The past week has been an absolute blur. We have seen so many kids that needed the most basic care available (I have handed out 2 million band-aids at my last count) and communities that have been locked away from organized health care for long periods of time. I guess that is the rub when you live on one of the most tense borders in world. For as much jovial interactions as there were between the Lebanese and Israeli soldiers at border checkpoints, when the sun went down it was a different story.
I am an insomniac so I learned a lot staying up and talking with Hassin and Fadi (of what little English they could speak, and what little Arabic I can understand). They were out night bodyguards, although they watched us as intently as they watched out for our safety. At night you could hear small arms fire crackling in the background, I was assured that it was border community tradition during the sweltering summer, but even being the Texan I am it made me nervous. My nerves were confirmed one night when Fadi jumped in our tent, rounded everyone up in a jeep and told us to put blindfolds on. We were heading to a “safehouse” because there was word of an illegal border crossing. He assured us that our safety was his biggest concern and Paol (a former Brazilian tactical weapons specialist) strangely eased my fears when he leaned into my ear and whispered “we’re worth more dead than alive so they won’t let anything happen.” Who exactly “they” were was a challenge to figure out. A mixture of Lebanese, Hizbullah, hired security, or local village security was around us 24 hours a day and you never knew who the guy was with the M16 (lovely American made guns) at your back and who he took his orders from.
It was an interesting balance between being there to help people and watching out for your own ass. All of my medication schedules and notes are on my iPhone and it became a point of contention every time I pulled it out. I had to show everyone that I hadn’t taken a picture and I wasn’t recording anything, eventually they became comfortable with this arrangement (although I did cheat and manage to get two pictures of the sunrise over the border).
But I did get to see some amazing sites. I was one of the few westerners that I know of that was able to enter Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. If there is still a true wild-west out there this is it. The Lebanese army cannot enter and it truly is rule-by-outlaw. I’m sure everyone we treated was wanted by the Lebanese government and seeking refuge.
I was able to take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea, the 7th country I’ve been able to enter from. This was maybe the highlight of my trip and I think I’ll always remember seeing the sun set over the sea before we started our trek to the interior of the country.
I have been in tenuous situations before but a quick glance at this map of 2006 bombings in Lebanon really gave me an idea of how insane things are in this part of the world. Our handlers made it a point to pass through cities which once had great populations and beautiful buildings that are now standings memorials of broken glass and rubble. I wish everyone could get a glimpse at what a war zone really looks like, it brings the heart of the matter into a new wash of reality.
Last night the strangest events happened that I haven’t quite figured out yet, but after 6 hours in the back of a jeep here we all are in some airport in southern Lebanon, waiting to be whisked away to Beirut and eventually home. I still haven’t figured out the details quite yet but Adnan and his superior officer were reluctant to clue me in, I guess this will be one of those mysteries I’ll have to live with. In any case our visas are revoked and we have to leave the country so it will be nice to get back to the US.
I am about 85% vegetarian now but I think I am ready for a hamburger, a pizza, and of course a Dr. Pepper. Tea and rice on week old bread has not sustained me very well in this heat. On top of it I have a triathlon I’m competing in that is less than 3 weeks away so my morning jogs (the security guards hated me for this but I was assured I would be able to do it) were always a good time to get away but I am far too malnourished now because I decided to keep exercising. I eat like a pig anyway as most of my friends can tell you so this was an adventure for me as well.
I see my blog posting schedule didn’t really work as only two posts came up when I was gone but I’ll have some good stuff this next week. Maybe if I get some time I’ll transpose my journal into serial form on the blog, it should be some good reading.