Safe at home, but forever changed

first_imgI recall hearing a bombing during one sleepless night: As a plane flew over our home about 3:30 a.m., the Muslim public call for the prayer began for the community to hear. The religious leader never paused in his delivery of the ritual prayer – even as the explosion echoed across the mountains. I was reminded of concerns from family and friends in the U.S. who warned me to be careful and how I worked hard to dispel fears about my monthlong travel to Lebanon. Since 1998, I’ve traveled there five times. I would quell people’s concerns with the usual words: “Don’t worry, all’s calm now in Beirut. Lebanon is actually a beautiful country with hospitable, warm people who welcome Americans and can distinguish the government from the people.” But this visit was different. With the bombardment, Beirut became chillingly silent by day. By the fourth day, many eateries and shops had rolled down their metal grill doors, closed for business. My mother-in-law promptly stocked up on staple foods, including rice, spaghetti and water. We managed to hide the war from our 3- and 5-year-olds, telling white lies about the Spider-Man bike in a repair shop for a chain adjustment. The repair shop never re-opened because of the war. Every day, my son begged for the bike. We told him that the man was still working on fixing it. Into the fifth and sixth days, many Beirutis began retreating to the largely Druze-populated mountains. They traveled with thick foam sleeping pads piled high atop their cars. Some cars had shattered rear windows from bomb blasts. Visitors from various countries, including Americans from Arizona, Texas and Idaho, congregated at the local Internet cafe for updates from the U.S. Embassy. We shared stories about our evacuation plans. I wondered how many of us would be victims of this sudden war that didn’t belong to us. One Texan couple strongly warned us against traveling the treacherous back road to Syria. Days later, we coincidentally ran into them at a downtown Damascus snack shop. They wound up taking that very road after hearing no news of rescue plans from the American government. We exchanged hugs like we’d known each other for years. We were among the few who escaped early. Yet, we remain uncertain about the safety of loved ones left behind. LISA VAN PROYEN Born in Long Beach, Lisa Van Proyen, 39, has worked as a reporter for a news wire agency and various newspapers, including the Los Angeles Daily News from 1996 to 2001. She now resides in San Bernardino with her two children and her Lebanese-American husband, Dani Doueiri, who teaches Arabic and Middle East studies at California State University, San Bernardino.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! After 35 hours of frantic travel in three days, including a treacherous road trip from Lebanon to Syria, at last we made it home safe to the United States. We all felt relief as our Egypt Air flight landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. But we quickly realized that the trauma of war remains. When thunder shook the terminal, our first thought was “bombs” – and to duck and find cover. The war in Lebanon had changed me. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2On Saturday morning, we landed at LAX – bringing further relief. In eight days of war and hearing stories from fleeing people trembling from losing family, homes and all they had, I gained a greater sense of appreciation for life. My family went from relaxing and playing on a southern Beirut beach and swimming in the warm, clear Mediterranean Sea to fleeing in our pajamas at midnight from my in-laws’ downtown Beirut home as thunderous blasts lit up the skies. We grabbed our essentials and hurried our children to safety at my in-laws’ rugged rental mountain home near Bhamdoun, about 15 miles east of Beirut. All the way, we made sure to take roads through Christian neighborhoods, which my husband assured me were less apt to be bombed by Israeli planes. last_img

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