The First Day

A three-hour delay sent me into a full sprint to my connecting flight; I reached my destination as the attendant began to close the door to the jet bridge. Please, I yelled breathlessly, I need to be on that flight. The woman stopped, smiled politely and reviewed my ticket and passport. Shukraan, Madame you may take your seat.

I walked down the aisle; head down struggling with my backpack and pelican case. Arriving at the center of the plane, I glanced up scanning the plane for seat 24G. A sea of Middle Eastern men and women in headscarves of varying degrees of modesty greeted me. For the first time in my life I felt completely out of place, a foreigner. I took my seat, closed my eyes and let out a little sigh of relief. Four hours later the flight attendants voice rings sweetly over the intercom, attention ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing in Beirut in 15 minutes, please fasten your seat belts and prepare for arrival.

Walking through the airport in Beirut I navigated my way to the visa line, keenly aware of the ever-present military personnel, watching.... Smiling sweetly I requested a visa, handed over my passport and documentation. The attendant examined the documents, looking for evidence of entry to Israel and asked when I intended to leave Beirut. February 14th, I confidently answered. Both men looked up and smiled widely, a good day to go home they both agreed. As I approached the declaration area of customs, I was singled out. My gear examined, multiple questions asked, undercurrents of distrust and curiosity when inquired about my nationality. What are you doing here, is your intent to work, what are you documenting, and are you traveling alone? Smiling politely I answered each question, seemingly satisfied with my responses the men sent me on my way. One more desk, a few more questions and I gratefully sunk into the seat of the hotel van. My driver was pleasant, we chatted about America. He revealed he had lived in Dearborn, MI for twenty years of his life and had to return to Lebanon to care for his elderly parents. Politics and thoughts on our current president were discussed, he was adamant that the U.S. was and is the best country in the world and no one could change his mind about that... An interesting perspective based on opportunities he had in the U.S. that were not available to him in Lebanon; a decent wage, advancement, freedom of speech. Driving through Beirut, there is a beauty to the city but remnants of war are evident in the occasional shell-shocked building and walls riddled with bullet holes. Perhaps the strangest thing for me is the constant presence of military, both obvious and not. As I chatted with Houssam, I watched the city pass by me. Taxi drivers, pedestrians and motorbikes co-existing together. A busy lively city, with military outlook posts behind barbed wire and graffiti concrete. I glanced to my right at our last busy intersection and caught a glimpse of a man in blue military garb behind barbed wire to the right of the intersection, his gaze seemed to be directed at me as if he knew that I did not belong. In that moment I am intrigued, lost and anxious about being here.