July 20, 2003 - Salon: Is Beirut ready for tourism? Two journalists hit the ground in Lebanon to find out by Morocco RPCV Jessie Deeter

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: July 20, 2003 - Salon: Is Beirut ready for tourism? Two journalists hit the ground in Lebanon to find out by Morocco RPCV Jessie Deeter

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Is Beirut ready for tourism? Two journalists hit the ground in Lebanon to find out by Morocco RPCV Jessie Deeter

Is Beirut ready for tourism? Two journalists hit the ground in Lebanon to find out by Morocco RPCV Jessie Deeter

Caught in the crossfire

Is Beirut ready for tourism?
Two journalists hit the ground in Lebanon to find out.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Jessie Deeter and Anne Seng?s

Sept. 1, 1999 | Anne and Jessie were jogging along the corniche when the attacks began. It was around midnight, and the waves were breaking so hard on the jagged rocks a full story below them that water was spilling over onto the concrete under their feet. Usually brightly lit by streetlights, the sidewalk was dark and empty. As they splashed through the puddles, the women joked about how nice it was to jog freely for once, without having to wade through the usual crowd of small children learning to Rollerblade, families smoking the narghile pipe and young men and women strolling slowly along the seaside, trying to catch each other's attention.

They jogged past an empty, brand-new McDonald's, famous for its valet parking. The presence of military men with anti-aircraft guns pointing toward the sea should have tipped them off, but they seemed only a curiosity. After two weeks Jessie and Anne had grown used to the ubiquitous presence of men in camouflage. Welcome to Beirut, a city whose identity cannot be separated from its military occupation, as well as from the constant and quite friendly presence of soldiers guarding the city from some unwelcome visit.

That evening they were feeling good about themselves. After all, they were among the few Americans who were willing to spend some time in the infamous capital of Lebanon, a Beirut remembered by many as the evil place where some 300 Marines lost their lives in 1983.

"Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!" It sounded like fireworks at first, but then Jessie looked over into Hamra, the heart of West Beirut, and saw red balls in the sky. She grabbed Anne's hand and they ran into the one beachside restaurant that was still open. There was a small cluster of people down there, waiting for the shelling to stop. The two felt ridiculous and scared, ridiculous for jogging at midnight, scared because they had no real idea what the hell was going on.

"Nehafeesh!" Don't be afraid, a woman was scolding her daughter, who was crying with each new round of shells. Anne and Jessie bought water. The waiter brought them glasses, but they didn't drink much. During a lull, he took them upstairs and hailed one of the few taxis that was still on the streets. "They've all gone home to be with their families," he explained as the battered Mercedes pulled to the curb.

The taxi driver, a man in his 50s, voiced his opinion about the evening's activity. "Israel, airplanes, Lebanon, nothing." Jessie's limited Arabic couldn't get much more from him other than that something had happened at the airport and Lebanon hadn't started it. They passed a row of tanks winding their way slowly down a dark street. As the taxi headed into East Beirut, the presence of the troops was less noticeable and the streets were slightly more illuminated. Nonetheless, there was a power outage in their building, a boarding house for female students located in the upscale, primarily Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh in East Beirut.

Shanty, the Sri Lankan maid, gave them a candle, and they walked up the four flights of stairs to their apartment. Still sweaty from their jog, they plopped into bed because there was no water for showers. When they hadn't heard any noise for an hour, they tried to sleep -- only to be harshly awakened by the poppings a short while later. From their fourth-story windows they could see the red balls fired into the air, one after another. They seemed to be going directly over the apartment. "Get down!" yelled Jessie and they both rolled onto the floor. Now what? Anne and Jessie didn't know what proper siege protocol was, having never lived through a war. Shaking, they lifted their heads to watch the red missiles overhead. "Why did we come?" Anne asked herself, and then Jessie.

They had come in the spirit of discovery, wanting to report on a country that had been largely ignored by the American press since the end of an endless civil war. When friends and family had counseled them not to go because "it was too dangerous," they had shrugged and responded that that was precisely why they needed to go, because Americans still thought that Lebanon was a war zone. Now here they were, two weeks into their summer stay, being bombed. Or so they thought.

Just when they were getting used to the popping noise that accompanied the red flashes, their building was rocked by an astoundingly loud boom. The windows trembled. Jessie jumped over Anne's bed and found Anne flat on her back with a pillow covering her face and stomach. Deciding that it couldn't hurt, Jessie did the same. They lay in silence, then began to laugh hysterically. First one, then the other, went to the bathroom. Suddenly the cell phone chimed -- "do do da da do do do da da" -- the canned ringer sounding absurd in context.

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Story Source: Salon

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Morocco



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