Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 5 of 11)


I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.

While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.

I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.

Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.

Day 6
17 July 2006
Enroute from Tyre to The Convent in Lebanon

I awoke too early, with a headache and sensations of vertigo. I certainly didn’t feel well enough to perform the driving feat of my life, much less walk across the room. After eating a piece of Arabic bread, drinking some coffee and taking some aspirin, I gradually recovered. Kimarie had to cover me by keeping the children from tugging or climbing on me.

The morning was dismal. There were what looked like fog banks hanging over the Sea and sun, but that was impossible for the time of year. What we were looking at were clouds caused by burning gas stations.

The Israelis made up for the lack of visibility by flying unmanned drones over the city that made distinctive, low‐pitched buzzing noise as they spied on movements within the city. The sound was as if God was shaving with an electric razor.

We got a call in the morning from a dear friend from the village of Bourj Rahal, just north of Tyre. This village had been pounded the night before and they were preparing to make the drive north to get their kids out of the area. They invited us to join them on the road, for safety in numbers and to lead us, but they were ready to go and wanted us to be there immediately. The plan for the rendezvous on the road was pretty sketchy, so we decided to release them to go on without us.

When we gathered to make a decision, it was unanimously decided to attempt the drive. I found out later that Denis had been rather solid the night before about staying, but then had heard God tell him to, “Lead them out.” When he learned that we were prepared to go, he made the executive decision quickly and we sent off final emails and packed the cars.

As I was in the parking lot, packing, one covered lady asked me if we were driving alone or going in a group. I told her that we planned to go to the Resthouse and join a convoy. When she asked if she could come with us in her car, I told her that we were heading there now and that if she wanted to she would have to go there immediately.

Another guy was strolling by and noticed a jagged, silver dollar sized piece of lead shrapnel resting on the hood of the car next to ours that must have been thrown there from the explosion across town the day before. As we drove away, I waved to the neighbor who had fed us the day before, who was standing outside his building. The look in his eyes was a mixture of hope for us, and desperate insecurity for himself.

Denis drove the lead car, a Honda minivan, with his and Edmond’s family inside. We were to follow them all day in our Pajero. As we arrived at the Resthouse, Denis and I expected there would be crowds of people like the day before, preparing to leave. Instead, there were only a few people trying to decide what to do.

Denis went to find out what arrangements could be made for a guide while I prepared our vehicle. I increased our visibility by cleaning all the windows, and I duct taped a small white sheet to the roof so that it would be clear that we were non‐combatants to would‐be bombers above us. It occurred to me that Hezbollah folks could just as well put white sheets on their cars, and that it probably wouldn’t make a bit of difference in the end, but it felt good to be doing something that seemed at least reasonable.

Denis returned with news that there was nobody available who knew a safe or open route and that everybody there was waiting to join the Hariri convoy that was going to leave in several hours. Denis said he thought we should just go ahead and go without them. He reasoned that he knew the roads pretty well and that there would be other cars we could follow. At least we could stop and ask directions, as was the normal Lebanese custom.

Denis began the journey out of Tyre by taking a detour to drive by the building that had been hit the day before. It was only two blocks out of our way. He had once lived in the building next door to the one that was bombed. It had previously been a proud concrete building of about 12 stories, but as we rounded the corner we could see that it had been cut in half.

What remained of the top of the building was a jagged, diagonal, pointing tip, starting at its high point in the Southwest corner and sloping down at roughly a 75 degree angle to the north. There were gray rubble and a layer of concrete powder covering the ground in all directions and visible damage to the surrounding buildings.

The road through the neighborhood was impassable so we turned around and went back in the direction that we had come and nervously passed the Lebanese Army base, which was the first of many possible targets with which we were to come into proximity that day.

Driving in Lebanon on the best of days is a much tenser affair than in the West, where I often think you can drive in your sleep. In Lebanon, cars regularly come within an inch or two of each other. The necessary peripheral vision consists of a semicircle extending in front of you from ear to ear. Double passing around blind corners is not uncommon. Even being familiar with driving this way for 7 years, it was to be a marathon day of grueling proportion.

[The Convergence chapter of Coffee & Orange Blossoms includes the dramatic details in the story of crossing the Litani and Awali Rivers.]

As we neared the oil storage tanks at Zahrani, prior to Sidon, we noticed the skies darkening and saw the smoke rising from the remains of the gigantic iron hulls and the caved in remnants of the main interchange of the freeway between Nabatieh and the coast road, whose construction had only been completed in the last few years.

About half‐way to Jezzine, we passed close to a bombed building that had been hit recently enough to still be smoking. We couldn’t tell exactly what the building had been, but it looked to be some sort of factory.

After passing Jezzine and getting around the source of the river, the sense of relief became palpable, not only within our own car, but also with the rest of our fellow refugees on the road. There were Western news film crews filming the streams of cars. At every wide spot on the road’s shoulder, folks were pulled off eating their lunches, smiling, in an almost festive attitude.

Kimarie and I saw a guy on the side of the road that looked like Mustafa’s brother, then realized that it was him! We spoke to him as we drove by in the slow traffic. He had escaped with his family. We didn’t have time to ask him where he was heading or if he even had a place to go.

By this time, we were seeing much more traffic going the opposite direction. This wasn’t because people were headed south, but because we had gotten far enough north that there were some safe places now behind us. The cars that we were passing contained refugees from Dahia in South Beirut, escaping to the mountains of the Shouf as we had.

Just before reaching Beit Eddine, Denis stopped to rest and eat. I was getting tired of driving and hungry, but felt uneasy and impatient to continue our trek until reaching our destination. I had a vision of myself entering the convent we were headed for, and kissing the registration desk. But it was a necessary stop. Everybody needed a bathroom visit as well.

We ate dome baked cheese or Zataar sandwiches which came from the eager lady standing at the oven outside her restaurant, as fast as she could cook them. Denis asked everybody in the nearby vicinity if they could tell him which of the possible routes was still navigable. He spent a good deal of the lunch break getting directions.

We also called the convent on my cell phone to make a final confirmation that there were open rooms and that we were planning on arriving that evening.

As we were finishing our meal, our neighbors from across the hall and from the 12th floor drove by and stopped to greet us. There were 9 people packed into a Mercedes sedan, looking about as happy as anyone could be under the circumstances. We were relieved and grateful to see them safe and smiling. They chatted with us for 5 or 10 minutes and then continued on with Damascus, Syria as their destination.

We learned from the restaurant owner and from others later that many of the Shiite Muslims that were moving out of the south who had no place to go were being taken in and given shelter and food in the homes of Christians and Druze. This was so incredible to us, and we wondered at the fact that so much love and unity could be possible among people who had been fighting each other in civil war only twenty years earlier.

After lunch we struck out again and wound around back roads and small villages until we reached the massive Beirut‐Damascus highway, under which we needed to pass. Once again, we found ourselves on deserted roads, and the creepy silence of the countryside increased the magnitude of the destruction that faced us.

The 6‐lane concrete bridge continued to be suspended by massive pillars, hundreds of feet above us, but we were looking at the sky through holes that had been blasted in it from side to side with re‐bar bent in all directions. On the ground next to the road we were driving on below, the grass was burnt and blackened.

The shadows lengthened as the afternoon wore on, and we still had about two hours of driving left. We didn’t feel like we were in any danger any more, being in Christian country, but we were still anxious to reach our destination, and ignorant of the exact roads we were to take despite the fact that we had maps.

Denis began stopping more often to ask directions, which caused me to get annoyed. At one point, he pulled over so quickly on a tight corner, that I almost rear‐ended him. The bus that had been following me, blasted its horn and its driver angrily made his way around us.

We were getting weary. The adrenaline of danger was wearing off and leaving us exhausted, but still needed full driving concentration.

Eventually, we were able to turn west and down the mountain to the main north‐south coast highway again. As we neared the bottom of the hill, I caught glimpses of caravans of cars like the ones we had seen in the mountains, pulled over for a break, with people embracing each other in relief and tears, having escaped some pocket of horror somewhere in the country.

We came out just north of Beirut and continued north through Jounieh and up the mountain again to the convent. We pulled up with gratitude to God for the day’s survival and as I approached the desk to make good on my plan to kiss it, I saw Edmond had beat me to the marble surface with his own lips. We quickly withdrew to our rooms to shower and rest.

Throughout this day of traveling, Naomi and Gideon had hardly uttered a shout or cry from the back seat where they had been strapped to their car seats. They quietly played with each other, napped, or looked at the scenery out the window. I can’t help thinking that they knew that we were in some danger and instinctively didn’t interfere with our progress. I do know that the trip would have been so much more of a nightmare if they had been fussy, shouting or crying.

The drive that had taken us maybe two hours the last time we drove to this place for a retreat – on this day had taken 7 hours with alternative routes, heavy traffic, and high stress.


Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 4 of 11)


I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.

While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.

I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.

Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.

Day 5
16 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

My visualization of huge holes in roads and bridges had been placed in my mind by our neighbor Kamel, who had been watching the newscasts on TV. He told us that every bridge or road with sand below it was destroyed all over Lebanon.

I was to discover that the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought when we were actually driving north a few days later. I was surprised that the road was in pretty good shape and that there was still a crossing over the Litani River. However, it didn’t help to have these images in mind when we were debating whether to stay or go.

In the end, these misconceptions were partially overcome by watching many cars head north and not come back. A few friends had called us to confirm that they had reached safety after only a couple of hours of scary driving.

In emails, I initially mis-reported that the bombs we heard, fell in the al-Bass Palestinian camp. I was later to learn that the hits landed beyond the al‐Bass camp, somewhere close to Bourj Shmelli, even further away. I felt bad about the inaccurate report since it caused a friend in Beirut to be very concerned for a family in the camp.

The next several days would accentuate this confusion and second‐guessing. The escalation was sending bombs nearer to Tyre than had ever occurred before.

The population of the city was swelling from people escaping the surrounding villages to take refuge. Residents of the city were changing locations based on where they thought they would be slightly better off. No one could guess where the Israelis were likely to consider targets.

On our way to the Edmond’s house we noticed a long line of men waiting for bags of bread at Tyre’s main bakery. The few people on the street were returning home on foot with the single bag of Arabic bread that they had been allowed to buy. Rationing had already gone into effect.

We arrived at Edmond’s house just a little later than we planned to. I had driven cautiously on the road that was most distant from the Palestinian camp of al‐Bass, still thinking it had been the hot area from the day before.

I circled around so that our car was facing south on the opposite side of the street. I figured that was okay since I could just pull a U-turn and drive on the wrong side of the divided street for a while if I needed to quickly go north. I wanted to be on the far side of the road because it was more distant from the building (possible falling debris) and not in the way of rapidly moving northbound traffic.

Once in the house, we nervously awaited the arrival of Denis’s family. They called and told us of bombing activity in their area at the time. The road close to the al‐Nijme hospital had been bombed and left impassible, but they were sure there were other routes they could take once it calmed down a little.

From the Sea‐facing balcony of Edmond’s apartment, we could see the neighborhood of Jelal Bahur and its massive unfinished buildings, left over from the last war.

Their construction had not been completed before the end of the war, so the government had frozen their progress because of non-compliance to building codes. Palestinian squatters had created a makeshift camp next to the skeletons of 15-story buildings lining the road.

Among these buildings, we could see that the Lebanese Army had situated armored vehicles and trucks in a pattern designed to avoid losing more than a single one in case of any shelling. We wondered if this would be considered a target for the Israeli warplanes and, if so, what danger that would pose for us, being on the far side of a rather large field.

The others arrived about an hour later, and we felt comforted being all together.

Edmond prayed for the lunch his wife had prepared for us, and predicted that it would be a meal and a day that we would never forget. He didn’t know how right he was.

In the middle of the meal, two blasts struck in quick succession. The shockwaves rocked the building with the same sensation of sitting in a car on the side of the freeway when a semi‐truck drives by at high speed. We instinctively all cringed and ducked from the mind‐numbingly loud boom.

Edmond leapt from his chair and ran to the door to direct us into the hallway in the center of the building where we would be the safest. We stood there for a few minutes, and tried to guess about where the bomb had hit and whether we were in immediate danger.

We could kind of tell that the blasts had been centered northeast of our building, but had been surprised that there had been no warning sounds at all.

None of the windows in the apartment provided a vantage of the destruction, but we believed that the only possible target could have been the Jebal Amal hospital on the other side of the block.

Denis wanted to go and see what had happened, but I didn’t think his plan to go down and walk around the corner to investigate was a good idea. I could tell that his daughters didn’t want him to go out either, but he had to check and make sure that his car was still okay.

A neighbor lady arrived to check on us and to give information. She said that it wasn’t the hospital that was hit, but a 4‐story building next to it, which had been the home of some Hezbollah official. We started wondering what other Hezbollah connections existed in this neighborhood and realized that the idea that a place could be “safe” was really questionable.

Shortly after Denis returned and confirmed the lady’s report and that his car was okay, the second two bombs hit their target. Kimarie and I scrambled to grab the kids from the floor where they had been playing with various toys. Naomi looked up fearfully with whimpering and tears as we whisked them out.

Again, there was no warning before the blasts and we still don’t have any idea whether the bombs came from planes or ships. The four hits combined to reduce the nearby concrete building to a flat pile of rubble. It was believed that there had been approximately 10 people sheltering in the building who were killed.

We saw a backhoe turn the corner to attempt to rescue people, but in this kind of destruction there is little hope of survival. Glass was blown out at the hospital next door and debris thrown everywhere. Patients were milling around the lobby, unsure if they should stay or go.

Up to this point we had thought of single apartments being targeted as in the 2000 helicopter attack. Now we understood that they were picking complete buildings to wipe out.

What followed was a hasty strategy session in which we once again debated the “safest” course of action. Edmond received two phone calls offering shelter for all of us. The first choice was the basement of a church in the presumably‐safe, Christian quarter of the city, but I pointed out that the nearby port could become a target.

A second choice was at the Evangelical school where Edmond had once been the accountant. In both of these choices we would have been sleeping on floors as refugees in makeshift bunkers, relying on what could be provided by our hosts. We also didn’t want to widen our circle of responsibility for decision‐making outside of our immediate group. We didn’t want others to be influencing or ruling our course of action.

That left us with the option of choosing one of our houses or attempting the drive to Beirut, which continued to seem unwise, though we were witnessing many cars leaving the area and chancing it.

We weren’t keen to stay at Edmond’s house, though it was actually probably safest with the nearby target already having been destroyed. The Heath’s house had a large “safe” basement, but their area was very hot at the time. That left our house, but no one was excited about being on the tenth floor of an exposed building on the seashore.

Then we remembered a couple of other options. The language center would not have been a comfortable place to sleep, but was located in a strong old building, with no known Hezbollah associations nearby.

The other fresh possibility was the vacant apartment of British friends. We went there because it was close to the ground floor and surrounded by other buildings, making it what seemed to be the most protected option.

We packed what food we could bring into two vehicles and made our way there, back into the center of the city of Tyre, which at that time had still not been struck directly by bombs.

After we arrived, Denis and I unpacked stuff and carted it up to the second floor, two‐bedroom apartment. We aroused the attention of the packed neighborhood.

The men in the street remembered seeing us around from before, so they weren’t as suspicious as the ones I had experienced previously. Edmond had once lived in this neighborhood as well, so many knew him personally. They had stories to tell of their own personal hardships.

One of the storeowners nearby listened to our story of being close to the shelling across town and then mournfully nodded as he told us that that building had belonged to his family.

The neighbor on the floor above us was a former student of Denis’ and mine. When he saw that we were casting our lot with them, he rushed to make us feel comfortable. He offered bread and vegetables from his own supply and went down to his family’s ice‐cream factory on the ground floor and returned with cones for everyone. He stayed for a while and debated with us about evacuations plans.

The neighbor told us a rumor that was circulating that foreigners were gathering at the Resthouse resort for evacuation from there, so Denis and I resolved to go and find out more. We also wanted to get some more supplies from my house, like water, fans and cushions for makeshift beds. We were going to be very crowded in this little house for who knew how long.

Off we went in my car. There was a great deal of people gathering at the Resthouse. We never actually talked to anyone inside. Denis saw a doctor friend of his who told us that the rumor was just talk, but that the Red Cross was planning some kind of convoy to head north and that the Hariri foundation was planning on doing the same thing the next day.

We saw our friend, Mustafa, getting into a overloaded car which was joining an unofficial convoy and heading for Beirut. He told us that he was going to attempt to be evacuated to Belgium since he had been granted a passport and work permit from there in the past year. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

We headed back to my house and spoke with many of my neighbors who were very concerned about our plans. They offered to drive with us and lead us out by car. These were very sincere and concerned offers, but we also realized that everyone we were with during these days had the impression that if they were in our proximity they were safe, because the Israelis wouldn’t dare to hurt Americans. We wished we were so sure of that.

We talked to Abu Omar from upstairs. I could never communicate well with him because he always spoke formal Arabic. We also saw Kamel and his son from across the hall. They said that the family was going to move back to their apartment because they changed their mind about which place was safer.

His son gave each of us a decorative chocolate that his sister had designed and wrapped with his photo and a graduation cap to commemorate his completion of college a week earlier. I wasn’t very hungry for chocolate. It went uneaten.

I left a fan and several pillows in our house, since I still wasn’t sure whether or not Kimarie, the kids and I would be staying there that night. We had reasoned that we were only a few blocks away and that the kids would sleep better in their own beds. However, what happened next changed our minds.

Denis and I had already returned to the new quarters with all the extra stuff and moved everything up to the apartment. At the time of the explosion, we had been sitting with the neighbor that had brought us ice-cream, and discussing whether or not the gas station a block away was a concern as a target. After the blast, he jumped up and ran out quickly.

Again, we couldn’t really tell how far away the bomb had landed, or what it had hit, though it sounded loud enough to have fallen right next to us. We didn’t have to wait long, however, before the news spread throughout the neighborhood that it had been a tall building in the neighborhood of the Roman Chariot Track.

This last attack was very concerning to us because prior to it, we had considered that the Israelis were not planning on targeting anything inside the actual city of Tyre. Now we realized that there was truly not going to be any “safe place,” and we began the debate again of driving to Beirut with a convoy the next day.

It was already getting dark, and much too late to consider doing it that day, especially with so much activity happening. We continued to hope that there would be a long enough break in jet activity for us to make a break for it with reasonably less risk.

The government electricity supply was cut simultaneous to the last attack, and the neighborhood generator connection had been cut when our friends had left on their trip to England, to save the expenses for a month in which they weren’t planning on being there. Also, for some reason, the water supply was not working, so we began to suffer from the humid heat with no fans to circulate the air.

On top of the distress of the day, our bodies received the additional trauma of overheating with no way of cooling down except trying to sit still. Children, however, do not understand the concept of staying still in order to avoid sweating, and we certainly couldn’t blame them for constantly wanting to be held and comforted.

Our last meeting of the day was a group discussion of whether we should stay or go the following morning. Each person was given the opportunity to share his or her impressions and ideas. Many wanted to stay put in this safer place, but some thought if the shelling was light the next day, that we should go.

There was a possible option of the two American families being evacuated directly from the Resthouse, but there were two problems with that plan. First of all, we didn’t know if we would be included in an evacuation because we hadn’t heard from the embassy to confirm that they knew we existed.

The other reason that we didn’t want to evacuate directly from Tyre was that Edmond’s family needed to get to safety in Beirut and we didn’t want to leave them in Tyre.

We had also had many emails advising us to stay put until some nebulous ceasefire happened. At the end of the meeting no decision had been made and we resolved to sleep on it and talk again in the morning. I think Kimarie had been the only one at the time to really want to leave in the morning.

I didn’t sleep well at all, partially because of the heat and partially from endlessly thinking through options for the following morning. During the meeting, I had been pretty set on staying at least one more day to take a break from the near misses we had just experienced.

The media and our friends were continuing to say, “Stay put.” However, I kept visualizing alternate possibilities for the drive to prepare myself for the eventual likelihood that we would be driving north.

What would I do if Denis’s car was bombed in front of us on the road? What if we couldn’t cross the Litani with the car? Would there be heavy shelling? Would we be dodging bombs like so many Hollywood action flicks?

But the more I thought it through, the more I became convinced that staying in this stiflingly hot, small apartment for another day would be more draining on our energy than it would be to just go and hopefully get it over and done with for better or worse. I didn’t want to think about sitting and waiting and debating. Even dangerous moving would be better than sitting still. I resolved to vote “go” in the morning.

Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 3 of 11)


I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.

While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.

I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.

Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.

Day 4
15 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

We moved the bags we had packed the night before into the car so they would be already there in case the power went out and there wasn’t any elevator.

While I was putting things into the car, a couple guys I didn’t know came up to us in an animated way that put me on my guard. One of them asked me where we were from. I had no idea what his intentions were, which made me nervous and react poorly. I asked him what difference it made where I was from, and why it was his business. He started ranting that he wanted to know how we were going to get out of the country and tell him how he could too.

He was angry with me, as if I was trying to withhold a possible escape plan from him. He explained that he had a German passport and wanted to know how that would help him. I responded by telling him we had no plan for escape either. “Where can we go? The airport is bombed, the port is closed, and the road to Syria is cut. We’re just trying to find a safer place here.” His buddy finally calmed him down and they walked away.

After packing the bags into the car we struck out on foot, carrying the children, in search of Pampers. A family associated with Hezbollah owned the nearest neighborhood store. The lame proprietor received medical assistance from the social arm of Hezbollah. He had been very interested in some comments I had made about following Jesus on a previous visit. Now they were closed.

We continued around the block to a pharmacy on Abu Deeb street. They were open and had a small package, which we bought. Then we continued on to another pharmacy that we thought might have more, about three blocks down the waterfront from our house.

I couldn’t help but notice on our stroll that we were attracting more interested glances from bystanders than we would have normally. I was carrying Naomi on my shoulders, and many young men were staring me down. We must have looked as though we were completely unconcerned with the current state of affairs and just casually walking around on a shopping trip. At the time, though, I thought I also detected animosity and suspicion in their stares as well.

We made it to the pharmacy and found that they had 3 or 4 large packages of Pampers. They shamed us when we wanted to buy two of them. They didn’t want to sell both of them to us because there would be others who would need them as well as us. We reacted with exasperation, not knowing how long we would be stuck in Tyre and knowing it would be really ugly without diapers. We explained that both of the children wore the same size, so we needed them. They relented and sold them to us in the end and offered to be of any service that they could.

We struggled home under the weight of diapers and children, walking in the humid heat of midday on the corniche. People continued to follow us with their eyes, making us feel uncomfortably conspicuous.

In the end, Kimarie and I both felt guilty at having bought that second package of diapers. They came with us in the car up to Jounieh, and eventually were left in the back of the car unused. How many other children were there in the days that followed in Tyre who had to go without diapers because we hoarded them?

We were able to communicate by email so well because we had a dialup connection with a phone number that would work anywhere in Lebanon. Since there was never a break in phone communication and enough electricity to recharge the laptop, we simply needed to be somewhere where there was a phone outlet.

This was such a blessing to be able to feel like we weren’t completely cut off from the world. The gaps in time for communication corresponded with our car flight from Tyre to Jounieh and with our initial evacuation process from Beirut to the fairgrounds in Cyprus, which took about 36 hours.

Kimarie had to take care of the kids while I composed the messages, and I was very grateful to her for the breaks and a bit of solitude to reflect on the days events. It may have been one of the few things that kept me from mentally breaking down.

At this point we wrongly assumed that the embassy was contacting people who had registered with them, to update them on advice or at least to confirm that they knew where we were. Since we hadn’t received this confirmation, we believed that our registration had not been received and that we were on our own.

Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 2 of 11)


I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.

While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.

I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.

Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.

Day 3
14 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

Many of our neighbors had already relocated to what they thought were safer places. Kamel and Amina, across the hall had moved to another family member’s house closer to the Souk. They weren’t there on this particular evening.

Nur, from the 7th floor came up to talk to us. She was visibly shaken and very nervous about the safety of the building. She had heard that Hezbollah had hit an Israeli naval vessel in the Port of Beirut and she was worried that any building on Lebanon’s entire coast would be open for general reprisal. She told us that she and her husband Tony were planning on relocating and she was going up and down the building advising everyone else to do the same.

After she left, we called the Edmond and asked if we could go to his place. He said we were welcome. Then, after thinking about it some more, we decided that driving the couple miles to their house at night would be more dangerous than staying put. Kimarie was also worried about moving away from our own place, since we had our own resources there and better options for keeping the children (Naomi – 2 and Gideon – 3) occupied and comfortable.

In the end, we stayed, though we packed some secondary bags with clothes and food so we’d be ready in case we decided to move to Edmond’s house in the morning. These would be bags that we could ditch along the way if any flight we were making were to get desperate.

Tony visited us that night too. He was trying to find Nur in the building and stopped to chat a little. Kimarie served him juice and nuts as he chain‐smoked a couple of cigarettes in our front sitting area. You could tell he was nervous too, as he compulsively ate the entire bowl of nuts. He thought that we had made the right decision to stay and that he wanted to try to control his wife’s panic a little, if he could only catch up with her. It was his impression that there was no reason for the Israelis to choose our building out of all the others to hit. We didn’t have any Hezbollah neighbors in the building. He couldn’t decide if it was a better idea to darken our apartments or to turn on balcony lights.

Kimarie and I agreed that we should move the kids into our room for the night to minimize the risk to them. Their room was on the outside edge of the building and only had a window and a wall between them and the Sea, while our room was closer to the elevator shaft with 5 walls between it and the Sea.

A brand new propane company had opened just months earlier about half a mile south of the main Hoshe circle. It was one of the first places hit, but it wasn’t long before they hit the gas station right on the main intersection there, between the Denis’s house and ours. I had stopped at that station to top off our tank the day before on the way home. As the attendant was filling my tank he pointed to the sky to point out the tiny white arrows streaking across the sky directly above us as we both listened to the roar. I hadn’t even considered that the gas station itself might be a target for them.

Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 1 of 11)


I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.

While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.

I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.

Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.

Day 1
12 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

I had gone in to work at the Arizona Center for my regular 10 AM to 4 PM working hours. As I was driving to work, I noticed that many people were standing on the street, looking and pointing toward some smoke in the hills along the coast to the South. This confirmed some thumping sounds that I had heard earlier and had wanted to dismiss as not being dangerous, though I suspected they had been of bombing in the distance.

When I arrived at the center our secretary confirmed the news of the Hezbollah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and subsequent response by the Israelis. (You should know that our family did not read the newspaper, nor did we subscribe to cable television, so we relied on “word of mouth” in our community for news.)

I called Kimarie to tell her what was going on, and to have her begin to implement our contingency plans. According to these plans, we had pre‐prepared a small bag with emergency supplies. Kimarie then added our most important documents and a change of clothes. We had decided that if there were an invasion or similar threat, we would flee to a hotel close to the airport in Beirut and catch the first available flight to Cyprus to regroup and decide what to do next.

However, at this point, we really didn’t think that it was going to go anywhere. With the knowledge that my students would be glued to the news, I went ahead and cancelled the final English exam that had been scheduled for the next evening. I told my students that they would have an extra weekend to study and that we would try again the following Tuesday.

Receiving a certificate for their English class quickly became very low on the priority list for these people.

Day 2
13 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

In the emails we didn’t mention the anti‐aircraft guns that the Lebanese army was firing in between Hoshe and Tyre. Kimarie and I had driven up to visit Denis’s family briefly and had been surprised at how close the sounds were. We couldn’t imagine that the artillery had a hope of downing the jets that we could barely hear, and wondered why they even bothered trying.

On the way home, we stopped at the new Spinney’s supermarket. I stayed in the car while Kimarie shopped for a few minutes. Employees of the store came out and walked to the far end of the parking lot for a better vantage of the shelling and anti‐aircraft fire in the direction of the Rashadieh Palestinian camp. We noticed the sign that Spinney’s had posted, informing their predominantly Muslim customers that they had responded to their requests to remove the alcoholic beverages section.

I also drove over to the Nada distilled water office to refill our three 10 liter bottles. They were doing a brisk business. One of the three owner-brothers that I talked to had a peculiar combination of expressions on his face. I could tell that he was worried about the hostilities, but he was also macho and downplayed it, telling me that he had gotten used to perennial war and it didn’t bother him. It was also clear that business had picked up quite a bit, and that he was uneasily thankful for that.

Early Disciples Called God “Allah” – Or Am I Reading Scripture Wrong?


Okay, Whoa! Slow down. I’m glad the provocative title for this post brought you here. Breathe. Yeah, I can show you where I read it, but first it might be helpful to take a second and let you calm your emotions as I give you some background on why I’m writing about this topic.

I read an article this morning by my friend, Martin Accad, the director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. He entitled his blog My Allah is More Authentic Than Your Allah! It’s a thoughtful treatment of the news of Malaysian lawmakers’ recent decision to disallow the Christian use of the Malay word that Muslims use for God.

The Patron God of Drug Dealers

Let me give you a real life scenario that seems similar to me, and see if it makes sense to you. Years ago I visited prisoners in the county jail and shared what I knew about Jesus with them. One day a guy told me that he felt fulfilled because God had made him the best drug dealer that he could be.

What do you say to that?

I could have told him that if he believed that God approved of dealing drugs then we weren’t talking about the same god. I could have further demanded that he not use my word to refer to his deity and refuse to talk to him unless he switched to some different name.

Hmmm. Isn’t the point of having words to fill them with meaning? Dictionaries and discussion help us to negotiate what they mean, and we talk about words to help us solve how we understand them.

So, really, we have two issues here. The first question is whether or not it’s appropriate to use the same word; the second is about the meaning we give that word.

Early Christians Worshipped Allah

Let’s start by proposing that followers of Jesus can feel comfortable using the word Allah to talk about God. Keep calm; the Bible itself says its okay. You can trust this. If you like, you can check what I’m going to say by turning to the second chapter of the book of Acts in the New Testament.

On the Day of Pentecost, there were Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world, because it was one of the annual feast days where God required his people to offer a sacrifice at the temple. In verses 9 through 11, we get a list of all the nations represented in the crowd. Notice the last one?


The narrative relays how the disciples attracted a bunch of attention. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in the languages of the people present, but that they themselves did not know. When the Arabs heard them proclaiming the wonders of God in Arabic, what word do you suppose it came out as?

Allah. It’s the Arabic word for God.

How many people spelled God “g-o-d” on the Day of Pentecost?

High Percentage of Early Adopters Among Arabs

The passage goes on to say that 3,000 people believed that day and joined those in their previous number – effectively becoming the first 3,120 spirit-filled followers of Jesus on the planet.

Let’s do a little math, shall we? Just for the sake of simplicity, let’s say that there were equal numbers of people in the crowd from each of the fifteen listed nations. That means there were around 200 Arabs. Check my calculations (200/3,120 = 0.064).

I think this suggests that about 6% of the initial members of the first believers referred to Yahweh as Allah – over 300 years before Mohammed arrived on the scene.

The problem is not who owns the word. When Arab Muslims and Arab Christians each use the word Allah today, the real issue is that they disagree over the character of the one whom the name describes.

Does this idea impact how you’d relate to a Muslim coworker? How would you go about negotiating meaning in respectful dialog?

From Joppa to Caesarea: The Conversion of Simon Peter

Caesarea88 miles south of Tyre, Lebanon, circa 35 AD

Peter relaxed on the rooftop and offered a prayer of thanks. He had let a servant know that he was hungry and looked out over the surrounding buildings along the sea as the meal was being prepared.

This Jewish town of Joppa buzzed with the news of how he’d raised the woman Tabitha from the dead. So many Jews had become disciples of Jesus in the wake of his travels – first Jerusalem, then Lydda, now Joppa. Peter felt sure that Jesus would be pleased with the feeding of his sheep.

He still felt the sting of shame from how he had denied knowing Jesus. Despite his unfaithfulness, he’d been forgiven and even empowered. He planned to make the most of this second chance.

The sky was blocked from view by a descending sheet, and Peter grew dimly aware that he was experiencing a supernatural vision. The bulging center of the sheet landed first, followed by the corners, to reveal an assortment of animals, reptiles, and birds.

A voice in his ear told him to kill and eat, but he thought it was a test. All the animals were forbidden for Jews to eat in the Mosaic Law. He said, “no way!” three times, despite the voice telling him not to question God’s ability to purify anything, before the offending menagerie was finally taken back up into heaven.

What a strange vision. What could it mean? Peter was just beginning to ponder deeply when he heard a knock at the door to the house below.

No one answered the door to the three Roman Gentiles out there. Jews didn’t mix with the enemy occupier of their land. Undeterred, the visitors called out, asking if the man known as Simon Peter was staying there.

At that moment, Peter heard the Spirit tell him, “I sent the three men who are looking for you. Go with them.”

Do you think the number three was significant to Peter?

I think Peter heard the number three in the Spirit’s voice and broke into a cold sweat. Three men. Three invitations to eat forbidden meat. Three times Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Three charges to feed Jesus’ sheep. And most memorable of all – the predicted three times he denied knowing Jesus before the rooster crowed.

Were all those threes setting him up for this key moment in which so much rode on Peter’s obedience? Would he go with the men?

The visitors told of the request of his presence in the home of a centurion, the military commander of a hundred soldiers. No stranger to a jail cell, this must have smelled like a trap to Peter. But he was determined not to deny his Lord again. He invited them in to the house to stay the night.

Ten men embarked the next day, for a two-day, forty mile journey to Caesarea.

Peter went despite his abhorrence for Romans and Gentiles. The prospect of traveling with them carried the same aversion as eating roasted lizard meat. He took six Jews with him – three times the number required to testify in a Jewish trial.

What will people think?

Imagine the reaction of Peter’s fans as they strode along in broad daylight. What on earth is Peter doing with those guys? I thought he was a holy man?! The Romans must have felt the disapproving glares and may have wondered if they were going to get out of the situation alive.

What do you suppose they talked about as they walked? Did the Jews ask about Cornelius – how he had come to fear God? Maybe Peter was in the act of explaining that Cornelius’ good works weren’t enough to be accepted into the faith before he remembered his vision about purification.

Somewhere around the middle of their journey they crossed over into Gentile territory and the hateful stares shifted toward the Jews in the party.  Cornelius met them at his house, together with a crowd of his family, friends, and neighbors.

The pregnant moment of decision

As Peter described his change of heart toward them, and explained the good news of Jesus, they were overcome by the Holy Spirit in a way that the Jews believed should have been impossible.

Who was converted? Certainly Cornelius’ faith was ratified by the Holy Spirit, but it could have happened without Peter being there, right?

I think the point of the story is the heavenly effort put into getting Peter to Caesarea to experience the event. Somewhere on the road, it was Peter who was converted to God’s kingdom plan to include all nations – not just Israel.

The power of a stroll and a conversation?

Remember, Peter wasn’t told by the Spirit to convert Cornelius. He was told to go on a journey with three men, to start a conversation.

What if the Spirit told you to you take a walk with a Muslim? Would you do it? What might happen as you talk on your journey together?

Jihad and The Green Cabinet: Perfectionism vs. Community

PerfectionistTyre, Lebanon – circa March 2000

My Sunni Muslims landlord, Jihad, was frowning when I stepped into his candy shop for a visit. He regularly helped me practice my new Arabic vocabulary, if I came before the daily rush of kids on their way home from school. That particular day, the green bathroom cabinet sitting in front of him on the sales counter distracted him.

“What’s wrong, Jihad?” I asked, after the customary exchange of greetings.

He pointed with his open right hand at the piece of furniture, and gave it a sidelong glance. “I just picked this up from the painter down the street.”

“What’s the problem? It looks like he did a good job to me.”

“But I told him to paint it white!” Jihad exploded. “When I complained, he told me that he thought it looked better green and tried to convince me to agree with him.”

I joined Jihad’s outrage. “You didn’t pay him, did you?”

“What else could I do?”

The Need of The Many Outweigh The Preferences of The Few

The painter was likely a relative of his. His business probably suffered in the bad economy, and he may have only had green paint on hand, without money to buy white. Jihad had resigned himself to accept the wrong color in order to recover his property from its overdue captivity in the paint shop. A green cabinet was better than no cabinet at all.

I couldn’t imagine this situation ending in any way other than a lawsuit back home in the States (maybe a fistfight and then a lawsuit).

It wasn’t that Jihad didn’t have personal preferences. His outburst demonstrated that clearly. But community-centered values allowed him to give up the right to have things the way he wanted them.

The Struggle Within

I think Jihad was aptly named. Most westerners learn from the news that the word Jihad means “holy war.” Of course, it can mean that, but the simple meaning is “to exert influence.” My friend had indeed won out in his internal struggle to keep the peace.

For myself, I probably wouldn’t have minded making enemies if it wasn’t quite the right shade of white that I had expected.

Some people would call that perfectionism. I’m a perfectionist. It sounds like a positive trait, as if I’m always working toward the betterment of things. Truly, perfectionism is a term spoiled brats like me use to make ourselves feel better about our selfishness.

Things in my life are the way I want them to be, most of the time. I wonder what quality of community I could be enjoying if I preferred other people’s preferences more often.

What about you? Do you choose lonely perfection or compromised community by the actions you take in everyday life? Are there other options?

Filtering Truth in The New World of Publishing

ShirkyWhen people learn that I have Muslim friends, it tends to elicit questions that are based on anger and fear. I am struck by the anxiety that is produced in normally thoughtful people by sensationalism in the media. “But I read that…”

No doubt you’ve heard it said: “Don’t believe everything you see in print. Just because it’s written down, doesn’t make it true.” That message was hammered home to me recently, while I was reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.

Shirky wrote about our need to think differently. “We have historically relied on the publisher’s judgment to help ensure minimum standards of quality. Where publishing [was] hard and expensive, every instance of the written word [came] with an implicit promise: someone besides the writer thought this was worth reading.”

The world of publishing has undergone radical changes in the last ten years. Unfortunately, those of us who remember the way it used to be, have done little to revise the old-fashioned way we treat the information that we consume.

Freedom to Publish Requires Readers to Filter

A few months ago, I signed up for an account on WordPress online and selected a free blogging theme. I didn’t have to ask a real person’s permission – I just filled out and submitted a form. The message that you’re now reading cost me next to nothing to present to you, and it was very simple for me to put together. I haven’t consulted anybody else’s opinion (except my wife’s, of course. She’s an excellent editor) before pushing the “publish” button.

I do hope you will engage your own sense of discernment before you act on the truth that I offer you. Likewise, most of what you read these days has to be considered carefully and sifted through your own common sense sniffer.

Shirky describes the new way we must engage information. “Filter-then-publish, whatever its advantages, rested on a scarcity of media that is a thing of the past. The expansion of social media means that the only working system is publish-then-filter.”

Personalized Search

Unfortunately, the very tools we think we’re using to filter are working against our individual abilities to discern.

Did you know that Google provides you with different search results than someone else is likely to get? No. Really. Google is trained to follow your own biases, based on the things you’ve chosen from past searches.

When you’re logged into your Google account on your computer, Google Web History is recording the links you click on that result from a search. The next time you perform a Google search, advanced mathematical algorithms “help you” by providing a customized set of results that are likely to reflect your previous personalized choices.

So whatever prejudices you have, they’re likely to get stronger. Google will feed you a solid diet of what you chose in the past without letting you know there are other opinions.

Do you think this may have repercussions on society? Ayup.

So the next time you read something that stirs up anger and fear, take a deep breath and ask yourself how trustworthy you know your source to be. How does it relate to your personal experience or lack thereof? Do you know someone you can ask who is more reliable?

If you want a different perspective on what it’s like to befriend Muslims, read my book Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon. Trust me. It’s good. Even though I published it entrepreneurially. Come on, it has to be good if you can get it on Amazon!

…oh, and turn off personalized search if you want to think for yourself.

The Night I Experienced Shiite Street Justice


South Lebanon, 2001

I was returning home to Tyre after an evening of visiting friends in another town called Nabatieh, which is not known for its friendly feelings toward the West. I drove my early nineties model Honda Accord hatchback.

I crested a hill, winding through streets hemmed in tightly by concrete structures. Suddenly, another car shot out from a narrow alley on the left that had been concealed from my view by the darkness. I stomped on my brakes and veered to the right, but our front ends met and the two cars abruptly came to rest in the middle of the street.

Almost instantly there was a crowd of men where a moment before there had been no one. In the darkness an assembly convened. Five young Shia men got out of the other car and at least seven more emerged from nearby homes to participate in the impending tribunal. I fearfully tried to prepare myself for the beating that my imagination told me was coming next.

Vigilante Justice

Nobody was hurt, but the other driver was understandably upset about the damage to his car. “Why didn’t you swerve more? You could have kept from hitting me!” He shouted amidst hand motions demonstrating the path I should have taken.

I got out and looked at the damage. I had a small dent and part of my rubber bumper out of place slightly; purely cosmetic. The other car’s radiator had been crushed into a 45 degree angle and had already emptied its contents into the street in a puddle. It wouldn’t be moving from that spot under its own power.

Then something amazing happened. A few of the gathered crowd pulled the other driver aside and calmed him down, asking his side of the story. A few others came to talk to me, the scared-eyed westerner who barely knew enough Arabic to communicate. A judicial process kicked in and members of the spontaneous community assumed roles as if they had rehearsed in advance.

After their interviews, the negotiators and witnesses met in the neutral ground, barring physical contact between the drivers while they sorted out the details. I was mesmerized by the flurry of activity.

The Verdict

They reasoned with the other driver. “Look, you have no insurance and the foreigner does. The damage to your car is a lot worse, but he won’t have to pay because it looks like it was your fault.”

I offered to call the insurance agent to make a claim, but he was in a tight spot because he was driving with no insurance, which would have gotten him in trouble if the accident was reported.

The counsellors continued “If the foreigner agrees to accept his own damages, it will go better for you.”

He didn’t like it. He argued that I should pay him for the damages. One of the bystanders asked me if I wanted him to pay to have my car fixed. When I said, “No.” he told me to get in my car and go. I got in and went.

Case dismissed.

A powerless American, acquitted by a God-fearing, Shiite justice mob.

If you like this story, you should read my book, Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.