Our meetings and activities continue at rapid pace. we've been keeping a crazy schedule - work all day, have breakfast at maybe 4 pm, work some more, hopefully grab a late night nibble, go to bed at roughly 3 and the bombing usually starts around 4, fall asleep at sunrise and up at 10 am to start the day once more. it's of no matter though, and i think we've barely noticed that it's odd except when i write it here, but I am happy at work.
Though the nights are rough, last a few bombs came rather close, you can feel the vibrations everywhere, car alarms going off, and planes - always the planes flying over head that leave you wondering exactly where they plan to unload their cargo next.
Beirut is an amazing city and not a day goes by that i don't wish i had come here earlier and under different circumstances. the city cascades into the ocean and buildings and old fashioned french colonial homes hug the hillsides all straining to get a glimpse of the beautfiul azure waters.
Modern glass towers cast shadows over pockmarked overrun buildings left standing from the country's long civil war. Just as diverse as the buildings are the people, a woman fully veiled in religious tradition walks past a woman in the lastest skin-baring, tight European fashions. Men in long white robes drink tea on the corner as young men in wife beaters ride by on scooters and Ray-Bans. (Speaking of men, allow me to be shamefully honest in my strictly neutral observation that Lebanese men are.....really hot! lord mercy!! somehow being here during a war and having come to help, i feel it more than an inappropriate time to...enjoy all that Lebanon has to offer - but certainly this artful sightseeing requires another visit under different circumstances! now to continue with our regularily scheduled programming - ) Yet, I can only imagine what this city must have been like a few weeks ago. Now it is quiet. Many stores are closed, many who could, fled the city, those who could not no longer stay in the streets long after dark. The bombed areas of the city are locked down as security zones and we are forbidden to enter, so i have only seen in areas of the city that have been untouched. However, we just gained permission a few hours ago and will be visiting some areas later.
But now that i've been around a bit, the evidence of war is everywhere. Tents spill into hospital parking lots, public schools are overflowing with the internally displaced who sleep on every square foot, every staircase, every doorway. I walked by the city's public garden to find clothes hanging everywhere. A closer look revealed hundreds and hundreds of displaced numbering near a thousand. And there are more, dispersed from building to building, in the mountains, everywhere they could find escape from the South. And so they fled here where the bombing has continued and the children are still paralized in fear.
There is so much to tell you I hardly know where to begin. I need to ask you for help with my work, but we are just about to solidify our action plans and I want to give you all confirmed information. I want to tell you about other things I have seen and heard and experienced, but perhaps right now, as i have a hour break, I'll just tell you some of what I believe you don't hear on the news. And yes it's true, I have my own political beliefs about the situation, but I'll reserve those and simply tell you what i have seen, gathered and experienced.
The Humanitarian Situation:
The humanitarian situation is grave and unfortunatley complicated. It is grave in the South because as Israel strategically bombed the roads and bridges, they effectively cut off entire villages and trapped populations. Many have evacuated but some have not. Some were too old, some disabled, some stayed with those who could not leave, others stayed because they had no where else to go, and some stayed because it was their home and their right to stay and not be scared off their land.
And so they have been sending out calls for help, it has been over 20 days, and the International Red Cross has responded. But accordingly to many in the South, they have responded poorly, aiding the easier to reach populations and failing to reach many others. The UN has decided to directly coordinate with the State of Israel giving them the GPS coordinates of all their trucks and effectively gaining Israeli permission before delivering. This has further complicated the jobs and coordination of other NGOs who are not given access to aid certain population by Israel and therefore fear for their security. However, Israel is able to claim strict coordination with the UN and therefore that they are humanitarians.
Israel has also claimed to allow fuel shipments into Lebanon. They have not. There are tankers off the coast of Lebanon waiting to deliver their supplies and they are blocked by Israeli ships. Too many fuel trucks from Syria have been targeted for anyone to attempt to make another try. Cars line up for as far as the eye can see at the gas stations that have not been bombed and wait for there ration of less tha $10 of fuel - which is all they are allowed to recieve at one time. The rumor is that Lebanon may run out in just a few days - further crippling the country and it's citizens. Crippling Hezbollah you ask? No, not at all. They have their own supplies.
The Lebanese Red Cross is stretched to the limit trying to reach these desperate populations in the South, but they do not have the resources and capacities of the International Red Cross. According to aid workers in the south, some NGOs gather aid in a certral location and invite villagers to come get it themselves - a nearly impossible task. Kind of like a person calling 911, and the operator tells them to find the nearest ambulance for help.
In Beirut, it is complicated here as well. You have humndreds of thousands of displaced that have poored into Beirut, and unfortunately they were not well accounted for. A Lebanese Ministry and local NGOs have been tackling the difficult battle of providing aid to all of these people. However, there is no central database. Some NGOs work in overlapping schools and counted the same populations twice - what does this mean? Some schools will receive meals twice in a row, others don't recieve food for two days. Yet another problem, the thousands of displaced that were placed in buildings around the city - they were never counted by the state and therefore recieve absolutely no aid from the state whatsoever.
And there is another probelm. Sometimes there are problems with slogans like "One Nation, One People," because as we know from Lebanese history, it is a country of many peoples who do not identify with one another, and unfortunately can also have great prejudices against those not of their own. Hundreds of thousands of Shiits have now entered some Sunni, Christian, and Druse areas, and though many have poured out to help the displaced, they are wary of the displaced staying too long and "wearing out their welcome." Others are supicious and do not trust them, and a Southern told me that she came from the mountains where many displaced have fled and the local population lock the buildings at night so that the Shiits can not freely move around and cause "trouble."
Back in Beirut, on the verge of a class war, local hotels have opened their doors to some of the poorest people in Lebanon, made comepletely destitute by this war. Well, that is opened their doors if you can pay several hundred US dollars for a week, some hotels are even charging $100/day. The public park I mentioned above? Imagine the Upper East side of Mahattan being overrun with refugees from Harlem who have pitched tents or are sleeping out in the open in Central Park, hang their clothes everywhere, and littering the streets to escape the park walls before dark when they are forced back inside. Unhappy upper class Mahattaners? You betcha.
What everyone can agree on is that tensions are running high. The displaced know they are unwlecomed and resent it to say the least. Those that have "helped" their Lebanese brethern fell that they have done their job and now wish for life to return to normal. I passed by a young Lebanese man yesterday who was expressing his anger at not being able to go the beach because of the war, and has to instead go to the pool now. Everyone suffers in different ways.
Yet, I am not trying to paint you a poor picture of the Lebanese. On the contrary, I have met the most beautiful people who are scarficing their very lives to help their countrymen and who speak for the time of national untiy to be now, if there ever was one. And least we forget Hurricane Katrina and how these very same prejuidces wretched out of our own society - certainly we are no one to judge.
And unfortunately, the international organizations that are here have been no better. I speak not of Foreign governments and imbalanced UN resolutions, I speak of international aid agencies. A women went to an international aid coordination meeting of all the international NGOs, her report - disgusting. She said the meeting was terrible, the organizations bickered among themselves and agreed on nothing.
I fear I have already gone on too long and this is only the tip of the ice burg. I should end my email here before your eyes cross. I will be writing you shortly about my work and our plans and asking for your help if you don't mind.
My opportunity to write you these updates are going to disappear shortly, but i will do my best.