My suspicion is that none of the faculty members we met at Lebanese American University expected us to keep in touch. Some of us outsiders—who traveled from work or study in the US, Germany, Greece, Turkey, and Brazil—have certainly made the effort. It’s so hard though, isn’t it? We return to lives consumed with local preoccupations: everyone is just a bit too busy, how could we manage to do more than we already are?
One reason that I haven’t let the connections go is because I felt fear and had to figure out how to manage it. My own little weirdnesses of coping put me on alert for observing what qualifies as normal courage, what decisions might be reckless, and which of my worries completely ridiculous? On the bus to Byblos the one Saturday we traveled for tourism, only one person responded when I mentioned having been afraid. “We all were,” she said, gesturing to a couple of other conference participants. She put it in the past tense, reflecting how relaxed we had become after three days of conferencing. The alarmist US State Department advisory to Americans traveling to Lebanon is Don’t Go. That had rattled me a fair bit, and then there were my friends who kept saying I needed to tell people I was Canadian and “don’t show anyone your US passport!”
That sunny tourist Saturday, as we returned from a successful day of sightseeing, shopping, and eating – “something happened” on the northern border with Syria. It did not affect us. We all flew away, back home or on vacation . . . a few days later (May 21) a disturbing message popped up on Facebook: “Syrian Embassy calls on its nationals not to go to Lebanon because of security.” I had barely gotten over jet lag. Two days later: “A very “hot” night on twitter (and on the streets outside). Tires, gunshots, grenades, B7s, w Farrouj Mishwi with Kabees & Toom Extra la Hass Ghaddar special.” A blog entry announced:
“It would be nice to wake up in the morning and
not be worried that
today, we could be dragged into a war.
Yes, it would be nice.”
I checked in with The Ringleader (a nickname). She was holed up with her family, packed and ready to head to the mountains if necessary. A few days later, she was caught in town for some hours listening to nearby gunfire. In a Facebook chat I said:
“I started reading a book about the civil war last night, do you know it? Bye Bye Babylon http://randajarrar.com/2012/02/09/lamia-ziades-bye-bye-babylon/
I thought of you….
didn’t make it very far yet, the drawings are powerful”
“Yes,” she replied.
“I sell it at work to all the foreigners simply because it speaks the truth
never really finished it
t’was too heartbreaking”
Yet there she is, challenging and teasing her friends on Facebook, carrying on a more-or-less ‘normal’ life. Another friend likewise posted a mix of her usual Facebook fare interspersed with information and commentary on the situation as it developed. So, there you have it. In the face of fear, act normal. Stay calm. Model respect and poke fun at violators of peace. I suppose I did alright. I was anxious the 24 hours or so before leaving the US to fly there, and had a very rough emotional spell a day or two after returning unharmed: relief, I imagine. While there, I overtipped one of the hotel’s drivers because I was getting paranoid about him scowling at me – his grin was amazing! I also woke in the middle of the night once and unpublished all my previous Dialogue Under Occupation blogposts about Palestine and Israel (republishing them a few days later). I accepted rings spontaneously gifted from the person who wore them and was agreeable to living a bit over the top in order to enlarge the spirit of generosity and hope.
Now, if we could just keep growing it…