A Side of Explosives with my Tea

November 17, 2015

We arrived in Lebanon one day after the tragic suicide bombing struck the South of Beirut. We had a long journey ahead of us and could not let the news of one attack stop us from the many positive experiences that were about to unfold.

Anticipating the upcoming honor of holding a constitutional workshop in the region and spending time at several refugee camps, we were focused on implementing art therapy workshops and taking on the humbling and heavy task of encouraging young girl survivors of rape from the opposition to push forward.

And then the shocking travesty in Paris took place. Suddenly the distress set in, becoming a nervous reality as the international community began to finally pay attention to the atrocities ISIS has been committing for far too long. We told ourselves that such tragedies are all the more reason to concentrate on our goals.

Yet, no matter how much you reassure yourself to keep your mind above the fear, and heart above the burdensome sadness, it inevitably engulfed us the moment we laid our feet on Lebanon’s soil.

The Lebanese are highly renowned for their rich and vibrant culture. A small yet breathtakingly beautiful country nestled within the Eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon is a place where celebrations continue even when they run out of occasions to celebrate. They eat well, drink well, live well.

This occasion, however, was not one to celebrate. As we gathered our luggage, a kind young man who worked at the airport, by the name of Erkan, assisted us. I asked him how the situation is with the most recent event that took place. His response displayed to me just how numb and accustomed to pain the people of the Middle East have become.

“Oh it was normal. I gathered about 6 bodies from the rummage including two of my dear friends. It’s a tragic waste of life, but nothing new here.” Erkan lived down the street from the site of the bombing. “There is still blood on my hands, but I had to get to work today.” He sighed with an almost sarcastic chuckle, then proceeded to escort us to our cab and wished us a peaceful stay.

There were no words I could provide to Erkan besides a dreadful “I am so sorry” that could ever capture how helpless I felt for both him and myself in that moment.

The melancholy mood continued throughout our cab ride. A very bright and shiekly dressed Youseff drove us to our destination. He too lived nearby the bombing and was quietly drinking tea on his patio when the terror struck. His quaint view of people walking around the alleys in front of him suddenly shifted to bodies blasting right into his yard from the force of the explosion.

Due to their geopolitical circumstances, and by way of simply living in a tough neighborhood, the Lebanese have often had to pay the price for the conflicts of their neighbors.

The Syrian refugee crisis has heavily impacted the country, with about 1.5 million who have fled to the land, according to UNHCR. With a population of only four million before the Syrian conflict began affecting Lebanon, the country has had varying opinions on the shifting societal dynamics and resource limitations.

In this case, though ISIS has taken responsibility for the recent attack, many are claiming that an internal refugee carried it out. Youseff shared an Arabic proverb reinforcing such growing distrust:

“When you plant a tree, as it grows it shall bear fruits on your behalf. But when you plant a human, as it grows, it shall seek to remove you in order for it to have space to thrive.”

Unity is an extremely difficult concept for the region, as individuals and groups continue to increase in their suspicions towards one another.

Nobody knows who to trust. And when I personally began to feel the same anxiety the locals often feel on the daily, with any sudden noises causing you to react with a readiness for the worst case scenario, I started to understand how such division could manifest.

Yet, when I saw the same beautiful little girl approach me multiple times throughout the day begging me to buy a box of tissues from her, instead of spending time at school or with her family, or the grandmother who chased down our taxi cab crying and begging us for anything we could scrap out of our wallets, I also took note of how delicately complicated this refugee crisis is.

The young girl could have been anyone’s daughter. The grandmother, perhaps a maternal figure to so many. Yet there they were, bound to the streets of a land that was not their own.

One thing is for certain, nobody anticipates a side of explosives with their tea.