An Egyptian journalist records his travel to Beirut
Going to Beirut I was completely unprepared for this. My heart was with my wife and son in Athens. I was hoping to do the Cyprus assignment and go back to them, but life didn’t want things to be this way.
It is ironic that, yesterday, I was in Cyprus to cover the evacuees from Beirut and today I am in a boat going the other direction: to Beirut. I am not alone. About fifty journalists are going to cover the war, and another fifty Lebanese nationals going home to be with their loved ones during the war: families, a basketball team, a Filipino maid that was probably not given a choice (“Yallah [come on], ya Stephanie. We are going back to Beirut. Damn, Stephanie thought to herself.)
We embarked at midnight, aboard this Greek ferry chartered by the French. In Beirut, 1,000 French citizens were waiting to be taken out to Larnaca and from there to various destinations.
Lebanon probably has the most dual nationality citizens in this part of the world.
We left Amman at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, in a black sedan with big letters, ”TV”, taped on the roof.
“For the Israelis to see, the driver explained.
It should take six hours to get to Beirut, if there is no trouble on the way , he warned.
At about 5:00 a.m. we reached the Syrian-Jordanian border, very civilized and pleasant. The paperwork didn’t take twenty minutes.
An hour and a half drive through Syria and we were at borders again; Syria and Lebanon this time. Again, very easy.
On the Lebanese side, the officials were grateful than I wanted to get into Lebanon. We had tea together amid laughs and jokes, talked about Adel Imam and Somia El-Alfy.
But soon it is time to leave again – on to Lebanon.
Ten kilometers out of the border post, the highway is closed by a large crater created by a large Israeli bomb. This was our cue to leave the highway and get onto smaller road. The idea is to stay in towns as much as possible, driving between buildings.
Soon we arrived at the town of Zahla. I is now 8:00 a.m. and the town is waking up. Old ladies are bargaining at food stores, men on ploughs are going to fields.
These ten coming kilometers are the most dangerous, the driver said pointing at the road ahead, just as I was thinking this is all very peaceful and serene.
A mountain road, sinuous, climbing between two rocky mountains, vegetations growing out of rocks, but exposed to the sky, no buildings shielding us. Every now and then, a bombed truck, black and torn like a discarded tissue, sat on the side of the road.
The Israelis are targeting trucks, the driver explained.
There was some traffic on the road now; everyone was driving fast, trying to finish the road as quickly as possible. We came across three trucks carrying water. They had water printed on a blue piece material atop their trucks, for the Israelis to see. They drove slowly up the mountains, cars screeching past. They are in danger and no one wanted to stick around. I wondered how vulnerable the drivers of these trucks must feel: a target, slow and obvious. I hope they get paid well.
Soon, we were amidst villages again, Druze villages followed by Christian villages: Ein Tourra, El Mrouj, Bikfaya . It felt very safe now, the villages looked Greek, the shops are open, people are drinking coffee in cafes that emit lovely smells of freshly baked croissants, which I found irresistible.
But the driver was too intense, feeling like he had a world record to break . Croissants didn’t appeal to him. He was driving fast and nervously, trying to run over pedestrians when he saw them. He only slowed down to honk when he saw girls passing the street. Lebanese girls with their short skirts and cuts probably looked like people from another planet to my driver.
Urban areas are now melting into each other as we are driving down to the sea. “Beirut, My driver said. “Anetialas the sign said. Anetalias is a Christian suburb of Beirut and from there we drove amid heavy traffic to the central of town were the press building is.
I have been, in Beirut, only a few hours and here there are no signs of the war raging in the South, at least not today. The Lebanese were in the streets doing what they do best: surviving elegantly.
Youssef El Alfy has been a journalist since 1981 working for many international broadcasters. He is currently a producer for Swiss broadcasting service Eurovision in Beirut helping to set up a news operation.