I arrived in Beirut late last night around 11PM. The Beirut airport has only one runway that is open and operational and only two airlines are allowed to fly here right now, Middle East Airlines (Lebanon’s national airline) and Royal Jordanian. All flights, for now, seem to have to pass through Amman first. Since we landed late at night I couldn’t really see anything, but I could get a sense of how quiet the airport and everything else was. Most of the people on the plane with me were Lebanese who either fled during the Israeli invasion or happened to be out of the country when the bombing began and were only now returning home.
The city streets, like the airport, were also eerily quiet. Especially so for a Saturday night. Along the road between the airport and downtown Beirut were billboards with large photographs from the war and with slogans on them such as “extremely accurate targets” or “the divine victory.”
Aside from the quiet and calm Beirut, at least in the upscale area of Hamra where I’m staying, seems to be somewhat normal. Things like electricity and water seem to be running fairly smoothly, though I know this is not true everywhere. The hotel where I’m staying for a few days until my apartment is ready is particularly quiet. I stayed here before, when I came for my job interview, and it was hustling and bustling. Now it seems empty except for a few reporters I noticed in the lobby. I was the only one at the complimentary buffet breakfast this morning, for instance.
I hired a taxi this morning to see some of the damage and to get a sense of its proximity to the rest of the city that I’m familiar with. My driver took me to the suburb of Al-Dahiya, which is home to thousands of poor Lebanese people. It’s also close to the Shatila refugee camp where Israel’s notorious massacre took place in 1982. Here, too, it was very quiet. There were Lebanese soldiers everywhere–stationed on the street at various intersections, on Jeeps. Laborers sat on the sidewalks lining the streets waiting and looking for work. It was also extremely quiet there. You could hear sounds of rebuilding taking place, but that is about it. You could also smell decaying bodies and many people wore masks over their nose and mouth to protect themselves from the stench. All of the destruction I saw was to apartment buildings and the small businesses on the first floors of these buildings. You could peer inside to the remnants of these buildings and see what’s left of the homes, as in the picture here. It was heartbreaking to say the least and yet amazing to see that rebuilding was already taking place–both the clearing away of rubble as well as the actual rebuilding of some structures.
This is just my first glimpse of the devastation from the war. Tomorrow I will begin work with Samidoun. I brought with me a box full of baby formula because women here who have been traumatized from the war have lost their breast milk. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. I’m looking forward to helping with aid work. For those who want to help you can check out Samidoun’s website to see how to donate money and much needed supplies.