By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
My family had thought our aunt Farida — cousin Ahmed’s mother — was safe outside the country. But then we found out that she had decided to stay put in her hillside house overlooking the bay of Beirut, in a Christian area near the town of Roumieh called Nahr-el-Mot, which, come to think of it, has a worrisome meaning (River of the Dead). She felt especially determined to stay after hearing about some acquaintances who attempted the trip out of the country and barely escaped death. Alone with her miniature dogs, she tearily watched the bloody aftermath of a destroyed convoy trying to make its way from Sidon to Beirut, made up of Lebanese fleeing the country. Her house has a stunning panoramic view, a prime vantage in the natural mountain amphitheater, which we ordinarily appreciate for its picturesque account of what is happening down in the city, but now was exposing the drama of war.
Aunt Farida had been through this before. “Just give it two or three days,” she told her son, “and it’ll blow over,” just like in the late ’90s when Israel attacked Beirut and the explosions crept dangerously near their house, which was spared during the civil war. An avid little boy back then, Ahmed had climbed to the roof to look at the burning power plant near their house; he remembers the maids screaming at him to please come down. Now, on the phone with his mother, she was getting tense and annoyed at all the calls from worried friends and relatives begging her to leave the country — she thought she had nothing to fear until she started receiving these foreboding pleas. For a time last week, she played it cool to calm the nerves of her three sons, and she kept up a weekly card game with her friend that she didn’t want to miss. In her neighborhood, spread out like the Hollywood Hills, there was a rooftop birthday party going strong as if nothing was happening. It was the “party defense” all over again.
But Monday morning, when Ahmed called his mom’s house, Asha, my aunt’s Sri Lankan housekeeper, answered the phone and revealed that Farida had managed to escape. We don’t know if she’ll end up in Syria, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, and hope she gets to her destination safely. We are all waiting for and possibly dreading the next phone call. Asha, meanwhile, was distraught and speaking in broken Arabic mixed with English.
“It’s just me here now,” she said. “I’ve been crying the whole day long. I couldn’t sleep last night.” Her visa wouldn’t let her travel to any country except her native Sri Lanka, now an impossibility since the Beirut airport was out of commission.
“Lebanon is gone!” she exclaimed. Asha then paused for a moment in the conversation. “Did you hear that?” she asked. “Did you hear the boom boom?” A friend of Aunt Farida’s was going to come housesit and keep Asha company, but the injustice of Asha’s trapped situation is worse than anything that might happen to Farida’s beloved house.