Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


We are getting more worried and tempers are beginning to flare. Is the aerial bombing getting closer to us? Are we under greater levels of rationing? No on both accounts. We have just been listening to American officials on TV, both for general consumption (Rice, Gonzales) and for the departing American evacuees whom we hope to join. They are diplomats, so the words are sweet, but the message is crystal clear: "Lebanon must burn, and we're not saying until when." I'll go into this in the column below, but let me start with the up-close-and-personal update.

We see the US ships leaving, the slowest and most massive among all the evacuation efforts, and we have decided that we do not want the last ship to leave without us, or at least our kids. The kids play video games where they (when we are feeling generous enough to let them have 30 minutes of a more violent title) know the difference between getting killed in a video game and getting shot in real life. They know enough to start asking if they are going to die like the kids they see on the TV news that the adults cannot stop watching. Then they go to sleep and wake up fine, thank goodness

Today, Jetti went down to Beirut again to pack up more of our apartment. Our apartment is attached physically and legally to Lebanon's foremost hospital, and doctors who regularly commute from more dangerous zones are being moved into the building. We decided to pick a doctor and his family whom we knew, rather than enter the apartment into the database. This way we do do not have to lock 100% of our belongings into one room as per standard procedure, but can trust our guests, Dr. H and his family, with the majority of our stuff and only lock up things they cannot use. So here's the breakdown:

  1. 30 pounds od luggage per person can come on the evacuation ship with us to Cyprus and thence to the USA. Maybe I'll post a packing list for the morbidly curious at a later date. (Elisa - thinking of you here.)
  2. Toys, clothes, food, NiMH batteries and chargers, extra suitcases and bicycles (in case the gasoline runs out) will come up to my parents' home in the mountains where we can use them until we leave and perhaps leave them for use by family members who are not evacuating.
  3. Things we do not need but worry about losing will go in the one locked-up room in the house.
  4. Things that Dr. H's family can use will stay out in plain sight.
  5. If time permits, we will also prepare a pile of clothes, blankets, towels and toys that are available for donation to more needy families, who may have had their homes or villages destroyed or will have lost them before we come back. Dr. H will have plenty of time to distribute them at the appropriate point.
I guess there's no escape from fighting the propaganda battle of the last war, because my (admittedly) crazy impression (see below) is that even if it is rational for Israel to stop, the Bush administration does not seem to want them to. So here are some pictures:

Our bedding (for a family of 5)

Our closet

Our water supply

(Note to self: uploading photos takes too long. Save it for later next time you are tempted.)

Let me talk about water for a bit. First of all, Andy, here is the right way to take a bath with a bucket, Lebanese style: First of all you need a small stool in addition to one, preferably two, plastic buckets and one big mug. As your friend said, you boil water in your biggest pot on the stove, pour it in the plastic bucket, and add faucet water to get the temperature you want. To avoid having to repeat the process with soap in your hair, get a second bucket of lukewarm water ready, at least until you learn the water discipline. You put the bucket and the stool in the bathtub, sit on the stool, and use a mug to pour water over head and four limbs. Soap and shampoo, then use the mug to rinse. Repeat until you feel clean or you run out of water. If you are lucky enough to have any water left, then you can stand up and pour the remaining water on your head.

Right now, we have not had to do that yet. We had been taking our showers at the pool club where we used to swim, under the assumption that a pool club must have their own well. Well, yesterday, the showers ran dry and we went home with chlorine in our hair. My mom was on the phone with the water tanker driver whom we usually use to augment the water supply when too many grandchildren crowd the house every summer. She was asking when our turn would be. (Aside - I spoke too soon about Israel targeting all tanker trucks: they seem to be going after concrete pumps, which have a 5-inch cylinder folded in three, not large tankers with 5-foot cylindrical loads.)

This morning, the mains water came on at last, for the first time this week.
Lebanon is rich in water, but the distribution system is un-engineered, to put it kindly. Every house, when built, runs its own 3/4-inch pipe to the nearest distribution point where water is chlorinated and pumped. The builder cuts through asphalt to cross roads and concretes over it without any local government oversight (I think they just need a permit but get no inspections or technical advice). The water pressure in some houses is stronger than in others, most likely due to the haphazard design, but rumor has it that some can plug up one house's pipe with hidden pebbles to increase the flow to another house. So, except for a few places with a properly designed water supply like our university-and-hospital-system apartment in Beirut, all houses have a water tank on the roof. At my parents' house, the mains water comes on every other day, with enough pressure to reach the concrete tank in the basement, from where it is pumped up to a galvanized steel tank under the shingle roof on top of the house. By the time the water has gone through the concrete tank below, the electric pump and the steel tank, it is not considered safe to drink any more. People with money to spend can get a stainless-steel or PVC system to handle water storage in potable conditions, but most people store water straight off the mains, when it is on, in clear plastic containers for drinking. The mains pressure at my parents' has always been week, and the only faucet in the house that can be used for this purpose in in the basement. Before this war, I bought a "chlorine-guzzler" filter from "Matrixx" for that faucet, and we can carry the water up the stairs to the kitchen this way. Eventually, mom's lazy middle-class solution was to buy a commercial water cooler with an inverted 5-gallon plastic container on top, and get weekly deliveries of bottled water. With gasoline rationing, it now makes sense to fill up all the empty water-cooler-company containers with the filtered mains water - same great taste! Since the company's water containers are too big for the sink and too narrow-necked for the filter, I am, as I blog, filling our blue and red containers and then using a funnel to empty them into the clear company containers. One time this morning, I did not push the funnel deep enough and the water spilled on the floor. I had to mop it off, thinking dark thoughts about how long we will afford the luxury of mopping off drinking water.

P.S. We are the luckiest - no one else in Lebanon is better off. We are in the top 10% or better in income and wealth, we live in the middle of what, in Lebanon's civil war, became the Christian (and hence least dangerous to Israel) zone, and most of us have lived in the West long enough to have non-Lebanese passports. None of us are politically active in any way that might put us on anyone's hit list. And we all have each other.

Why I'm so worried

Scene 1: American official and Egyptian official giving joint press conference. Egyptian says "This is a horrible tragedy and there must be a cease-fire." American official says "This is a horrible tragedy and there must be a cease-fire as soon as certain conditions are met on the ground." Reporter asks "Is there a difference of opinion over how soon to press for a cease-fire?" American official says "Not at all, I'm sure the Egyptian envoy meant to say "as soon as certain conditions are met", since the civilized world is united on this point. The good people of Lebanon are going to have to wait until conditions are right for a cease fire."

Scene 2 There is no scene 2. The same charade is playing all over the airwaves, with changes in the officials' names and in the nationality of the non-American official.

The sound of Walid losing his mind I started looking at the faces and expressions of the officials I see on TV. I mentally divide them into propaganda producers and propaganda consumers. It's not hard if you use your imagination or access your right brain or tune into your eighth Chakra. Try it today. Here's what I felt.

  • Israeli grandmother in make up, Israeli Jet pilot suiting up: consumers. Their eyes and nostrils are flared, their anger is real, they have bought into the idea that Israel will be destroyed if Hezballah is not bombed into submission.
  • Ehud Olmert, Emeir Peretz politicians, too hard to read Seem more worried about their next election than about human suffering on either side. Clearly not producers.
  • Israel's foreign minister (Tsipzy Levni (sp?)), ambassadors (Egal Alyon (sp?)), and professional spokespeople: middlemen. Eyes narrow, lips pursed, poker faces. They clearly know the script, know it to be a script, and know it is necessary to seem angry when delivering it. But their anger seems to come from having to yield to a script they know to be false (that peace is only possible by destroying Hezballah no matter what the casualties on either side). They are hiding too much, possibly among it a knowledge that peace by negotiation would be cheaper and more permanent.
  • Lebanon's politicians: ex-middlemen With two notable exceptions, Saad Hariri and Walid Junblatt, every single Lebanese politician I have heard has rejected the script. The sacrifice Lebanon has to pay while enough force is directed at Hezballah to weaken it into disarming is too high. The script that says this is necessary for our greater good just does not play in Jounieh. Pity.
  • Syrian spokespeople: producers. Par excellence! "This is the battle of the Arab people against total subjugation." But we will join it only if it becomes impossible for us to plausibly deny that Israel is shooting anyone on our side of the border.
  • Arab spokespeople: don't get me started.
  • George Bush: consumer. One who never even read the saturated fat-content label on the package.
  • Gonzales and other state-department people: loading gate laborers at the producers' factory. I don't want to be hasty and call them producers, given their secondary roles in policy making. But as I said before, here is the message loud and clear: "The free world has waited long enough to take Hezballah out. We love and support the people of Lebanon and Israel, and we know that a cease-fire is what they want, need and deserve. But they must [die] until Hezballah complies. We do not support a cease fire at this time." Their eyes are practically gloating. Better that Lebanon burn to a crisp and Israel get its beard singed than permit negotiation with Hezballah. And shoot down anyone who says otherwise.
  • Political commentators everywhere: cheap imitation producers The propaganda being peddled is that when the Bush administration says no cease-fire is planned for the foreseeable future, this really actually implicitly means three days, one week, three weeks or whatever. Hard to know if any effective ingredients went into the recipe for that concoction.
  • James Bolton: in a class of his own. In which he is class clown. On record as saying Lebanese civilians do not matter. Maybe he read Doonesbury and imagines he will be promoted for the diplomatic faux pas.

Oh boy. Why is this happening? Hezballah wants to negotiate. All of Lebanon want Hezballah's unique and non-negotiable (by them not by me) abilities to be under popular democratic supervision, and Hezballah agrees. No one wants to destroy Israel. No one wants to give Israel a blank check on our future. Is that so hard to understand? I am driven to despair by the depth and breadth and long-term saturation of the propaganda coming out of America that Hezballah is more dangerous than Al Qaeda (because they are not insane?) Who will listen to any other voice? No one. So we are back to old war. Stop the bombing before we all die. Never mind whether or not it is best for Israel to negotiate a long-term peace. Here's a photo of a dead child. No, not from me, Google it yourself.


  • At 21/7/06 9:24 PM, Blogger Elisa said…

    Hey, Walid. Good to hear you´re coming to the U.S. for a while (and hear me now talking as if I still lived there!). Would´ve wished it were in happier circumstances, of course.

    Take care and be careful,



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