Stuck in the cross-fire in Beirut

What happens when gunshots erupt between various factions in your city while you and your family get trapped outside your home? What is daily life like? Here follows an interview with Macha El-Hage who went through such an event.

(This article was published on Manifest N1)

Beirut, Lebanon from the airplane

Beirut, Lebanon from the airplane

Could you remind us the context? When did the first gunshots take place?
Lebanon had been without a president since approximately 6 months. A national strike demanding wages increases started  in Beirut on may 7th 2008 quickly degenerated into a confrontation between partisans of political rival camps: the Future Party of Saad El Hariri  on one side and the Hizbollah of Hassan Nassrallah as well as several opposition parties on the other.
Gunshots started on that same wednesday morning in many “mixed” areas of the town. The Lebanese army was playing the role of the middle

Could you tell us which part of Beyrouth you live in and how far from the fighting were you?

I live in Achrafieh, Sodeco region which is situated in the east part of Beirut at the ancient “green line “ that used to divide Beirut during the civil war into west (muslim) and east (Christian )regions. The fire that took place that morning were only at 100 meters from my house.

Did you realise how serious the situation was?

At that time I thought that the situation was as it had been many times before; a little confrontation for few hours, then a return to normal life.
Then, with the roads leading to the airport being blocked, the big-caliber gunshots, the street fights taking place in many of the west areas of Beirut and the speech of Cheikh Hussein Nassrallah live on TV, I knew that those “meaningless” interactions would take a turn for the worse.

Where were you at the time?

We woke up that morning, knowing that the strike would take place during the day. My husband had a seminar to give in a hotel and the children were at school. I was at home (since I quit work almost a year ago) then I went to the supermarket and on to my sister’s apartment as my children and I planed to have lunch at her place.

So you were stuck outside your home; what did you do then?

After Nasrallah uttered his last phrase on TV, thousands and thousands of gunshots were fired. The noise and the whistles of the bullets were almost overwhelming. These were followed by heavier artillery.
My children were playing in the playground with their cousins and other children from the same building.

We called them straight away, went back to my sister’s house, which like mine is 100 meters from where the fights are taking place.

My husband called me, he was stuck in our house. He couldn’t not leave the house for fear of stray bullets.

So we decided to stay where we were until it ends.

It did not seem to stop. The children were afraid and kept asking questions.
Wedding fireworks I said.

Then, sound was getting worse and I decided to try to leave and sleep at my parents place which was a bit further than the “green line”. The problem was how to get there with two children?

My Brother in-law came back from work and told us that by now, at least in our area, it was safer than the what we interpreted from what we heard. We decided to head to my parents home.

A little moment of panic took me the moment I stepped into the car but as soon I saw few people walking in the streets and some shops still open, I calmed down.

I arrived at my parents house which was only five minutes away by car. We spent the night there. My husband managed to leave the house at 9 o’clock at night to join me.

The next night we were all sleeping in my house.

What do you do to get your every day life as normal as possible: how do you get food? How do you get water? Did you have power outages?

We have always been able to get food even in the worst moments of the Lebanese war.

During the May 2008 events we could find all goods on the shelves of the supermarkets. Water and electricity were. To this day, in our area, we get water each other day. We supplement our consumption with water-reservoirs. We rarely run out of water.

As for electricity, we have it 20 hours a day (which is very good. A private company which uses power generators makes-up for the rest.

What happens to people who have to work for a living?

With the pressure labour unions, no one had his salary interrupted.

Did you think of making contingency plans in case things took a turn for the worst?
We thought about it. Our fall-back solution was to go for a while to our house in the mountain.

When the fighting was over, what was the mood in the street? Were people trying to behave as if nothing had happened?

The Lebanese people have an incredible capacity of fast recovery!
A minute after the fighting stopped you could hear cars beeping in the streets. The next day people were making reservation in restaurants and clubs.
Children went back to school the day after, university as well re-opened.
you have to give it a try!!!! Life is never boring!!!


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