Leaving Beirut

0 Posted by - September 25, 2012 - Lebanon, Life

Last week we left Beirut, about six weeks earlier than planned (we had planned six months).  That’s the main point.  We left and we’re safe and we were safe, but decided to leave anyway, under what we’re calling “An Abundance of Caution”.

After the US Embassy attacks and protests across the Middle East two weeks ago, we got a little spooked.  It wasn’t so much the protests themselves — they didn’t reach us in Beirut and a few people protesting in itself isn’t enough to have us leave anyway.  We had been in Egypt in 2011 after the regime fell and protests would break out at Tahrir square, but we felt relatively safe.  But this time, the protests were directed at Americans (never a good thing, when you are an American) and they happened so quickly, reminding us again that we shouldn’t take anything for granted especially in Beirut where there’s just a single road to the airport that routinely gets shut down during protests (which happened during our stay, for just one day) and Lebanon is bordered by war-torn Syria on two sides and a closed border to Israel on the other.  In 2006, US citizens had to be assisted out of Beirut because there was no other options for leaving the country.

Anyway, it’s safe as safe can be in Beirut, but we were spooked and we started to research, and when you’re talking about reading more deeply into the day-to-day political jibber jabber, it’s going to go something like this:

“I’m going to blow you up!”  One country (you know who you are)

“Nuh uh, I already have like a million people ready to blow YOU up, and you’re ugly.” The other country (yeah, real grown up)

Anyway, if you read Middle East news, especially politics, you can find this kind of posturing any day of the week.  Of course, it just so happened that this week, Israel was saying they didn’t need international approval to bomb Iran.  In turn, Iran implied that Hezbollah (headquartered in Beirut) and Hamas (Gaza strip) would bomb Israel off the face of the planet.  Settle down kids!

This is the thing about the Middle East:  everything is connected.  During Friday evening prayers, a Muslim religious leader talks about a little crackpot film from the US and that weekend in Tripoli, just 40 miles north of our house in Beirut, they burn down a KFC in protest.  Because when there’s no US Embassy nearby, what do you protest?  Oh that’s right, deep-fried fast food chicken.  Same-same.  I just love how the world sees Americans.  Ahem.  Meanwhile just south of us, Israel is threatening Iran, albeit obliquely, but within Beirut an armed militia is ready to step up if needed.  With rocket launchers.  Great.  Nothing happens in isolation.  If you live in the Middle East and follow current events, this kind of thinking will drive you crazy.  Or it’ll force you to leave.

We started talking about it with friends, trying to decide if we were over-reacting or not.  Then we just looked at each other and said:  ”What are we doing?”

I mean it’s not like we’re doing UN peacekeeping work here, or running an orphanage where dozens of children depend on us.  We’re travelers. We’re learning Arabic.  We like the city.  If you have to ask, “hey guys, do you think it’s safe to stay here?” then, maybe you already answered your question.  And not that I want to throw out the “we have a family” card — because believe me, people threw that at us when we decided to come here (of course they also did when we went to pretty much every country that’s not on the Carnival cruise route) but I don’t relish the idea of making an emergency exit while pregnant and with a toddler, when we could have left on our own terms.

So we just jumped.  There were so many details to work out, from our house to Arabic classes to letting the people involved with my book know, to telling our friends and family and so on.  We packed up, gave away everything to the church next door (thank you for the beautiful sounds of Sunday mass chanting, St Jacobs!) and nearly had a fist fight with our liar landlord who thought we couldn’t read Arabic well enough to see he had appended the contract in his favor (a little last-minute drama typical for us) and took a taxi to the airport.  Our car slowed at a checkpoint and we held our breath as they waved us on.  We did it, we made it out.  Even though we knew there was no immediate danger, it still felt like relief.

And just like that, a chapter was closed.  I think we made the right choice for us in that moment, and I am proud of us being willing to just go, when we got a whiff of it being unsafe, rather than being too stubborn or becoming complacent, thinking we could outsmart risk, just because we’d never been burned.  I don’t need to get burned, thank you very much.

Oh but then the pangs!  It all happened so quickly I haven’t processed any of it.  Good bye Beirut!  We loved you and we’ll be back.  We have unsettled business, my dear, and I’ll practice my Arabic every day.  Until next time!

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