Sunday, July 16, 2006

July 15, 2006

Last night I was planning on staying in my apartment off-campus since we had power. But a series of way-too-close-explosions made me feel I'd rather stay on campus, since at least there I won't be totally alone. Since my roommate was gone for the night, I saw no compelling reason to stay in that large, lonely apartment. Instead, I packed what I needed to spend the night on campus and walked the few blocks to AUB campus. Except for a couple of explosions somewhat close, the evening was fairly quiet in my part of Beirut. I even got to sleep till late morning with no interruptions.

The day started out calmly in Beirut, even if I understand it didn't in southern Lebanon; it was the bloodiest day so far in terms of civilian casualties. The afternoon would prove itself dramatic for me as well. It started with a series of bombs going off when I was having lunch at my new hangout al-Kahwa on Bliss Street. It has become my hangout simply because it is nearby, always has air-conditioning running, and the TV is tuned to al-Jazeera so that you can stay somewhat updated on the situation.

Later on I was walking through the AUB campus, which has played such an important part in my personal life ever since the first day I came here as a visiting undergraduate student in 2000. Since then I've returned as a visiting graduate student, and then as a plain visitor many, many times. I sat on my favorite bench, overlooking the Mediterranean, and thought about what an absurd feeling it was to sit in the same spot where you have experienced the best days of your life, and suddenly have the peace disturbed by explosions that make the earth vibrate. You only hear the fighter jets after they leave their cargo, never before.

I have also discovered that "safe" is a relative term. People write, text message, and call to ask me if I'm "safe." Well, I don't expect to die here, but I hardly consider constant bombardment from Israeli fighter jets and war ships a safe environment! This afternoon, I was in my newly acquired room on campus and I heard the roaring sound of a fighter jet diving. Next was a whisteling sound and a loud boom very close by.

I go outside and notice excitement among the residents of the dorms: a huge crater had been formed in the artificial lawn of the International College's soccer field, right in front of my building. It wasn't a missile armed with explosives, however, but flyers, explaining how the "national resistance" is dragging Lebanon into this misery. In case the written message was difficult to understand, there was also a drawing of people suffering from smoke and explosions, as Hassan Nasrallah sits safely with a gas mask underground.

An hour or so later, I'm on my balcony on the seventh floor, looking out over the Mediterranean when I see an Israeli warship in the distance. It was quite a tiny ship, I thought, not at all the size I would expect. Well, that tiny ship had quite a stinger, I have to say! Just a few seconds after I take a picture of the distant ship, it opens fire. A huge boom, followed by a whistling sound over my head, followed by an even louder boom somewhere on the other side of me told me I might not want to be on the seventh floor at that specific moment!

So just in time for the next boom, I go down to the ground floor (by stairs, mind you, not elevator this time!) where I feel - perhaps mistakenly so - "safe." Anyways, after last night's bombardment, I'm not reacting quite as badly to the bombs anymore. They were more a nuisance along with the mosquitoes last night; the Israelis and the mosquitoes were allies in the quest to keep me awake last night. But then again, that's because I'm sleeping on AUB campus; every explosion that pulls me out of my sleep is tearing humans apart somewhere else in the city. It's a chilling thought and it is one that keeps me awake more than any bombs or mosquitoes.


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