It’s early morning here in Montreal. The sun hasn’t come out yet. I didn’t sleep well last night and my head hurts a bit. I switch on my netbook. The internet is full of stories of the shooting at the Century theatre and the victims and their families. Such a sad and heartbreaking story. I don’t want to read more since I have already watched the news on every channel for the past three days. I sign in on Facebook and I read my friend’s status. “Around thirty thousand Syrians cross the border to Lebanon in just one day fleeing the civil war that’s been ravaging the capital Damascus.”
I close my eyes and I take a deep breath. For all those years that there was trouble in Lebanon and the civil war was raging through the country, it was the Lebanese who crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border seeking a safe refuge for themselves and their families. I personally have crossed borders in my time and have even blogged about it in
How many times can people flee for safety?
24 Feb 2011, as I watch the news in my Montreal home, and I see civilians from Libya crossing on foot, carrying whatever possible of their belongings in their hands, I am reminded of yet another crossing.
Feb 1984, Lebanon. Beirut is divided into two parts: East and West. The Museum Crossing is the only crossing open between the two sectors. People cross on foot during the day. Sometimes they are caught in gunfire between the rival militias. The crossing itself is controlled by the army, which opens it to civilians for only a few hours. People cross from West Beirut to East to flee the country either by sea, through the Jounieh port in the East, or by air, traveling through the mountains, crossing the border to Syria to fly from Damascus airport. I took that road only a few months after my wedding and crossed to the East with my husband. Here’s how it felt like (taken from The Lost I):
“They reached the Museum Crossing in no time. At exactly a quarter to seven, the Lebanese government army opened the crossing and they started to walk towards the army checkpoint. There were a few others like them. When it was their turn, she looked at the soldier. He was so young and so thin that his uniform seemed an ill-fit. His face was pale and sordid. Could he ask them to go back? And what if he did? Oh God! Please, no! She was afraid. They were not the enemy. They were at the mercy of this soldier. If he didn’t let them cross, they would have to go back again.”
Twenty two years later, before immigrating to Canada, I flew to Lebanon with my teenage children as a last stop to bid farewell to my family. A few days into our stay hell broke loose between Israel and Lebanon and the airport closed. On July 12, my son’s birthday, the bombing started. It was the first time my kids were being exposed to such terror. Within 24 hours the airport and the main roads to the city of Beirut were bombed. Luckily I was staying with my parents east of the Bekaa Valley and close to the Syrian border. There were rumors of that border being bombed too. My husband, who had stayed in Dubai to take care of unfinished business, managed to email us e-tickets to Dubai through the Damascus airport.
On July 15 2006, at 4:00 am in the morning we said goodbye to my mother, brother, his then pregnant wife and two beautiful little girls, and along with my father got in the car that would take us to Damascus, Syria. Half an hour later we were at the Syrian border. Sitting in the car with my teenage daughter and son, I looked around. There was not a single soul passing, not a single car, it was dead quiet everywhere. I had waited in the same spot more than two decades ago, when I was fleeing Lebanon for the first time to join my husband in Dubai.
Later at the airport, as I kissed my father goodbye I could not help but wonder if this was the last time I would see him. Would he make it safely back home? What would happen to the ones I left behind? How many times can people flee their own country to safety? Oh God, oh please, I mumbled as I boarded the plane.
Much has changed since then. Even though my father passed away, I still have family, relatives and friends living in Lebanon and Syria and I can’t help but pray for their safety and the safety of all those innocent people who are held hostage by some political agenda or another.
And who was it who said that no one ruins another person’s life, that we are ultimately responsible for our destinies. Perhaps in a different part of the world but not the Middle East.