Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Oil Spill


Thank you

The general feeling around?
The ceasefire will not last and we are due for even worse fighting and bombing….
Are we naturally pessimistic? No….we would not have survived our civil war if this was the case. No….I think it is in the nature of politics here now…this atmosphere…
All 'seems' well now.
People are beginning to live again…and try to get back to a normal routine….doing the things they used to do.
But it is an act because they feel they are living on borrowed time. There is electricity, water, fuel and food but for how long? And this is the problem…for how long? Everything is for how long….
And now…
Now what do we do if they decide they need to fight some more?
Which is what they are all itching for…believe me…
Everything is unstable…
No…no….life is not normal and it will not be for a long time.
This is really borrowed time.
But borrowed from who?
Live now because in a month's time it will all return. This is the talk around Beirut.
If I was a betting person I would place a bet on September…the end of September….that way…they would have all rested and thought about their next move…plus the sun would not be as strong….August is way too humid and hot. Good weather, after all, is conducive to good fighting right? Did I just make that up….yes….yes I did.
What? What did you say? Think about the Lebanese population? What? Are you stupid? What population? We will use them and abuse them and then tell them this is all for their own good…We will all fight our little proxy wars here…destroy people's hard work and make them emigrate…then to boot…we find ways to still argue with each other like school children.
Thank you…thank you all…all politicians of the world….for what you have done…and not done…..I thank you ….it is so kind of you…and of course…my thanks go out to all the politicians of my country…who are acting with such childishness and inanity…but of course… my real thanks go to our minister of the environment because he cares so much about his country and his environment that he decided to go on holiday for a few days in the middle of the biggest environmental disaster this country has ever had and he decided to stop people who want to clean up the beaches from actually cleaning up…. yes…yes… you see if we take the polluted oil off the beaches (which is what we should do) we would in fact be stealing the sand which is a crime that could get us in jail…yes yes…you might be wondering why…well I am sure on some level money plays a point and I am sure there is no way he can make money from a bunch of volunteers cleaning…
Do I sound sarcastic?...no…no way…what are you talking about?…no way…sarcasm? Me?…I am simply…simply….raging…because there is no longer anything else we can do….they are all still bombing us…but in different ways that is all…..

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Beautiful Port

A thick stench of oil, heavy in the stagnant stifling air of August.
As I approached the small port, the Dalieh port, I heard the sound of shouting. I couldn’t actually hear what he was saying and I thought it was someone angry that we were in the area. As I got closer I realized it was a fisherman screaming his head off.

‘Where is the government? Where are they? What do we do? We have been unable to fish for the past three weeks. They give food to all the refugees but who will feed us now? Who cares about us?’

He was a tall well-built man with white hair and a strong Beiruti accent. Abou Othman has been a fisherman all his life. His life was the sea. And now it had been taken away.

As I looked at the scene around me I was amazed at the extent of the damage. This small port is tucked away near Rouche. It is very small and can easily be missed as it lies below a short cliff face. One has to descend by stairs to reach the port level. The site of the port today was depressing. A whole fleet of beautiful small fishing boats, known locally as ‘Flukas’, had oil-covered hulls and the beauty of the brightly painted boats was lost underneath dirty black and the once clear blue water was now black and viscous. The ropes of the boats were all covered with oil as well and all I could think was ‘Oh my God, how will this ever be cleaned'. One of the boats had a Lebanese flag attached to it. I watched it flutter for an endless moment.

Abou Othman had watched the oil slowly make its way into the inlet three weeks ago. He waited, day after day, watching the oil get thicker and thicker. He waited for the government to send someone to clean it. And he waited and waited. There was nothing he could do but watch, and as he watched his country being bombed he watched his livelihood slipping away too. I discovered from him that a few courageous fishermen had braved the Israeli bombing to go out to sea and fish, but all they had achieved for their efforts was an oil-destroyed net and an oil-polluted boat.

‘We cannot go out in our boats to fish because we are scared the Israelis will bomb us, even if we do fish who will buy the fish? Who will eat it? They will all think it is deadly and poisonous now…’ continued Abou Othman.

I found myself nodding helplessly because deep down I knew that the government, or the ministry of environment or anyone would not help him. The problem is that he is a poor fisherman with no marketing pull. He is not a big hotel with endless resources. He is not a big shot politician who has bought part of the coast. He is just an old fisherman who wanted to fish, fix his nets and live peacefully by the sea. You should hear the stories he can tell...about how certain things got their names...about myths and dreams of the sea...the knowledge he has about the sea is astounding...its wildlife...and its temperament...everything.

As I left, walking up the stairs, I saw an old man sitting in a house close to the port. The smell of the oil had filled the house.
I asked him, ‘Why are you sitting inside this house sir? This smell is toxic, move to somewhere far away from this smell.’
He replied sadly, ‘I have nowhere else to go…’

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Closing Joke

I was coming down from the mountains yesterday and at the turning where the whole of Beirut can be seen there was all these cars parked with lots of people. I didn't understand what had happened and I thought there had been some sort of accident. As I got nearer I realized that they were all watching the Dahieh district of Beirut being bombed. At this turning in the road we can see all the buildings of Beirut stretching from the airport in the south until the port in the north to the sea in the distance with the Dahieh ditrict in the middle. Today it was a site. All these people just watching their capital being bombed. Like tourists watching some sort of show. But there was no emotion…no clapping at extra big bombs...no laughter…just silence…and watching.Their cars parked on the side. And they were all sitting on the concrete embankment. The mushroom clouds would rise and remain rising as if in slow motion. they would expand and grow and then dissipate. Each bomb took about 15 minutes to disappear.
It was all a bit surreal.
Then the finale.
The closing joke.
The punchline.
A ceasefire.
I would like to remind you that the siege of Lebanon is still on going by air and sea. The Hizb have refused to disarm. My best friend has decided to remain in Dubai. So she will live there from now on. The coast will remain black because I have no faith in the municipalities that they will clean it. I had a fight with a good friend and now we are not talking. The fuel that is being used to fill cars is 90 octane from Syria. The worst. Actually more sand than fuel which clogs up the engines. And I was reminded today that all the pollution will eventually make its way into underground water aquifers. And I give it days not weeks and it will all flare up again.
So what is the positive in all this?
No caves have been destroyed yet. The phones still work so I can call international. I have discovered that the cinemas in ABC are open. We might get a good night's sleep tonight. We might begin the oil clean-up on Wednesday. Some refugees have returned to their homes. But my car still has no petrol.
All in all...better than many other countries.
To date.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No More Car

Last night I drove through the dark streets of Beirut. All the streetlights were off. But there was a full moon. It was a little eerie. I had gotten used to the lights always being on. But I thought that this is one of the clever measures that have been taken. Do not use electricity for unwanted items and it will last longer for the houses and people. Good move. Always see the positive right?

I refuse to stand in line to fill up my car. I will not. This is my own private war. I will not allow myself to do this. No way. I will walk...use my bicycle but no way will I wait an hour and a half to fill my car with fuel. So this is good, I have no energy to actually do excercise and this is forcing me to. Always see the positive right?

Explain to me how one does not get bitter? I do not understand. When I see what my country has become...and when I see corruption still rampant... And when I see no men with balls who can get us out of this situation. How should I feel? Imagine it yourself. A constant bully. Always around. Always taunting you. Once, twice...and some more...and then? what is the breaking point? When do you finally say....enough. Either you walk away or you fight back right? What else is there? Conversing. You and I both know that no one ever changes. So it seems we are in this for a long haul. We had hoped for a second it would not be, but we should have known better. Where is the positive in that?

And what really worries me is what comes after. After the ceasefire...after it all ends. Will the scars be too deep to heal.I feel we are running up a hill and everytime we reach a certain point we slide back down with nothing to hold on to to stop the descent. Where is the positive in that?

It has been a month now.
And I find I have nothing left to say.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My prime minister cried...

My prime minister cried yesterday. He was giving a speech to the Arabs and he choked on his words and tears rolled down his cheek. This was the second time. The first was a few weeks ago while he was saying 'Lebanon will remain...lebanon will remain'...

How does one feel sitting at home...watching a seasoned politician cry?
Do we loose hope or gain hope?

I have never in the history of any country seen a politician cry over his country. I know I have not seen all the speeches made in all countries ...but watching the prime minister of my country cry...no matter what anyone says...even if some think they are crocodile tears...I do not care...there is something there...he cried in front of all of us...on TV...he was giving a speech and he stopped...trying to control it...and then he realised that he wouldn't be able to...it is a very difficult thing to see a grown man cry...let alone a politician...

I do not care about the sceptics out there.
This man cried for Lebanon.
For what has happened to Lebanon.
And he deserves some respect.
Not necessarily political respect (each has their opinion on this...).
But just respect because he showed us that he is like everyone else, human afterall and emotional.
He deserves some respect.
As does Lebanon.

Honour is a word long lost.
As is nobility.
We might regain their use someday.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I woke up

I woke up to the sound of a strong wind.
It is a strange sound to explain.
It kept getting louder and louder.
But this was no wind.
The sound of the F-16s as they approach is like one single gust of wind.
Only a lot louder. And louder. And louder.
And then.
This was a lot closer to me than anything they had bombed before.
I switched the TV on thinking I was lucky that we had electricity.
This area was a few minutes away from my house by car.
Then the wind again.
I thought of all those poor people under the fire.
I could see the fires but it was too dark to see the smoke.
Do you think they bomb at night so the TV's will be unable to really show how bad it is? Just a thought.
I stood on my balcony looking up. Trying to see. To find them.
Do you know when you sit next to a speaker in a club and its sound makes your heart beat at the same rhythm? This is how it felt.
More deaths.
More refugees.
More livelihoods lost.
No sleep tonight.
The sound intermingled with the call for morning prayer.
And then it stopped.
And I drifted back to sleep feeling lucky that I was sleeping in my own house.
And what is the worst feeling in the world?
When you wake up in the morning...and think twice about switching the TV on...because you do not want to see how bad it really was last night.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

New heroes

For all of you who probably have no idea how ordinary people here are helping the refugees I will explain.
I think it is very important.
It all began when I got a message from a friend of my sister's...he said he needed help because he had 'two schools' he was sending food to and he needed volunteers to help pack the bags and take them to the school.
I had no idea what he meant by 'two schools'…
So I went.
Not really knowing what I was going to do.
I entered this 'center' that consisted of a series of rooms. There were bags lying everywhere and someone said ...'put two tuna cans into each bag'...so i did and that is how it all started...
In the first week of the war we had about 400 bags to fill up with whatever was bought that day with donated money. i liked that this center had no affiliation to any political group, religion or culture. The 'center' is an educational center which was used for children's after school activities. Now it is filled with boxes and boxes of different kinds of food. Bread is always important but mostly it is canned food such as tuna, meat, peas or cheese. On good days the kids got chips and sweets. We fill smaller bags of tea, milk and sugar. We sort diapers according to size and milk and baby food. All in all each family of six gets one bag. We would spend hours filling these bags.

A few of the people helping I knew already...most I didn't but got to know. And the environment is truly great. We don't really have long conversations...just sit...fill...laugh a lot about nothing in particular... work systematically...and we know, at least, that we were doing something to help all these refugees…actually for me it is a way to keep sane…

No one really talks about the war...we all know the news so why repeat it...once in a while someone would come in and tell us some current news that had taken place...but all in all...it was the standard...what is your name?...what do you do?...etc etc etc...The nice thing about it all is the mix of people.Friends call friends. The women who ran the education centre, the housewives who call their other housewife friends to come and help, the university students who suddenly found themselves without classes, the people with jobs who came after work, the mothers who brought their children to help, the refugee teenagers who found something to do with all their spare time…I can go on and on. But the important thing is it is truly what Lebanon is, a mixture of people and cultures; Old, young, from all corners of Lebanon…from cities or rural areas. Everything.

One boy…'Superman' I called him…because to every bag I carried he carried four….he told us they had remained in their village in the South for twelve days…under the shelling…and then they decided to leave... he said in those twelve days…everyday they said 'this was the last day and tomorrow it will stop'…he said it was worse than anything he had ever seen….these young men…what can I tell you about them?…they are timid…they work very hard…never really speak a lot…but they never stop until the task is finished…they do not take offers of an ice-cream or Pepsi from us easily….we have to physically put it in their hands for them to accept it…you feel their pride…

Yesterday I went and it was different.
The number of bags we had to fill was 1000.
Multiply that by six.
That is 6000 people.
And we were filling bags for a week's food supply.
It was heavy work yesterday.
We filled the bags with pasta, peas, lentils, milk, burghul, bread, rice among many other things. You see most of the families we discovered had stoves so they could cook. So the strategy was changed to accommodate this fact. And the bags were really heavy and big this time. Everytime I saw one of the bags, filled, tied up…I remembered Santa Claus for some reason…it is stupid I know…

And we were no longer giving schools as the welfare of the government had kicked in and was helping the schools. The problem was with all the people living in normal buildings. A flat here, a flat there…and no one really knew where they were or the conditions they lived in. It is truly heart wrenching to go to these places when we delivered their bags and hear their offers to us of 'stay…have a cup of coffee with us'…and we knew they had nothing but they still were generous and typically Lebanese with their offers…the first time I went to deliver the bags…it was hard…I tell you…I am not one of those naturally eloquent people…and I do find it hard to say the right things….but in these situations…I found…nothing needs to be said really…you see it in their eyes…in the children's eyes mostly…

I cannot tell you how much in awe I am of the people who run this center where I volunteer….they get the money (donated)…decide what to buy…go and get the food….help pack….the person running it all has opened his house which is above the center to the 'baby unit'….his mother cooks us sandwiches...invites us to lunch… but it is hard…and hard to sustain and I hope they hang on….Something should be done for all these people....really...i have no idea what...but everyone in this center and all the others around Beirut and Lebanon helping...doing...running around...trying to make life a little more bearable for people who are less fortunate in this crisis...I do not know...after all this is over...but I am sure they will end up saying...'I didn't do it for any recognition'....

What else can I say? In the past three weeks I have seen people who have decided to put their lives on hold to help and people who have decided to continue their lives like nothing has changed. And I keep wondering… which is better?...the semblence of keeping the same routine...or the acceptance that, for a while at least, things are different...maybe I shouldn't ask this question…but you see…I cannot help but think about it...
I guess I already have the answer...and as always..…the answer is simple….