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Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Phoenix Of Arabia

"The bird perished in the flames"

And with it the work of 17 years and the dreams of an entire

Ours was one of the last planes to land in Beirut on the 13th of July
2006 at 4:05a.m. Two hours later they bombed the airport. My cousins
in Beirut heard and felt the blast, but alhamdulillah no harm was
done. Meanwhile, my family and I were following the news at home in
West Beekaa. We weren't too worried as we thought the airport would
be repaired in a couple of days and then everything would turn back
to normal. We were wrong...

The very next day, the bombings on South Lebanon started...Tyre,
Sayda, West and South Beirut. Tourist evacuations began, panic spread
like wildfire and we were sitting at home not thinking anything, just
wondering how this could've happened in one night, the war on Lebanon
had begun. Suddenly the streets were empty. People would go out only
if absolutely necessary. My father, like many others, went to the Gas
Station to buy 3 gallons of petrol as a reserve. I found myself with
10 Kg of flour and 15Kg of rice in the house, again as a precaution.
This is how it had been during the Civil War 20 years ago. Shops were
only opening a few hours a day. That was the situation in the Beekaa
Valley, where nothing had happened yet.

In the same week, The Beekaa Valley was bombed as well.Shtoura, Marj,
Barelyes, Rachayya, Baalbek.bridges and roads were completely
destroyed. We would watch the news and call our friends in those
places to make sure they were still alive. Our days consisted of
eating and watching the news. We slept very little at night because
we could hear the sound of bombs far away like a firework. Going out
into the garden was out of question. We stayed at home wondering,
analyzing, and hoping to see an end to all this. The 18th of July was
when I finally realized that my country was in a war, that I was in a
war. At 2:30p.m. my brother heard the sound of an airplane. He froze
and listened. He could hear it was flying above us and he knew
immediately the bomb had dropped. Where? Where? Two seconds and his
torment was over. A loud blast shook the house. My father said he
felt the hot air just before the blast. We ran downstairs to the
ground floor. Two minutes later, another bomb made our house tremble
and our hearts sink. Two gaping holes were staring at us, barely 200
meters away. The road was no more. Electricity poles had flown away.
I was suddenly aware of screams around me. Screams that I wouldn't
want anyone to hear. Something that resembled a car started to become
visible behind the smoke. One of our neighbors had been in the car
with his two sons on the way home when the bomb fell. The ambulance
had to cut the car's roof in order to take the victims out. The
eldest, 15 years of age, died in the hospital. The father and the 12
year-old were severely injured.

Then time seemed to pass by in a rush. Entire families were leaving
our village. And those who stayed, like us, were under constant
pressure. Tension was heavy in the air. The next morning I woke up at
the sound of an airplane. I didn't open my eyes. Where? Where was it
going to fall?

And there it was. The house trembled again. I grabbed my sister and
we ran downstairs. A second bomb fell. We cowered underneath the
staircase. A third. A fourth and then silence. We went out and saw
that they had fallen on the mountain opposite to us, quite far away,
but very powerful.

On the 20th of July my father finally decided that we were leaving.
All our uncles and neighbors had been trying to convince us to leave
days ago. "You have your passports and the embassies. You have a
chance to leave. Do it before it's too late" they'd say. But we were
adamant. We didn't want to leave our country in times like these.
However, at some point the pressure was too great. And so I started
calling various embassies in search for a way out. All of them wanted
us to come down to Beirut. That was impossible in our case as the
roads were too dangerous and most of them were blocked anyway. We
heard about the masses of tourists waiting in Cyprus and Damascus for
days on end, sleeping in schools and churches. So we decided we would
go to Syria on our own.

After Fajr Prayer on the 21st of July we left the village. It was
still dark, and as we drove to Masna we could hear the M-K plane
roaming the sky above us. A constant buzzing, like a very large
bumblebee. As we passed the borders, I looked back. I was leaving my
Lebanon behind. I was leaving my family and friends behind. Fawzia,
my best friend, left for Jordan because her village was destroyed. I
don't know if she made it.

Tarek, another friend, left for Dubai with his family. Manal and her
family lost their house. They slept one night in the fields and then
managed to escape to Syria. At least, I hope they have. Buthaina, my
friend since 5th elementary, did not have her wedding ceremony. She
left with her husband for Brazil without ever having worn her white

Little children thrown amongst the dust of the streets of Beirut with
torn limbs and gaping injuries. Women crying and pleading. Tourists
frightened and disappointed Houses, roads, bridges, fields and
parks...all destroyed.

This is what Lebanon had turned to. Once a beautiful bird, now
burning in flames in front of our eyes.

My story is nothing compared to others. We left Lebanon with thorns
in our hearts. Others left with the bodies of their children in their
arms. All we can do now is hope and pray. All we can hope and pray
for is for Lebanon to rise again. To be reborn, like the phoenix,
from the ashes. Lebanon, the phoenix of Arabia, will return to
us...more beautiful than ever.

"But each time a new Phoenix
The only one in the world,
Rises up from the red egg.
The bird flutters around us,
Swift as light,
Beauteous in color,
Charming in song."

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