Quiet Streets, Chilling Math

Posted: August 10, 2006

By Claire Thomas '08

The last meal I ate in Beirut was an exceptionally greasy mozzarella and pesto crepe. It was by far the worst food I'd had while in Lebanon, which is not the gravest statement in the world seeing that most Lebanese food is among the best I've ever eaten. I was lucky to find even that, though, on the relatively abandoned Bliss Street, an eatery-packed avenue in front of the American University of Beirut. Bliss Street, well known for its cheap food, is usually inundated with hordes of university students from morning until well into the night. Now only a few lonely and somber groups milled around whatever was still open, which wasn't much. The street, which only a week ago had been jam-packed with impossibly sluggish Beirut traffic, lay wide open for the two or three cars that came by. I passed a man loading his family into a car, a mattress tied to the roof.

It turned out the only crepe supplies available were cheese, congealed pesto, and Nutella. The young man behind the counter chatted as he put the crepe batter on the propane-fueled grill (no electricity). I was with a friend; the young man asked us if we were leaving. We responded that we were trying. His smile was understanding, and more than a little sad. My friend asked what his thoughts were on what was happening. His response was more resigned than anything else; he didn't blame Israel so much as see it as one of life's inevitable evils, an inhuman leviathan that Hezbollah had misguidedly stirred from its slumber.

Later that afternoon I bid Beirut a final farewell from the deck of the cargo freighter the Hual, chartered by the Swedish government for the evacuation. Less than two months before I had arrived for the first time in Beirut for an eight-week internship at the Daily Star, an English-language newspaper. While I don't study journalism, I am majoring in international relations, and have studied Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, which is what drew me to the opportunity to work and live in Beirut in the first place. Interning at the Daily Star was incredibly interesting--I was even able to write articles that were published. On weekends I traveled with friends around the country, north to Byblos and Tripoli, south to Sidon, east to the Bekaa Valley and Baalbeck, names that, along with Beirut, I now hear daily on CNN in the context of reports about their destruction.

Before I returned to my evacuation preparations with my unappetizing meal, the young man behind the creperie counter presented some chilling math.

"One Israeli is 100 Lebanese--everybody knows this," he said.

That day's news had been that eight Israelis soldiers had been killed in the fighting.

"Now they must kill 800 Lebanese."

Related Links:

Claire's Blog

Daily Hampshire Gazette Article
(July 18, 2006)

Daily Hampshire Gazette Article
(July 20, 2006)