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.
23 July 2006
From Limassol to The Fairgrounds in Nicosia, Cyprus
We got up and showered in the morning and headed up onto the deck as a family, looking for whatever we could find for breakfast. Since we had stayed on the ship in the morning, they’d had a chance to stock the restaurant with new food, so they had something for us. Unfortunately, the small size of the café made it difficult for the ship’s entire population to access it. It was yet another wearisome long line to stand in.
I went looking for a table with Naomi while Kimarie and Gideon stood in line. I rediscovered a family, who had been staying with us at the Convent. We more or less stayed with them until leaving Cyprus. The husband’s name was Bassam, and the couple had two medium‐aged children who loved playing with Naomi and Gideon.
From our vantage point on the deck, we could see the US Navy vessel that had transported a bunch of people, parked directly ahead of us at the dock. We could see several hundred US soldiers sleeping in their fatigues in rows on the open deck of the ship with the morning sun beating down on them. They had apparently been ordered to give up their bunks for their passengers and been assigned to sleep up there, whether they actually were able to or not.
The breakfast that Kimarie brought consisted of mini croissants and pound cake muffins. Our German‐born captain made an appearance on deck as he made his rounds, encouraging his crew.
After eating we walked a lap around the deck, noticing the helipad and empty pool and re‐ entered the cabin for more exploration of its other decks. We poked around the gift shop to see if there was anything to eat there that we might want to pack for future meals, but it was all pretty much junky food that we couldn’t bear the thought of eating any more. We did buy a cylinder of Pringles chips and a baseball‐style cap with the name of the ship embroidered into it for posterity. You could tell that the clerk at the register was about to collapse from exhaustion, but he was still very amiable as he ran the credit card.
After the announcement was made that we could get off the ship, people came from many different levels and all merged together in a huge mess. Some tried to buck the line by using the handicap elevators to bypass large segments of people who were even waiting on the stairs with their children and luggage.
At one point we had gotten just around the corner before the gang plank and a guy came up from behind us with a panicked look on his face, saying that the people he was with back there couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t we all stand to the right of the corridor so that the air could get back to them? We all complied with his wishes, which then gave him room to move right up to the folks at the gangplank to negotiate getting his family out ahead of everyone else.
He came back and was shouting about his children’s safety and wanting to avoid their suffocation. As he passed by me, I pointed out to him that he was now the only one that was remaining on the side of the corridor that was meant for air to circulate. He patronizingly told me that he was trying to help people.
Kimarie came a little unglued at this point and released some righteous indignation, “I have children that are hot too!”
He said, “Maybe you should move to the front with them too.” Then Kimarie shut him down. “They already offered to let me get off earlier, but I refused because nobody here is more important than anybody else!”
There was a murmur of approval in what she had said among the crowd around us, and the obnoxious guy shut up and went back to his family. We noticed, however, that in the end he got some official to help him get his family off before us by taking another route in the corridors.
As we were nearing daylight, another cluster of people emerged from the elevator at our left, which set Kimarie to fuming again. Even though she was right to be angry and indignant, it wasn’t going to help the situation much for her to shout. And we were almost there. Just a few more people ahead of us now…
As we finally passed the ship’s registration desk, I tried to hand a fifty dollar bill to the attendants there as a tip for all their sacrifices they had made for us. I had seen a tip box at the information desk earlier, but had not had the chance to get back to it. The guy looked at me with surprise and told me that he wouldn’t accept it, that they weren’t accepting tips.
I released the bill from my hand and let it fall to the counter and continued heading toward the gangplank. Before I could make it there, however, he had chased me down and forced me to take the money back. It was a strange experience to see this man’s selflessness amidst the selfish pressing of the crowd as each person tried to be the next one off the ship.
After we got off the ship, we went through immigration and customs and boarded busses to go to Nicosia. This process took place in a large room. On the way in, relief workers were handing out sandwiches and small bottles of water, which we eagerly accepted and stuffed into our bags.
Once again we were separated. One member of the family was sent to lines with the passports to register with the others going to sit in the waiting area. I chose a cordoned line that turned out to be the longest wait.
I had to make myself wide with my elbows to avoid having two obnoxious women cut in front of me in line. When I reached the ubiquitous official with the laptop, I was informed that we wouldn’t be getting right on a flight, but bussing to a more appropriate waiting area while they arranged for our further travel. After registering our names we were free to claim our baggage (we didn’t have any to claim) and get on any bus.
That’s when I went back to find Kimarie by herself – crying. The Refugees chapter starts here. The following details were left out of that chapter.
It was a hot day at the fairgrounds, and even shady trees didn’t offer relief from the heavy air. My last change of clothes that I was wearing was going to be pretty ripe before we were finished with our travels. We had left our other changes of clothing on the cruise ship, thinking we wouldn’t need them again and that carrying them would just slow us down. Doh!
While Kimarie was feeding the kids from our diminishing store of snack foods, I struck out for the registration building to write and send an email update so that people would know that we were all right. Just before I arrived, something funny happened to the wireless network and it stopped working for the rest of the night. Though I couldn’t connect, I did find Wally, and after we greeted each other, he pulled Naomi’s little plastic construction worker out of his shirt pocket and gave it to me to return it to her.
I decided to at least write the message and send it later when the network was back up. I sat in a plastic chair outside in the shade of a nearby building, listening to the Marine’s AC/DC music playing in the background. There was a refreshing breeze that made it very comfortable.
Kimarie wanted to at least let our parents know that we were okay, so she decided to stand in the long lines for the payphones. We had been given a free phone card, which was supposed to have enough time to be able to call the States for several minutes. Gideon stayed with her in line, while I took Naomi for a walk.
Gideon, Naomi and I played around a pallet piled with boxes of bottled water that was sitting nearby the phones. Gideon was picking up and throwing several of the bottles that were strewn around the ground, and Naomi was climbing to the top of the mountain of boxes and jumping into the arms of the awaiting daddy below. We were providing entertainment to many other waiting folks around us.
The location where we waited was also the drop off point for a van, taking people on a fifteen-minute trek to take showers. We never wound up using this service because we heard that the van ride back from the showers was so packed and sweaty that it removed the point for going to take a shower in the first place.
The last trip had just concluded for the evening, and we assumed the responsibility to inform people arriving with towels over their shoulders that they were too late. As the sun was setting, more and more people were milling about outside as if to confirm Lebanese evening social custom requirements.
During our time there at the fairgrounds we had many conversations with all kinds of people. We heard their own horror stories of lost ventures and split families. We felt close to those people, like we were sharing something that went to a deep level that we knew nobody else would ever understand. At the same time, I never offered my email address or asked it of others. It was as if we needed each other for the moment, but realized that future contact would be awkward and counterproductive to healing. There were some half‐hearted suggestions of keeping in touch, but in the end we didn’t even exchange information with Bassam.
The rest of my Journal notes about our evacuation were incorporated into the Refugees chapter in the book, and cover the final two days of our homecoming.