Stuck In Beirut

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Extraction

That's what they called it. Let's go back to the night of the 18th. As I mentioned, I was getting really anxious to leave. I was disappointed in the US Embassy preparations, and I had decided to pursue my own risky route. The big concern was that airline seats out of Damascus were not guaranteed, and we could be stuck there for a long time. Then I received a call from my company. They had arranged for my safe passage from Beirut all the way back to Atlanta, GA. They hired a company called SOS International to do it. Its a sad sign of the times that such a company even exists and specializes in this line of work. We jumped on the offer.
Wednesday morning, the 19th., we went and picked up our suitcases from the house in Beirut and then took a taxi and met with the SOS team at 11 Am. We boarded buses with another 120 persons and headed for the Syrian border. It took us 7 hours to clear the border, including having to walk across, dragging our suitcases. We got to the hotel in Damascus at 4 AM on Thursday morning 7/20. We stayed in Damascus until Sunday the 23rd. when we boarded a flight to London, and the next day, on the 24th., we boarded the plane to Atlanta.
We had several memorable moments during this ordeal. The first one was on Wednesday when we heard a very loud explosion not too far from us in the car. Turned out Israel was starting to target trucks on the roads and they just blew-up one behind us. Had we been ten minutes behind schedule, it would have been real ugly. Another one was when we thought that we lost one of the suitcases, just as we got to the airport in Damascus to leave to London. It was a tense 2 minutes before we relocated it. The third one was on the plane to Atlanta, 20 minutes into the flight. They started looking for a doctor to handle a medical emergency. Thank God it was resolved without having to land or turn the airplane back.
We also experienced a rollercoaster of emotions during those few days. First, after getting the call, we had to face the facts that we were leaving our family behind. We felt like we were abandoning them, but we knew it was the right thing to do. the second was at the Syrian border. We got there at the same time that the German Embassy was evacuating 800 of its citizens. It took a long time to clear everyone. The biggest disappointment was the hotel in Damascus. To keep us as a group, SOS found a convention center to house us. The rooms there were an afterthought. Some people had to bunk 20 to a room with one bathroom. Luckily, we have family living there and we stayed with them instead. The weirdest feeling for me was when the flight was taking-off in Damascus. I wanted to clap because we were finally leaving the area, but I also wanted to cry because of the way we were leaving it. The biggest irony was that half the on-board magazine was about the beauty of Lebanon and Beirut.
Despite all this, we are thankful for everything. We feel much luckier than some friends that are still making their way out. We are thankful that no one was hurt or injured during this trip. We are thankful for the warm reception we received once we got back home.
I will continue monitoring the situation in Lebanon. I will continue posting my thoughts on it and commenting on how it affects us. I will continue praying for a quick resolution.

5 Comments:

  • Hello Mr. Frustrated Arab American,

    Likewise I am a Frustrated Arab/Lebanese Canadian. I've done a little reading on your blog. I think it's really great for one main reason: It's personal. It reads like a series or a story. I think we should definately talk. E-mail me at exeunteditorial@gmail.com, that way we can discuss some ideas as well as keep anonymity if you prefer.

    I will place a link to your site here as well as on The Thinking Lebanese (thethinkingleb.blogspot.com)

    Please feel free to link to us as well.

    I've added a new post with the submission guidelines.

    Hope to be receiving an e-mail from you soon. Thanks for your interest!

    Mohamad

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