My bags are packed and I’m ready to go. Hopefully the stomach bug I caught a couple nights ago won’t resurface and force me to reschedule my flight to Paris for the third time.
This is the longest stretch I’ve had in Lebanon for a while. Three weeks to be exact. For the most part, it’s been great. I got to spend lots of time with the family, eat some amazing food, and meet some great people.
But I leave with a heavy heart… This country is a hot mess to say the least. And as much as I enjoy it here, things are getting worse. I have a love/hate relationship with Lebanon. The people, the politics, the traffic, the trash, the attitudes, the arrogance… the country is unstable and the conflict across the border is not helping at all.
I arrived to Beirut on August 25th, just a few days after the chemical attacks in Ghouta, Syria that killed over 1000 people. It was supposed to be a vacation, but I had a feeling that wouldn’t last. Considering the number of casualties and Barack Obama’s infamous red line comment one year before, everyone assumed that he would follow through with his threat this time (something he failed to do after the last chemical attack).
Sure enough, within a few days I was called into work. As my first full day on the job was coming to an end, we got word that Obama would be addressing the nation. Everyone was expecting a speech like the one W had given 10 years before. But when he finally started speaking (about an hour late), everyone was surprised. His decision to seek Congressional approval for military action on Syria was met with ridicule and disbelief. Both the regime supporters and the opposition mocked him, and on the streets of Beirut his reputation as a coward was solidified.
In a primetime speech to the nation ten days later, he pivoted yet again. After speaking about the horrors of chemical weapons (failing of course to mention what the US had done in Vietnam), he dished out some tough talk that certain US media outlets mistakenly seized upon the next morning. He repeatedly stressed that the Assad regime should be punished… but the punch line came when he said that he was pinning his hopes on a Russian initiative to get the Assad regime to give up it chemical weapons. He also said that we was telling Congress to postpone a vote authorizing military action. A cartoon in a Lebanese newspaper the next morning that showed him rolling up a missile like a carpet summed things up rather nicely. And of course the mockery only got worse.
That saddest part of all this is that while Obama continues to play politics with his Russian and Syrian counterparts in hopes of ridding the world of Assad’s chemical weapons, Syrians are getting killed with conventional weapons everyday. There seems to be no end in sight to a bloody civil war that has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, and made refugees out of at least 2 million more.
Most of them came to Lebanon. The UN has registered over 720,000 Syrian refugees here, but the government here says there are over 1 million who have fled the violence back home. Many of them now live in overcrowded urban areas where they are viewed with suspicion and scorn by some of the locals.
These pictures were all taken in one of these areas. I had my camera on me but was not able to use it as much as I would have liked. The images here don’t even begin to show how difficult life in Sabra must be. It’s a place that exemplifies some of Lebanon’s biggest problems and how they keep getting more complex with time.
Barack Obama might have ‘ruined’ my vacation with his mixed messages and indecisiveness, but I got to work with some great people and see a part of my country that I had only read about in history books.
It’s just a shame that there was nothing good for us to report on the situation in Syria… and that probably won’t be the case for a very long time (irrespective of any US-led military strikes).