The dictionary definition of ’traumatism’ is that it is the result of a severe emotional shock having a deep, often lasting effect upon the personality.
I would like to clarify here that I am a normal and sane person. I would also like to state here that any normal and sane person who had been born and raised in the United States would be in a state of Traumatism due to such acts as I have experienced. I was young, and I was a newcomer in a foreign country.
The first distressing event that I experienced happened early on during my first five years in Lebanon. Sami was an FSI (Foreign Service Institute) instructor at the American University of Beirut for the American Embassy in Lebanon, and the time was a few years after the Arab Isreali War of June, 1967. This is also known as the ‘Six-day War.” It was during the evening of September 28, 1970. Sami, Toni Kassab, an instructor in the Arabic Department at the American University of Beirut, and I were returning from Baabda to Beirut. Toni Kassab was also involved in the Arabic Program for the FSI. The students, who were Americans, were living in Baabda, and they had invited us to a party that evening. Baabda, an influential suburb of Beirut, is also the site of the Presidential Palace, and it is relatively near to Beirut. However, it is still in the mountains, so as we drove down the mountain roads, we were extremely cautious; we were cautious about the mountain roads, as well as the news that trouble was brewing in Beirut. The party had ended rather abruptly because there had been an announcement on the radio that Beirut was swarming with demonstrations, so we were anxiously on our way back home. At the announcement on the radio, the party ended abruptly and all the guests rushed to get back to their homes. It was rumored (incorrectly) that Gemal Abdel Nasser, the president of the republic of Egypt had been assassinated. Actually, he was dead, but from a heart attack and not the victim of an assassin. He was an extremely popular figure in the Arab world, if not the most popular, because after Egypt’s defeat in the third Arab-Israeli War (Six-day War) in June, 1967, huge demonstrations of public support brought him back to power after he had resigned as a result of the defeat. Gemal Abdel Nasser sought to speak as a leader for all the Arab people and pursued neutralist policy encouraging Third World cooperation. He was totally loved by Arabs all over the world for his representation as an Arab statesman.
On the Aley Highway, which took us from Baabda to Beirut, we noticed a gallery that had been broken into. All cf Beirut was dark, and as is the practice, the gallery owner had left on the lights of the chandeliers that were on display. So, the gallery had been broken into, and the bulbs on the chandeliers had been broken. This should have been a warning to us to turn Out the lights of the car; however,, the Aley Highway has ever so many turns, and one must be able to see these turns or go over the side of the mountain. Sometimes, this happens even when one has the car lights on because it is a treacherous road.
Just as we were about to finish our decent down the mountain, we saw ahead of us a gang of two hundred or so young men. We stopped as they approached the car, but we were not prepared for what they did. All together, they picked up the car and were about to turn it over when we realized that we should have turned out the lights of the car. After we did so, the men began screaming at us that we were celebrating Nasser’s death. After some time, we were able to convince the crowd that we were unaware of the situation, and they allowed us, with no car lights, to proceed to Beirut. Needless to say, I was rather shaken. That night, we decided that Toni Kassab should stay over night and make a try for his home in East Beirut in the morning when the situation would be calmer.
When we awoke the following morning, it was to the shouts of the demonstrators who were out in full force, even more so than the preceding night. We sat on the veranda trying to plan a strategy for Toni to get home, as well as for us to leave Beirut and go up to our own village, Aytat. This is customary for people who live in Beirut to do. One always finds a safe haven in his own village among his own family and friends. It was noon by the time we decided what we should do. Toni would go to the American University until it was relatively safer for him to go to his home in the mountains in the eastern sector of Beirut, and we would start out for Aytat in the southern sector. Our Beirut home was rather near the American University of Beirut. We packed the car. That day was the start of my packing a bag that would always be ready for travel should the need arise; this bag continued to be packed and ready for travel for the next twenty years. The bag was something like a bag a mother-to-be has setting next to the door for her to take with her when she is ready to deliver her baby.
As we drove up the mountain road to our village, Aytat, demonstrators lined the roads. By then, we all knew that Gemal Abdel Nasser had died of a heart attack; however, the frenzy of the night before still was rampant among the crowds. I had a black scarf which I held out the window as a sign of mourning, and I did not stop holding it out the window until we reached the very door of our home in Aytat. I even began wearing black as a sign of mourning, as did most of the other women in many of the areas in Lebanon. I
did this for a few weeks. All of Lebanon, as did most of the other countries in the Arab World, mourned the death of this great man.
So, it was 1970 when I experienced my first bout of trauma regarding the situation in the country, and this was to continue until I left Lebanon seventeen years later.
In June, 1967, to me, the first day of the Arab-Isreali War, was just an announcement over the radio and in the newspapers. I came home from my teaching job to find Sami, and another professor at the American University cf Beirut sitting in my living room. They were making plans for my departure, as well as his wife’s from Lebanon. I thought then that it was rather premature to be discussing that subject. Mounir Bashur, Sami’s collegue, was also married to an American, Kathy Bashur, who was a teacher at the American Community School also on the American University of Beirut Campus.. Then, they did not have children, but we had two daughters, Sahar, and Rand.
As far as I was concerned, the Arab-Isreali War was a war between Syria - Egypt, and Isreal and therefore, would not affect me. However, I soon learned that the American State Department thought differently regarding the American involvement in the War. So, American Embassy personnel began evacuating Lebanon the very first day of the War. The building I lived in, The Green Tower Building in Tallet el-Khayyat, had an international residencey. The man who was the Director of the Voice of America, Robert Cummins, and his family lived in my building. So, they were among the first to leave, and since we had been good friends, I was asked to keep their cat. They fully intended to return, so they gave me money to buy a supply of cat food from Salloum’s Market in the Hamra area. Salloum’s had a variety of American products and catered to the foreign community. That afternoon, I went to Salloum’s and bought the cat food, as well as some necessary items I needed. I was waiting in the checkout line when suddenly, the owner of the Market, Gaby Salloum, came into the shop and announced that everyone had to vacate the Market immediately. He told us there was a ‘blackout’ and a ‘curfew,’ and he had to close the Market right then. I had no cat food at home, and since I knew Gaby quite well, I asked him to allow me to have the just the cat food. He refused, so I then asked him if I could take the boxes of cat food and pay him later. Even this, he did not allow me to do because he wanted me, along with the others, out of the Market immediately. I was beginning to become concerned, to say the least. When I got home, Sami had learned of the ‘blackout’ and the ‘curfew,’ We set to work and covered the windows of the house. And, this was no easy task because the entire front of our house, over sixteen square feet, was glass, and this was from top to bottom. Over half of the back of the house had glass from the top to the bottom, as well.
That evening, we watched the news on television. We saw the Americans leaving from Beirut International Airport. I was sad, and concerned; however, I still did not feel that this War would affect me anymore than it already had. We went to bed as usual. Then, the shock came. At around two o’clock in the morning, our area representative from the American Embassy came over. He told Sami and me that there would be a mass evacuation of all Americans from the American University of Beirut Campus by five o’clock in the morning. We were to have blankets and food for a few days. At first, both Sami and I refused because only I and Sahar and Rand would be
evacuated, and neither Sami nor I thought that this was really a necessary step to take. However, this man was quite insistent, and he even told Sami that possibly the blood of his wife and children would be on his hands. So, what were we to do? He had put the “fear of God” into us. I immediately packed one suitcase with the necessary items, and off we went to the University Campus to proceed with the evacuation. Sami stayed with us. We covered the girls with the blankets, and they ate the few sandwiches that I had brought that night.
When daylight came, busses arrived on Campus, and they were guarded by Lebanese soldiers. After all the formal steps were taken, Sami bid me and our daughters ‘goodbye,’
and we began our ride to the airport. That was when I really started to have misgivings about leaving Lebanon.
I had seen so few people I knew, and I felt so lost. By the time we reached the airport, I had made up my mind. I did not want to leave my husband! I told that to everyone who would listen to me; no one would answer. When I found the lady from the Embassy who was in charge of that particular evacuation that I wanted to return to Beirut, she simply screamed at me, “Impossible.” So there I was, boarding the plane for Athens, Greece along with the rest of the Americans. I did not know it then, but my ‘hell’ had just begun. I remember we were served chicken on the plane. I did not feel like eating and Sahar and Rand just would not eat, period. I moved the plate away; and then, I felt a tapping on my shoulder from the lady sitting behind me. She told me to wrap the food and eat it during the day while we were in Athens. She said that unless I had a lot of money and could afford to eat in a restaurant, I would have to wait to eat again when I boarded another plane to America. How sound her advice was!
The plane landed; we were bussed to a hotel in Athens, and we were on our own. The lady in charge of the evacuation announced to the Americans as we were standing in the lobby that we had arrived to our ‘safe haven,’ and now we were on our own to make the necessary travel arrangements to get ourselves to the United States. What a shock!! I had been led to believe that the American Embassy did everything for Americans; the American Embassy would even cover all the cost of the travel to America. I soon learned otherwise. We got the trip to Athens, Greece - period! It was our “safe haven.” We would have to pay for our stay in Athens, as well as for the remainder of our transportation to the United States.
What a dilemma!! I had only been in Lebanon for four years. I had not needed American dollars! I did not have American dollars! And, one must have American dollars to spend in Europe if he were coming from the Middle East in 1967. 1 soon learned this at the reservation desk in the hotel. Sami had given me Lebanese pounds for just this reason; he thought that in the event I needed any money, he had financially secured my trip home to the United States. After I was refused a room at the hotel, I went out into the street and just stood there in shock. Sahar and Rand were crying; they were hungry and tired. After all - they had been awake most of the night.
Anahid Manougian, a Lebanese girl who had been a classmate of Sami’s and now married to an American, came out of the hotel and saw me standing on the street. Her husband, had been told they must leave Lebanon, as well. Her husband gave me ten dollars so that I could at least get to Pan American Airways office and make plane reservations to America. I took a taxi, and when the driver learned of my predicament, he said that he could help me out. For the ten dollars he said, he would take me to the Pan American office; then, after I had made the reservations, he would take me to a hotel for the night. All this for ten dollars!! I should have known!! However, I was desperate because Sahar and Rand needed to sleep. The driver waited for me, and when I had made the reservation that was for the following morning; true to his word, he drove us to a hotel. I will never know where it is, nor what the name is, but I remember that it was a rather long drive. I told him not to pick us up in the morning because the Pan American office had arranged for a bus to pick us up. The taxi driver helped me register at the hotel, and he even carried my luggage up to our room. Safe for the night! What a relief!!
While I had been registering at the desk, I had noticed two girls sitting on a bench across from the desk. And, I had noticed that they looked at me kindly and smiled at us. Well, no sooner had I closed the door of the room and started to dress the girls for bed when there was a knock at the door. The two girls from the lobby were at the door. They asked what I was doing. I told them I was getting ready to put my daughters to bed for the night and then go to sleep myself. Then, they asked me to join them for an evening of fun and entertainment as soon as the girls had gone to sleep. I was no fool! I knew immediately what these girls had in mind. Then, suddenly I realized that this was what the driver of the taxi had intended all along. No wonder - a room for ten dollars. I had a feeling that it would be better for me not to refuse immediately, so I told the girls that I would join them as soon as I had settled Sahar and Rand for the night. I also realized that there would be little help from the part of the hotel if I told them what was going on. Then, as soon as the girls left the room, I went on with putting Sahar and Rand to bed for the night. However, I was terrified! I knew that I had to keep my wits about me. I had never been in such a position.
Another thing I soon realized was that the hotel had given me a room for ten dollars, and I had gotten just ten dollar’s worth of room. There was no bathroom in the room. It was down at the end of the hall. I dared not leave the room. The girls had returned to the door, and the knocking continued for long periods of time. Neither did I open the door, nor did I even answer. The knocking went on for a good part of the night. As well as bolting the door, I had put the only chair in the room under the door knob, and I sat on it all night. I was in a state of trauma, but I had to keep my wits about me. Sometime during the night, the girls stopped knocking at the door; however, I never left my place on that chair. Finally, morning came, and the clerk at the desk called and told me the Pan American bus was waiting for me in front of the hotel.
What a night it had been! I had fed the girls, Sahar and Rand, the food I had saved from the airplane. As far as the bathroom goes, the sink in the room had sufficed. The girls were so young that they just had accepted everything that I told them to do. We arrived at the airport. It was morning, and the girls wanted to eat and drink something. But, I had to keep telling them that as soon as we boarded the plane, they would get all they wanted to eat and drink. There was a plane close by to the Pan American area that had donuts, cakes, and bon jus, a soft drink the girls were familiar with in Beirut. When they saw the bon jus, they went on and on about how hungry they were. It was then that an American lady came up to me and offered me two dollars. She
said that she had been on the plane from Beirut to Athens and had seen me on
the plane. I tried to refuse, but she insisted I take the money. I agreed to
take it only if she would give me her name and address for me to return the
money. She said that it was not important but finally told me that she was on the
faculty of the Beirut College for Women (BCW), then known as the Beirut University College
(BUC) and now, known as Lebanese University College (LAU). When I asked for
her in Lebanon, I learned that she had not returned to the College. I cannot
now remember her name now - which is a pity!
Now, you may think that you will read that my trauma had ended. I was in the
United States. But, not so! In the Metropolitan Detroit Airport where we
disboarded the plane, I had to make contact with my family to get to their
home. A phone call from a public phone was only ten cents, so I immediately
asked the first person I saw to give me a dime, and I tried to explain my
situation. He refused! And, the next one, too. This went on until I was in a
state of hysteria. Here I was in America, and not one American adult would
give me a dime for a phone call! What has happened in America?
I continued to ask people because there was just no other way for me to get ten cents for a phone call. A young boy, walking past with his father stopped and asked his father if he could give me the dime. His father told him that if he wanted to, he could. That was the way I got the ten cents. No adult in the Metropolitan Detroit Airport would help me!
When I went into my mother’s house, I could hardly believe I was home. It had taken me two very long days and nights to get there. However, as happy as I was to be in my mother’s home where it was so very comfortable for me and my daughters, I was still depressed because I had left Sami in Beirut - and so suddenly. I was still in a state of shock because it had all happened so quickly. My mother, on the other hand, was delighted to have me there with my daughters. Since June 6th, only two days before, she had not turned off the television set. She had been so worried about me and my family that she sat and watched the results of the war between Egypt, Syria, and Israel since the day it had started and she did not stop watching the news until she left home to go and pick me up at the airport. And, now I was doing the same thing. I had suddenly lost the confidence that I had about the war’s not affecting me and my family. I was terrified that something bad would happen to either Sami or someone in his family. This was not an entirely happy period of my life.
The summer of 1967 will always be remembered for the Arab-Isreali War in the Middle East; however, it will be remembered in the United States for another reason, as well as the Arab-Isreali War. The troubled, violent race riots that spread across the nation began that summer in the south eastern part of Los Angeles, California. Many riots erupted in United States cities during the 1960’s largely because of economic depravation and social injustices suffered by ghetto blacks. They included those in Detroit, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey in 1967, as well as the Watts right in Los Angeles, California. The Detroit riot was the most violent. It led to forty-three deaths and property damage of about forty-three million dollars.
Needless to say, I was not mentally nor emotionally prepared for such an event in my hometown in America. I had come home to America because the United States Government could not insure my security in Lebanon. From the July, 25, 1967 edition of the Detroit News, Jon Lowell, Detroit News Staff Writer wrote, “For most Detroiters, including those who lead the fifth largest city in the United States, there were no dark clouds . . . no quiet rumblings of a storm. When summer lightening that has stalked over land - riots - finally burst upon Detroit, it was on a warm Sunday morning in July. Thoughts were of stumbling Tiger (Detroit baseball team) efforts towards a pennant, vacations just finished or about to begin, new efforts to ease the traffic jams on the expressway. From the White House to the campus classrooms across the country, experts pointed to Detroit as the city that was doing things right. In City Hall, there were offices guiding an alphabet soup of programs aimed dagger-like at the heart ci what authorities said causes riots. Operating out of the mayor’s office was a 24-hour intelligence network pulled together to keep a continuing watch on the pulse of neighborhoods where even small trouble might start. Police officials had been to Watts and the other battered communities where riots had desolated the streets. They had studied the mistakes made there and drawn plans to avoid them in Detroit. ... But summer lightening struck Detroit on Sunday, July 23, 1967 with a fury unprecedented in the modem history of our nation. When it was over, whole blocks lay in rubble. Two weeks later, with the full toll still undetermined, 42 were known dead, thousands had been injured, more than 4, 000 had to be arrested, and some of the United States Army’s finest fighting men had been called into the streets of Detroit to end the madness. ... As August began, Watts and Newark were the bad riots -Detroit’s was the worst. For the people that lived in nice neighborhoods, it started at the most unlikely hour and the most unlikely day anyone could think of. Shortly before dawn on Sunday, the 10 precinct police cleanup squad raided an after hours drinking club over the Economy Printing Company at 9125 12th Street. ... It was a routine raid in a neighborhood that is used to raids. At night, 12th Street was “the turf” for prostitutes, pimps, junkies, and gamblers. Long-legged hustlers in hippie dresses, slick haired pimps in jitterbug suits and the usual assortment cf drunks accepted the raid with resignation born out of long experience. Getting ‘busted’ was part of 12th Street. Three Patrol Wagons were called to transport the 85 prisoners down to the precinct station on Livernois.
That day, I learned of the riot and also learned the it was spreading in the city like a flame. Monday morning, my mother decided that we should have more milk and bread because we might not be able to get out to shop in the following days. I agreed and walked to the supermarket which was down the street. I put only bread and milk in the grocery basket and stood in a long line to pay the cashier. Apparently, others had decided to do the same thing. Then, while I was still in line, the police came into the store and announced that everyone had to leave immediately because there were indications the riots were advancing to the area. People began to disband; however, I stood there and asked the policeman if I could just pay for the bread and milk in my grocery basket because I had young children. “Absolutely not,” he said, “the store has to close immediately!” I could hardly believe this was happening. I was nine thousand miles away from Beirut, and the same thing that I had encountered in the Beirut supermarket was happening in the Detroit supermarket. Again, I had to walk away without the items that I had gone to purchase. This happened in less than two months - in two different countries - my encountering each situation that was plagued with violence.
I do not like to call these events to be the cause of traumatism; yet, they have had a lasting effect on me because whenever new events appeared, I began planning the strategy needed to get supplies. These incidents have left a deep impression in my memory of the Civil War in Lebanon, more so than some of the events that were more tragic and devastating for me.