I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.
While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.
I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.
Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.
20 July 2006
Before we left to be evacuated that day, I remember standing and holding each our friends in a tight embrace and whispering, “I love you,” into their ear. We concluded what we then thought would be the last time of meeting in the common room in which we were gathering for meetings, worship and games. The children did not want to leave their friends. Gideon especially preferred having Edmond’s wife, Roberta, holding him to Kimarie and me.
Denis drove us all the way down to the port of Beirut and asked direction of many people along the way, with much confusion about where we needed to go. We saw the British gathering point, and passed by it, making several wrong turns before following a few crowded buses into the port area, where we had once been guests of Operation Mobilization aboard the Logos II.
This had been the correct place to gather the day before, but the Canadians were now assembling there. We were turned away and told to go further south toward a massive balloon flying in the air, but nobody knew for sure where the Americans had relocated to.
We returned to the port entrance and finally got a definitive answer. The staging area was at an overpass very close to the Spinneys grocery store below the US embassy.
Thankfully, there was a grey haze that morning, which kept the heat down, which was pretty miraculous for July in Beirut. The cloud cover was mostly caused by residual smoke from the bombings.
The barricades that they had available to keep people in line were woefully inadequate, even for US standards, but impossible for funnel‐lined Lebanese expectations. The razor‐wire was much too close to the people and children were being pressed close to it by the maneuverings of the crowd.
We learned that many of the people that were there had arrived as early as 6:00 AM. Some had been sent appointments to be there by email. We wondered if we would be let in without one, as we had not yet received anything. The guards at the entrance dubiously allowed us in to “give it a try.”
About 90% of the people who waited for evacuation were Lebanese‐American – folks who were Lebanese born holders of US passports. Many of them had been on vacation, visiting their families in Beirut for the summer months. Most of them had brought their entire massive luggage with them, and were being pushy and aggressive.
There were thousands of people strewn up and down the road in four rows, lining the edges and median of an abandoned highway. Port‐o‐potties had been provided on one side, but were leaking blue liquid out onto the sidewalk where children were liable to be walking/crawling.
Our kids were hot and bored. Naomi decided to explore, so I walked around with her, picking paths through the luggage and looking at babies. She kept begging morsels of food from people around us that were eating anything that looked appetizing to her. I came back to find Kimarie chatting with a neighboring sidewalk‐squatter and Gideon eating a cigarette butt.
The lady that Kimarie talked to had been there since 6:00 AM, and was without her husband or anyone else. She pushed a double‐stroller holding her two children, and she looked pale and sickly. She volunteered the information that her baby son was allergic to regular formula and she had run out of his special kind that was unavailable in Beirut. She was really praying to get on a boat that day, but was admittedly pessimistic.
We also met up with some other Caucasian Americans. I was having a hard time with reduced‐stamina and moving from line to line, so when the wife of one of the couples wanted to discuss the spiritual significance of the latest events, I made any excuse to get away from her and avoid the discussion. It was too much to bear the moment’s stress, much less sort out why God could be allowing it to happen.
I saw Mr. Red Shirt, who was the official in charge. He walked by, within range, and I managed to point out the lady by herself with two kids. I told him that he should make sure she got on a boat today. He gave me kind of a blank, haunted look and kept on walking.
The vouchers we received after being turned away, were simply colored carbon copies of the embassy’s evacuation form. The officials gave out any of the colored copies, but not the white ones. We were required to have all of our bags and people in a group, filing through a line to get them. They wanted to make sure that only one voucher was being issued for each person and that there weren’t any extras being distributed. Most people couldn’t see the reason for this extra requirement of all the women and children at the end of the day, but I realized how valuable those vouchers would be to sell to other hopeful evacuees that wouldn’t have to wait in line the next day…
We made our way back out onto the top of the overpass where many people were being picked up, and called Denis to come and get us. I told Kimarie that Denis wanted to pick us up past the cars on the off‐ramp, but she misunderstood and walked all the way to the end of it. I had loaned my cell phone to a guy who needed to call a relative to give him a ride, and she had put some distance between us by the time I got it back. I shouted myself hoarse trying to get her to stop, but I was too far away to be heard.
The bags and the children had become very heavy to me after picking them up and putting them down and shuffling through lines. It was to be a burden that would get worse over the next several days.
In the end, we were never able to use the vouchers to any benefit. By the time we returned and began our own processing, the system had been refined and improved, but was first-come, first‐served.