Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 8 of 11)

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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 9
20 July 2006
Jounieh, Lebanon

Before we left to be evacuated that day, I remember standing and holding each our friends in a tight embrace and whispering, “I love you,” into their ear. We concluded what we then thought would be the last time of meeting in the common room in which we were gathering for meetings, worship and games. The children did not want to leave their friends. Gideon especially preferred having Edmond’s wife, Roberta, holding him to Kimarie and me.

Denis drove us all the way down to the port of Beirut and asked direction of many people along the way, with much confusion about where we needed to go. We saw the British gathering point, and passed by it, making several wrong turns before following a few crowded buses into the port area, where we had once been guests of Operation Mobilization aboard the Logos II.

This had been the correct place to gather the day before, but the Canadians were now assembling there. We were turned away and told to go further south toward a massive balloon flying in the air, but nobody knew for sure where the Americans had relocated to.

We returned to the port entrance and finally got a definitive answer. The staging area was at an overpass very close to the Spinneys grocery store below the US embassy.

Thankfully, there was a grey haze that morning, which kept the heat down, which was pretty miraculous for July in Beirut. The cloud cover was mostly caused by residual smoke from the bombings.

The barricades that they had available to keep people in line were woefully inadequate, even for US standards, but impossible for funnel‐lined Lebanese expectations. The razor‐wire was much too close to the people and children were being pressed close to it by the maneuverings of the crowd.

We learned that many of the people that were there had arrived as early as 6:00 AM. Some had been sent appointments to be there by email. We wondered if we would be let in without one, as we had not yet received anything. The guards at the entrance dubiously allowed us in to “give it a try.”

About 90% of the people who waited for evacuation were Lebanese‐American – folks who were Lebanese born holders of US passports. Many of them had been on vacation, visiting their families in Beirut for the summer months. Most of them had brought their entire massive luggage with them, and were being pushy and aggressive.

There were thousands of people strewn up and down the road in four rows, lining the edges and median of an abandoned highway. Port‐o‐potties had been provided on one side, but were leaking blue liquid out onto the sidewalk where children were liable to be walking/crawling.

Our kids were hot and bored. Naomi decided to explore, so I walked around with her, picking paths through the luggage and looking at babies. She kept begging morsels of food from people around us that were eating anything that looked appetizing to her. I came back to find Kimarie chatting with a neighboring sidewalk‐squatter and Gideon eating a cigarette butt.

The lady that Kimarie talked to had been there since 6:00 AM, and was without her husband or anyone else. She pushed a double‐stroller holding her two children, and she looked pale and sickly. She volunteered the information that her baby son was allergic to regular formula and she had run out of his special kind that was unavailable in Beirut. She was really praying to get on a boat that day, but was admittedly pessimistic.

We also met up with some other Caucasian Americans. I was having a hard time with reduced‐stamina and moving from line to line, so when the wife of one of the couples wanted to discuss the spiritual significance of the latest events, I made any excuse to get away from her and avoid the discussion. It was too much to bear the moment’s stress, much less sort out why God could be allowing it to happen.

I saw Mr. Red Shirt, who was the official in charge. He walked by, within range, and I managed to point out the lady by herself with two kids. I told him that he should make sure she got on a boat today. He gave me kind of a blank, haunted look and kept on walking.

The vouchers we received after being turned away, were simply colored carbon copies of the embassy’s evacuation form. The officials gave out any of the colored copies, but not the white ones. We were required to have all of our bags and people in a group, filing through a line to get them. They wanted to make sure that only one voucher was being issued for each person and that there weren’t any extras being distributed. Most people couldn’t see the reason for this extra requirement of all the women and children at the end of the day, but I realized how valuable those vouchers would be to sell to other hopeful evacuees that wouldn’t have to wait in line the next day…

We made our way back out onto the top of the overpass where many people were being picked up, and called Denis to come and get us. I told Kimarie that Denis wanted to pick us up past the cars on the off‐ramp, but she misunderstood and walked all the way to the end of it. I had loaned my cell phone to a guy who needed to call a relative to give him a ride, and she had put some distance between us by the time I got it back. I shouted myself hoarse trying to get her to stop, but I was too far away to be heard.

The bags and the children had become very heavy to me after picking them up and putting them down and shuffling through lines. It was to be a burden that would get worse over the next several days.

In the end, we were never able to use the vouchers to any benefit. By the time we returned and began our own processing, the system had been refined and improved, but was first-come, first‐served.

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Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 7 of 11)

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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 8
19 July 2006
The Convent in Lebanon

This was the morning that we attempted to have a worship and prayer time. We hadn’t really done much of either up to that point and it was still difficult. I remember feeling guilty about that. Hadn’t Dietrich Bonheoffer faced death as a Nazi prisoner with prayer, scripture reading and worship? Why wasn’t I able to go to God at this time when I needed him most? Didn’t I believe that I would find comfort there?

Our friend Hassan had arrived the day before from Tyre. He stayed at the convent and we paid for his room. He kept running down to the French embassy to inquire about getting permission to travel even though he didn’t have a valid passport. He was also very concerned about his parents still trapped in their plantation just south of Tyre, next to where the natural gas plant had been destroyed.

Gideon cried while we waited for one of the meals, so I took him into the convent’s chapel. It was beautifully ornamented with stained glass and mosaic‐like tiles over the whole inside. It was here that I found my voice for worship and sang Taize’ songs. The Greek version of Yes, I Believe, I Agree, It Is So came to mind. Mark Gravrock had taught it to us in Greek classes at LBI so many years ago. Gideon was comforted, and one of the sisters came in and sat in the back pew to listen. It was a holy moment between God and me – a moment of gratitude for saving my precious ones from mortal danger.

Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 6 of 11)

SquareEmail

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 7
18 July 2006
The Convent in Lebanon

In my evening email on the 18th, I had to correct a mistake I’d made in dating an email while we were still in Tyre. I had incorrectly dated the 16 July email as 17 February! That just goes to show how much stress we were under.

Edmond drove my Pajero part‐way down the hill from the convent to a service station in an effort to acquaint himself with how it handled. I think he was nervous about driving such a big car, but he did well. We had to make arrangements that would allow him to officially represent me regarding the car after we left.

We sat for a half‐hour or so, waiting for the car to be serviced. Edmond and I talked about him feeling free to use our vehicle as long as he liked – permanently if needed. He would arrange to sell it and send us the money otherwise.

That talk brought us closer together than ever before, sitting on plastic chairs on a sunny evening in front of the gas station, knowing that we were soon to part company for a long time and possible forever. We had been through so much together, shaping and molding each other’s lives for seven years. Saying goodbye to such a close brother was too hard.

The sisters from the convent were noticeably strained by their own fears about what was happening to their country and what might happen to them. They were also hosting other westerners that had been meeting in a conference at their facility and who were caught without an airport from which to travel home. Even so, they made many concessions to us. We were able to take a key to a media room with an Internet connection at any time that we needed.

The food they served included too many eggplant dishes to suit me, but there was always something to eat, in as much quantity as we wanted. I rediscovered my appetite and ate enough to cover both that week and the previous one. It was still hot, even up there on the mountain, and I sweated constantly and drank as much water as I could.

Kimarie had to wash both of our family’s two sets of clothes, as she was able, and hang them to dry on the balcony of our room. A shirt blew off and into a tall tree, requiring that we throw things down on it from above to dislodge and recover it.

The children didn’t have enough toys, and kept playing in dirty, dusty parts of the place. They showed an uncanny talent for finding things to soil themselves with, just when we had no other clothes to change them into. They also naughtily  grabbed the phone, spilled water, played with electrical cords, etc. Perhaps it was because their parents were lifelessly lying around, at the end of their ropes – unable to play with them as they normally would.

Kimarie talked to our former Arabic teacher. I talked to my best English student. I couldn’t get through to Sadiq’s sister or fiancée, so I sent a text message to him in Saudi. He wrote back to let me know that his family were all still safe.

I also got hold of the friends, who had offered to drive out with us so early in the morning the day before. They learned from me that we planned on evacuating and it upset her. She wanted assurances that we would be returning, which I couldn’t give her.

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

SquareEmail

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)

SquareEmail

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)

SquareEmail

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)

SquareEmail

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.