Letter from Lebanon – sent by local

July 21, 2006

From Edward Acevedo given to me by his aunt

        After much thought and thorough consideration, I decided that the US State Department’s evacuation plan looked like it had been written by a 5 year-old with a crayon. Unless I wanted to be stuck in Lebanon until The Simpsons is cancelled, I therefore decided to exercise the ‘Self-Evacuation Option’.

        I quickly said my goodbyes to the hotel owners and my new friends in the beautiful Kadisha Valley in northern Lebanon . This is where I have spent the past week and it is one of the very best destinations I have had the pleasure to visit. It is probably the safest part of the country.

       Even during the civil war, there was no danger in that area. I accepted an offer to ride back to Beirut with a family who was going to pick up some clothes and household items. Most people of means are leaving Beirut and the coastal cities, and heading for the mountains.

       My evacuation plan consisted of me hugging the legs of various unshaven Syria-bound taxi drivers at the Beirut bus station, wailing like a clubbed baby seal, and waving a handful of 50s in the air. It worked. The fare used to be $10, but even a cheap bastard like me was grateful to spend $150 for a seat in a lemon yellow 1970 Dodge Cornet.

        Taxi companies throughout the Middle East have fleets of hundreds of these things as well as pre-historic Chevy Novas and Impalas. I have no idea where they got them all from; all lemon yellow, all of them being driven by guys who looked like they haven’t slept for a week, none of them with seat belts.

        In one of the travel brochures, I read that about the only driving rule in Lebanon is that people have ‘generally agreed to drive on the right side of the road’. I can confirm that this is indeed about the only rule that Lebanese drivers seem to follow.

         I shared the five hour ride from Beirut to Damascus with two Lebanese passengers who spent the whole time shouting into their mobile phones, and from there took a bus to Amman, Jordan. I won’t scare anybody by saying what I saw on the road from Beirut to the Syrian border.

         The Syrian border (normally a place where I like to spend as little time as possible) was actually fairly pleasant. Never thought I’d breathe a sigh of relief to reach it, but I guess it’s just a sign of the crazy times we live in. Good snack bar too. The Syrians are being extremely lax about letting people into and out of their country. Osama Bin Laden, Pee Wee Herman, and Rainman would have gotten across without any eyebrows being raised.

         Well, I am back safely in Amman after my long day on the road. And I did the whole thing while wearing an obnoxious fluorescent blue bathing suit and a t-shirt. Amman , a mediocre city which will never win any beauty contests, looks so good I could eat it.

         On a serious note, I am sad for all the good people I met in Lebanon who will have to get through this whole mess and put the pieces back together later. They seem to be stoic about what’s happening. “We’ve been here before”, they shrugged.

        A few even thought that maybe some good will somehow come out of all this, but none of them deny the challenges and uncertainties they will soon be facing. If things keep up and unless they can get some aid into the country, within a week or two there could be serious shortages of food and medicine, resulting in a large humanitarian crisis. I hope I am wrong.

        Just a few short weeks ago, Lebanon looked like it was finally turning a corner and beginning to prosper. The recent events have erased the last 15 years of progress and who knows how long it will take for things to get back to normal – whatever that is in the Middle East .    

        I hope that all sides can control their anger long enough to consider the plight of innocent civilians in Lebanon , Israel , and elsewhere, who are caught in the crossfire during these troubled times.


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