Yes! Lebanon for 5 weeks – I excitedly tell everyone I know, I can’t wait for the longest amount of time I have spent in my home country since I was a small child. “Is it safe?” is the most common question; “sure” I say, fully convinced that as usual people worry too much.
Waiting for a delayed flight to Lebanon in Istanbul I meet other Lebanese travellers and soon the conversation turns to where we’re staying and what we’re going to be doing. I answer, “I’ll mostly be in West Beqaa”. “What?! Why are you going there?!” is the response from my seasoned fellow visitors. I’m slightly concerned that other Lebanese people think I’m insane for going to the region. However, to me it is always a place of safety. A retreat from the stress of life in England and a place of joy while I play with my younger siblings who are 5 and 6 years old. I don’t see the danger and I don’t feel at risk.
Our flight lands and as we leave the airport to begin our trip home my dad points out a new army check point – apparently there have been lots of gun battles between Hezbollah and the Army on the section of road we’re travelling on. Still not fully into Lebanese mode of devil may care, my heart rate picks up, however we’re soon past the danger point and thoughts return to all the good food I’m going to eat and the friends I’m going to see. Security is tight but it feels like usual. There are the normal army check points however one along the way asks to see all our IDs – something that has only happened to me once before in all my trips to Lebanon.
My sister receives text messages advising her of emergency contact numbers and to check the travel advice for the area. You can see the original foreign office map here FCO_301_-_Lebanon_Travel_Advice_Ed13. Apparently where we live is an orange area. Only travel if really necessary. Am I scared? Am I hell! Life is different this year but I refuse to let it get in the way of my fun…
Then as we drive through Beqaa, early in the morning, with the fog stealing most of the beautiful view I see a sobering sight. Hundreds of tents, make shift homes of displaced people, humans who aren’t here for a jolly good time but who escaped and found some sanctuary in Lebanon. In my beautiful home-come-holiday destination there is real desperation and suffering.
Lebanon is still a place to party, and relax but it is also a place for sobering realities. It is a place of relative peace between a war in Syria and a war in the Gaza strip. We hear that Lebanon is experiencing water shortages due to a combination of lack of rain and a huge increase in population. The country that holds 4 million Lebanese now apparently also holds nearly 2 million Syrian refugees and 400,000 Palestinian refugees. The situation is tense and the balancing act that currently holds is in real danger of tipping. The Lebanese are not a rich people, so the poor are supporting the poorer. They need help but the common opinion is that the international community and the UN are not doing enough. In the blistering heat a water shortage is not the only thing to fear. The tensions between different communities is rising and the easy solution for many is to blame the influx of refugees. The struggles of the country are out weighing the pity for human suffering.