Car Bomb

A car bomb went off at about 3 pm Friday. It sounds exactly like you think it would.

Do I know where it happened? Of course, it’s right by the apartment I’m moving into on Friday. It’s about a mile away from my school but the sound was still LOUD.

I was walking with one of my professors to the French school where we have overflow classes when I heard it. I assumed, like all the loud sounds that go on daily in Beirut, that it was construction or something else that I shouldn’t worry about. He assured me that it wasn’t and soon we could see a large plume of smoke rising not too far away.

It’s been strange watching how people have reacted to this. My professor was pensive but not panicy. We stood with others watching the smoke, each person asking each other and calling their friends to try to understand what was going on? Once someone was able to get report from a car radio everyone seemed weirdly comforted.

It was one of the worst times to not be that good at Arabic. People seemed to be saying “well, it was only a car bomb” and I was like, how is this reassuring?? All I wanted was for my professor to tell me how I was supposed to react to this. Should I see it as normal? Should I be running and hiding? Why are we still going to this French school to keep studying like nothing’s just happened? Instead he would both continue with the lesson as normal and say that he thought this was the beginning of the Syrian war spilling over. I asked him what I should do, what he would do. “If another bomb goes off, I will leave to my village. If not, I will keep teaching.” All the while I was struck with both the image of a teacher we’d passed look of horror at hearing the news and the fact that all the little kids kept playing soccer at the school throughout the event.

This scene of normalcy seemed shocking at first but it increasingly makes sense. I kept thinking, “where are these kids parents? Shouldn’t the school be on lockdown or something?” but then I remembered that, back when 9/11 happened, I didn’t stay home, I went to school and my parents went to work in a big building in a big city just like the one that was just attacked that day. Sure, nothing was normal, and the event was all that we talked about, but we didn’t go home and hide and neither did the Lebanese.

That being said, given that the last two days have been days of mourning, many shops have been closed. I’ve generally heeded the warnings of my program and the state department and kept inside most of the day. I think it would have been cool to have gone to the memorial service Saturday night or even to the burial today (even if it eventually spawned off into a protest march/assault on the governmental headquarters) but, having promised my mother that I wouldn’t go to protests in the Middle East, stayed home. In some ways, this is less scary than 9/11 because then it was Americans who were targets, now it’s Lebanese politicians (of which I am not one). However, it feels more real in part because it’s closer and in part because it could spin out into sectarian conflict that is very close and could become very not safe, even if I’m not a direct target.

The students in my program who I’ve talked to are divided on this issue. Some seem completely convinced that shit is going to go down and are ready to leave the country. Others are determined to keep on as normal, to not let something like this disrupt how we carry out our everyday lives and seem almost naive about going out and doing things.

I’m somewhere in the middle. As I said before, I’ve spent most of the weekend cautiously inside. However, I plan to go to class tomorrow and keep going to class and whatnot as long as things don’t get worse. If they do, I’ll see what to do. I’m going to stay clear of downtown and of Shia areas (where Hizbollah militias are out in force to, understandably, protect against reprisal attacks) but I’m tired of staying stuck inside. I think part of me would like to see history being made by going to the front of what’s happening but I have to think of all the people who are worried about me at home and how I shouldn’t add to their worries.

I promised people I’d stay so long as shit wasn’t going down. Despite all this, I generally feel safe. If I don’t, I’ll leave.

Aside

Return of the Lebanon

After four months away from Arabic study and life in an Arab country (Morocco) and after eight months away from the Levant I have RETURNED

returned to Beirut, my favorite city in my favorite country visited last go round (which seems to have lost much of the romance it once did)

returned to felafel, hummus, and a myriad other chickpea products sold on every other street corner (I swear they use hummus instead of mortar in half the buildings here it’s so plentiful)

returned to car horns, taxi driver

s shouting to each other (and complaining about the experience to their less then willing passengers), and traffic that seems stupidly congested even to an Angeleno (at least LA is sprawling, this city is too dense to justify such car ownership. Where’s the crazy eccentric billionaire who will create the Beirut light rail??)

returned to the smell of the Middle East: car exhaust, fruit-flavored hookah smoke, and cardamon-flavored coffee (and some sort of house cleaner that makes half the apartments here smell like those in Jordan and even Morocco)

returned to the land of extreme generosity of locals towards strangers (in particular, Manal and Maysal, the wonderful Lebanese ladies who, on the advice of my good friend Alexandra, have taken me into their apartment for a few nights while I try hopelessly to find an apartment)

The Rafik Hariri mosque viewed from Martyr’s Square

returned to Arabic, the hardest language in the world (actually, I think Chinese may be harder, what with its tones, and I haven’t actually started Arabic yet beyond a few conversations here and there. I will be studying for the next 9 months at the French Institute for Oriental Studies)

I’m confused, disoriented, culture-shocked, jetlagged, homesick, soon-to-be homeless/broke, and in a continual state of doubt over my future/why on earth I wanted to live in this crazy place and study its incomprehensible language but I think that, despite all this, I will do well here and learn lots. I’ve already met and reunited with some amazing people and I’m sure there are many more to come. If nothing else, I promise to come home a little older, wiser, and with great stories to tell.

 

 

Just remember, the number of people killed by terrorists each year is minimal, the number who die from complications resulting from too much car exhaust is probably staggering. Why can’t we have a war on that???