Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hold your breath.

Goliath (to me, in net cafe): "Tonight's the night, yo. It's the night. It's the night of reckoning. If they're going to get us, they're going to get it all in tonight."

Goliath is right and wrong, at least according to popular opinion and the common interpretations of 1701 which is set to go into effect at 8 am tomorrow, local time. The strength of the resolution, of course, is in question around the world.

Selim (to me, at the SDC today): "You said you would be leaving us when there is a cease-fire, right?"

Me: "Right, right. Well, plans change. But that's the plan-ish." (I've elected to go to graduate school in the fall. The only program of its kind that I could find - an MA in 'Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics". I'm supposed to be there in late September. It's a 'working plan'.)

Selim: "Let me tell you something, there is not going to be a cease-fire. No one respects these resolutions. Hizbullah did not respect them, Israel sure as heck does not respect them. You will be with us here for a while."

Selim repeated the sentiment later on in the day. He had decided that after weeks of continuous work, the SDC crew deserved an afternoon of rest; he put together a barbecue for us. Two hours into the celebration (while Selim was leading us in chants and cheers - there were traditional Lebanese songs and dancing - I was trying to figure out how it was that the pelvises of Lebanese women could gyrate with such autonomy from the rest of their body without actually dislocating from the spine) Israel shook Beirut again. I went for my camera.

Selim: "Look, they will be back. You're going to go? They will be back - this is never the end." (In Lebanese bars - once everyone is good and tipsy - one of the 'dirty jokes' you'll hear from the war-weary patrons trying to make light of the situation is: "You are American? Let me tell you about Lebanon. Lebanon is like a woman, yes? It needs to bleed every month. And it will never go to the menopausal stage, this woman.") Me (to Selim): "It's just something that I need to do...I just want to see it before I go. I think now there's a chance they will stay away from Beirut."

There had been one thing sticking in my mind since my encounter with the freelancers: I had judged them (publicly) as blood thirsty while having no idea what they had been through. E (intrepid freelancer who had disappeared into the South for a few days and had been pushed into a van full of bodies) had mentioned that the freelancer goes into a mode, a professional way of being when gore was shoved into his face. He framed it with his camera. And I do that too--as evidenced by this blog. My way of pacing out the overwhelming waves of emotional input that hit me: I frame them, command them, they are mine. I am no longer at their whim...I can reflect on them, learn and grow.

Was the 'blood thirst' not their inherent nature but instead simply their human (perhaps extreme) reaction to the situation? Their one and only way of dealing with all that they had seen? Was I wrong to judge?

Mona (to me, on the Corniche, by the sea): "She just sits in her room. She has been there for days. She is just crying...crying all the time. I tell her, 'you must eat you must do something' - she is going to go blind, I tell her."

Mona and Rafik - along with a few hundred others - have come down to the shore to collect the latest message from the Israelis. Leaving the the NetCafe in Hamra, I heard a party-favor but perhaps 100 times as loud. I ran, rounded corners, looking to the skies for smoke or to the sides of buildings for evidence of shelling even though I knew by the noise what I had heard couldn't have been a shell or a strike. Still, everyone poured into the streets. We all looked up to see the flyers floating down like sick sparrows. I had seen the flyers from the Israeli army many times in the past, but had never had a 'capsule' of them explode right over my head.

Once we'd all realized that it was just another 'letter', the majority of the folks in the street started to laugh and crack jokes. I haven't been able to figure out what the Israeli army has hoped to gain from any of these messages. I suppose, like any propaganda, the aim has been to win support for their campaign or at least turn the tide of thinking against Hizbullah. But the whole idea of dropping warnings and strongly worded notes "from the skies above" hasn't served to frighten or change the minds of the people here, at least in Beirut. If anything, it's backfired-- they are further antagonized, and convinced that Israel is either a) ignorant of the Lebanese mindset, b) single-mindedly militant or c) just kind of dumb.

Mona: "It says the names of the Hizbullah that have been killed. These are the names that Israel says they have killed."
Rafik: "But this is not true! This is never true! They have done this before and the next day, one of the soldiers that they said that they killed came on television and he said 'Look, look am I dead!?' How would they know who has been killed?"
Me: "Well, how do we know who has been killed?"
Rafik: "When a soldier is killed, Hizbullah presents a gift to the family of the martyr - this is how we know. Israel has said they have killed 450 - there have only been 45 killed! We know this! Nasrallah - he tells the truth! He tells the truth and he wants peace. All Lebanese want peace. We do not want war."
We watched some of the children in area giggle as they tracked the falling paper; most of it had blown into the sea while falling. I asked Mona and Rafik why they were still in Beirut.
Mona: "We are working with many volunteers. Helping the people. Helping the people without shelter. They are living in the garbage, most of them. We give them food, sometimes clothes. There is one - do you know Qana? Do you know what happened? We have a woman from a place close by - also hit. She is staying with us now, crying all the time. When the bombs, when the missiles hit the house there was a huge explosion and her children - you have seen the pictures of the children who are burned? - her daughter was killed. The bomb burned the child's skin and hair off. The skin it fell off. The woman, when she found her child, she took her hand and brushed the child's hair away to see its face and the woman took all the child's skin and hair off in her hand. She just sits in her room. She has been there for days. She is just crying...crying all the time."

What did i come here for? I've moved passed the idea of representing 'America'-- an impossible task + ineffectual: Why narrow the potential of individual choice within the limited framework of the definition of the State? The individual: so powerful. The Stand.

So, if as an individual my goal is simply to provide an strong, human presence and apply whatever applicable skills I have towards securing relief for innocents caught in the cross fire, what fuels and guides that process? What is it that helps me to make good decisions in a situation like this? To be not just here, but effective while here?

Simple strategic thinking gets you where you need to be to make the impact; I found my way back, found a great organization doing progressive and intelligent work to address the root causes of continued conflict. But I've found that it's just sheer empathy that shows you how to be when it comes time to speak, to be there - to be there for kids, or to struggle through conversations with people who look at you the wrong way at the outset. You're there to build the bridge. To do that, you need to know the direction the bridge needs to go. Empathy as a skill.

In spite of all the 'showing up' I've done, all the conversations I've had, all the assistance (even the small amount) I've feel I've been able to provide in one way or another, I realize that I am still too far away from knowing the zip code of where the other end of the bridge needs to go. In truth, there's never one 'other end'; everyone is always different. Everywhere. Empathy as a skill: listening, searching for clues to inform your identification.

But with this demographic, with so many traumatized in the middle east, with an entire region so painfully accustomed to war, it would benefit that process of creating case-by-case bridges by doing all that you can to equip yourself with a strong understanding of the society, the events, the people. For now and for the future conversations. I am at the point where I need to know more about loss.

Simply, Selim looks saddened. He has organized this wonderful outing for us all; I feel sheepish telling him that I'm going to chase down a taxi and go to the impact site from the bombs we have just heard. I suddenly feel my nationality and all that it implies here. "There will be other times." Me: "I know, I know there will be other times." There will be for him, but my path will take me out of Beirut at some point soon. If by some small chance the cease-fire holds, this will be the last time in broad daylight I will be able to see the aftermath of twenty bombs delivered from above in quick succession, that cost, that loss. I have felt the bombs, I have seen the smoke from the distance...but no, I have never seen a burnt child at my feet, I have never seen a head being put into a bag. It's a sickening desire to have, but I just want to know.

Selim: "You take this then." He is worried, he hands me his glass of Arak and water. "Cheers." I drink and leave.

The French Educated Reporter is at the party; she has been on the phone since the echoes of the strikes; she has connections, knows where the hits were and knows where to tell the taxi to take us. She will find us a safe route, she says. We drive, she is on the phone and I hate what I am doing.

We are going to the southern suburbs. "It is forbidden to you" FER says to me. Me: "Just get me as close as you can."

The backroads we take turn out to be a tour through the past few weeks of strikes. Bridges are bombed out and taped off. At the top of one of the hills, the taxi driver stops the car. He starts speaking with FER. She looks back at me. "He will not go any further. We are asking him to put his life in danger. He wants to turn around."

Me: "How much money will it take?"

FER: "He wants to turn around."

We had reached a hill overlooking the city. Around us, others had stopped their cars; from the road, you could see the smoke in the distance. We watched the plume - one of the largest in the entire offensive - drift up for a few moments; it seemed farther away to me then than similar images I had seen with my own eyes or on television.

I'm still struggling with the paradox that caged my brain on the way home - the conflicting feelings at remembering Selim: 'It's never over'. I was struck first with the feeling of comfort - I would again have the opportunity to feel through such an experience and grow for the sake of service later on in life...should the need again arise to provide that service to someone that might need the helping.

The second feeling was disgust at having actually looked forward to some travesty happening somewhere for the sake of personal gain - even with the best of intentions.

Tomorrow at 9 o'clock I will head back into the SDC. Selim and I will talk cease-fire, what it means, will talk about the transition the organization will begin to consider making from 'crisis-mode' to 'post-crisis'. We will brew coffee on the gas stove on the porch of the office. All the plans will be tentative. Everyone's plans now are tentative. With a toothless resolution, a veritable war by proxy, and influential western partners seemingly occupied by other happenings, the people here are saying that a continuation of a conflict without oversight or accountability - a slipping back from even this tiniest of steps forward - is where we should make our plans. Here, there is only the faintest air of hope. I try to breathe it in and hold it.


Roxana said...

This is truly a great thing what you're doing, documenting the events, the locals' reactions, as well as your own thoughts on them. I read every one of your posts with much interest for the latest happenings, but I have to add that I also enjoy the way you write. I hope more people will get to read what you have to say here because I honestly think yours is a unique perspective.


Mominator said...

I hope the cease fire works, but I have a gut feeling it won't take much for it flare right back up again.
Prayers are with all of you over there.

Green Fish said...

This is a great blog. Thank you. Be careful, and good luck.

Anonymous said...

I am a chinese and have been concerning about situation.
really appreciate you writing
these articles so that everything happening in there can be exposed,many of people can know affairs currently,I hope more and more people will get to konw the truth and the tragedy.

H.Zone said...

This is really even better from the coverage in TV, you have great way to document all about this war.. I feel really sad to read about all this feelings, and pictures that people have to pass by daily..

My the devils die, and angels wings raise above the sun shine ^_^


liliang china said...

The above anonymous chinese comment is mine.
I really puzzle why there are so many wars between middle-east countries.In my memery,I always hear and see bad news about mideast in media from my childhood to my adulthood.Untill now,I have alredy graduated from university,I am still wondering why donnt they resolve controversial issues with peaceful ways.why?!
I really want to konw,hope anyone who konws tell me. thanks!

bellxone said...


i am french who live in EUROPE, CZ, Prague.

i would like to say that your blog is one of the most interesting at the moment !
weel its only according to me, but i wanted you to know it ! :)

Iam in prague since 2 month and making a 1000 pics/day (well, less than this in real)
anyway if you or your visitors want have a look then you know what to do !


writing_here said...

Have you considered writing a book about your experiences in Beirut?

@ liliang china
Conflict in the Middle East is older than the Great Wall of China. It dates back to the time of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac.

The Traveller said...

T, what you're doing in Lebanon requires a lot of moral courage -especially coming back after evacuation. Thank you for contributing your bit to further all our humanity and making a difference to the lives of the displaced children. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of life in Beirut/Lebanon - I look forward to your posts daily. Thank you for your honesty and insights. Wonderful to know there are people like you around. If you're ever routing through Singapore, please email me: .
My prayers for Lebanon and for all of you there. Keep safe.

R2K said...

Here is my theory. Israel will, as usual, as it has done dozens of time, agree to the peace accord (er I mean cease fire agreement). They will stop the attacks, again for the 100th time.

And hours, or days later, the terrorists will break the agreement. The local government (and local population) will have zero control over these terrorists. They wont even come out and condemn the rockets.

And then Israel will be forced to defend its citizens, as usual. And the anti semetic muslim world will blame them, as usual.

And in the end, it hurts the muslim world most. They stay in the economic and social depression, they gain zero ground. And the modern world, america and europe for example, will care even less.

I hope they prove me wrong.

Adam Preston said...

Thank you for your perspective and your great style. I have recommend this blog to practically everyone I run into.

Allison said...

Your writing is excellent. I've read all of your posts and have gained much insight from your travels. Today, we continue to hold our breath as well to see if the cease fire holds, wondering what is going on with Goliath, Selim, and all of your friends. My concern remains, given the ancient history of this war, if diplomacy will be able to contain its persistence, its violence, the repeated cycle of religion and politics that has defined the Middle East--and Israel--for thousands of years. I somehow sadly doubt it. And if you leave for graduate school--if I'm gladly wrong--travel safe...

Ken said...

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Check out my blog to find out who i am and what i am doing!

Ken Woo

shashavica said...

I feel sorry for all the victims of war both from Israel and Lebanon.

We should all continue to pray for cease fire to stay.

Good documentation! Keep it up!

crapcakes said...

You wrote,"...this will be the last time in broad daylight I will be able to see the aftermath of twenty bombs delivered from above in quick succession, that cost, that loss."

It seems you are saying, "My Mission begins after the destruction; my altruism is useful when I help." You must have peeked over the fence of Time and seen the end of this destruction because you have positioned yourself physically and mentally for Hope's arrival. I pray your dream comes true.

Minge said...

I just wanted to thank you for this.

AFamousStatue said...

I look forward to reading your blog as soon as I find time!! :)Perhaps this site would be of interest to you: Thanks for being a witness.

the Laughorist said...

Quite a site! Pretty darn up close and personal. Hope you're safe. Today. Now. Pacem in terris, s'il vous plait, mon Dieu.

Chris said...

Well hi fist time I've left a comment on a site but my own and I must say yours is cool

gaz said...

when i read your blog i feel like i'm getting a better idea of what's transpiring over there than any amount of mass media coverage to provide. truth and honesty seem to be lacking somewhat on the 'telly'.
may God be with you.

Dana said...

An incredible blog. I agree with someone earlier who commented that you should consider writing a book. You already are, here for us, chapter by chapter. Thank you for that. Peace and safety be with you.

Anonymous said...

Please view these two videos and check out the website that follows. Even if you do not agree with all of it, we all need to have a better grasp of what truly happened on 9/11/01 in the US, 3/11/04 in Spain, and 7/7/05 in the UK. We are looming closer and closer to being pulled into an even more disastrous war in the Middle East. Another terrorist attack in which the government is involved could easily be framed in such a way that rallies the people around a new war. However, the government could be deterred from faciliting a terrorist attack or could fail in their attempt to rally the people, if enough people at least suspect government involvement in recent terrorist acts. So please share this with others if you feel compelled, as I do.

documentary on 9/11

documentary on western government terror

Please remember this core fact in all of the debate over the events of 911. The total disintegration of the twin towers into dust and rubble within seconds is a mark of a controlled demolition, not a building pancaking.

gmarie said...

your blog is great, I feel like i can understand what is realy going on without things being changed by the media or politicians. theres a quote I like by mother theresa, "you can't fight darkness with darkness, only light can do that, and you can't fight hate with hate, only love can do that" maybe not the exact wording... but whenever I think of the wars going on I think about that quote and wish that we could find peace.

Oberon said...

.....i'm falling.

lenore said...

I just saw you blog.

FreeCyprus said...

Great site, love it.

-- FreeCyprus
Hellenic Reporter