon.
Maybe I'll meet you in London one day, my Lebanese brother.
I hug you, your spouse and you little children, and hope your family in Lebanon is safe. Your mother is so dear to me, like so many mothers, Jewish mothers, Arab mothers, she wants the very best for her children. I hope she'll soon get the peace she deserves.

24 July, 2006 13:26  
Blogger Ilan said...

I hope it will end soon. To read this, and hear about this stories from both sides... it's tearing the heart.

There are few scenarios now -

The End of War

24 July, 2006 15:52  
Blogger Fabien the Ho said...

Thank you for your blog.

You give a voice to what it means to be living through a war, which many people cannot even begin to imagine what this means... My colleagues today talked about being scared of lightning and thunder in the sky last night as we had thunderstorms. I couldn't believe their sheer stupidity when there are bombs falling from the sky... and these are educated Londoners working in an International marketing company.

I will continue to read your blog, You write with sincerity, and from that sincerity emerges a truth no news or media coverage could ever communicate.

I hope you and your family settle into London.
Welcome to this city.
I am sure you will call it home soon.

28 July, 2006 00:21  
Blogger mcreider said...

I liked, if one can use this word, your sincerely and simply told story. So you are in front of the new beginning - one can read it between the lines.
Good luck.

09 August, 2006 18:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASADUDDIN OWAISI MP MEEETS HIZBULLAH LEADERS IN LEBANON

HYDERABAD LOK SABHA MP ASADUDDIN OWAISI IS THE FIRST INDIAN DIPLOMAT TO VISIT LEBANON AFTER THE WAR ACCORDING TO THE ETEMAAD URDU DAILY AND DECCANNEWS AND ISLAMIC NEWS OF SYRIA MR ASADUDDIN IS ON A PRIVATE VISIT TO LEBANON AND SYRIA AND NOT REPRESENTING THE UPA GOVERNMENT OVER THERE IT IS SAID TO BE A GOODWILL VISIT AND TO SHOW SUPPORT OF INDIAN MUSLIMS IN THE WAKE OF DEATH AND MASSIVE DESTRUCTION OVER THERE ACCORDING TO THE REPORTS MR OWAISI FLEW FROM DELHI TO DAMASCUAS CAPITAL OF SYRIA AND WAS THERE FOR 3 DAYS AND EVEN VISITED ISLAMIC HOLY SHRINES AND EVEN VISITED THE GRAND UMMAYD MOSQUE AND AFTER THAT HE WENT TO BEIRUT AND ON HIS STAY THERE HE VISITED THE SOUTHEREN PART OF BEIRUT CITY WHICH WAS THE MOST BOMBED AREA IN BEIRUT WHICH WAS REPETADELY STUCK BY ISRAELI WARPLANES AND FROM THERE HE ALONG WITH VARIOUS OTHER SOCIAL AND AID ACTVISTS HE WENT TO QANA AND VISITED THE PLACE WHERE A BUILDING WAS COLLAPSED AFTER A ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE IN WHICH 57 CIVILLANNS WERE KILLED AND MR OWAISI HAS EVEN VISITED THE PORT CITY OF TYRE WHICH WAS DESERTED AT THE TIME OF WAR AND BINT JEBIL AN AREA IN SOUTHERN LEBANON WHICH WAS THE MAIN BATTLEFRONT BETWEEN HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS AND ISRAELI ARMY AND IS SAID THAT THE WHOLE VILLAGES IN THAT AREA HAVE BEEN DEVASTED BY THE FIGHTING WHICH LASTED FOR 34 DAYS AND ON HIS VISIT TO BEIRUT THE HYDERABAD MP GAVE AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW TO THE HEZBOLLAHS RUN TV AL MANAR AND IS SAID THAT HE HAS CAME TO LEBANON TO SHOW HIS SOLADIRTY WITH THE LEBANESE PEOPLE AND SAID HOW INDIAN PARLIAMENT HAS CONDMENNED THE WAR IN LEBANON AND HAS OFFERED AID WORTH 15 CRORES DOLLARS TO LEBANON HE EVEN MET WITH MANY CIVILLANS AND OLD AGE WOMEN WHOSE SONS WERE KILLED WHILE FIGHTING THE ISRAELI ARMY MR OWAISI WILL STAY IN LEBANON AND MEET LEBABNESE MPS AND EVEN WILL VISIT INDIAN EMBASSY IN BEIRUT AND MEET INDIAN EMBASSY STAFF AND AMBASSADOR .THERE ARE SOME REPORTS SUGGESTED BY ISLAMIC WEBSITE THAT HE EVEN MET HEZBOLLAH LEADERS WHILE HIS STAY IN BEIRUT REPORTS SUGGEST HE MET HIZBULLAH COMMANDER IN SOUTH HASAN HUBALLAH IN A SECRET LOCATION AND WHILE COMING OUT OF THERE WAS SURROUNDED BY HIZBULLAH GUNMEN HE EVEN MET HIZBULLAH CHAIRMAN FOR ECONOMIC AND RESARCH DEVELOPMENT DR ALI FAYYAD AND WITH THE TYRE CITY MAYOR MR ALI MUSHARRAF AND EVEN MET WITH VARIOUS OTHER LEBANESE POLTICAL LEADERS AND MPS OF VARIOUS PARTYS SPEAKING OUTSIDE LEBANESE PARLIAMENT AFTER COMING OUT MEETING WITH LEBANESE PARLIAMENT SPEAKER NABIL BERRI THE MAJLIS PARTY LEADER OF HYDERABAD SAID ISRAEL HAS COMMITTED ACTS OF STATE TERRRORISM BY TARGETING INNOCENT CIVILLANS AND DESTROYING ITS INFRASTRUCTURE WORTH BILLIONS AND THIS WILL OR NOT DAMAGE THE HIZBULLAH AND THE LEBANESE PEOPLES WILL TO FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL OCCUPATION

13 October, 2006 02:48  

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