Page 31


Beirut, before the bombings, Summer 2006 photo by Leah Caldwell cramped Beirut apartment block, except that the streets were deserted and black Range Rovers periodically crept around corners. We were completely isolated from the congestion and noise of Beiruta thought that unsettled me. Our companions parked the Mercedes in the middle of the desolate street and seat as they bustled about, chatting on walkie-talkies and discussing our situation with the rare passer-by. After a few minutes, the main guy returned with two bottles of pineapple juice and plastic straws. alphabet. One was partially open. Inside, a two-sided mirror looked into another room, bare except for a chair and tableand bright fluorescent lights. Our room, even with the barred window, was slightly more pleasant. We sat on the blue velour couches for hours, feeling anxious as an 8-by-10 of Nasrallah’s cheerful face looked over us. Periodically, different men came in the room and asked us the same questions: Why are you in Lebanon? What does your father do? Where do you live in Beirut? We answered everything truthfully, our broken Arabic possibly working in our favor. Between our infrequent guests, I watched two ants try to find their way out of a maze of doily on the table. I also tried to not look too hard at the black television and consoleI was convinced we were being recorded. We spent an hour trying to recall every potentially-risky item we had in our bags. Our journalsdid we mention our planned trip to Israel? Our digital cameraswould they find our photos offensive? After five hours, a fresh face appeared at the door. He looked more serious than the others. He raised his hand to his chest, looked down, closed his eyes, and began speaking to us in slow, penHe said: We want to express our deepest apologies to you. This is a big mistake and we are sorry. You are now a part of our family. We welcome you back anytime. Three days later I left Beirut. The following week, Israel began bombing the southern suburbs. Former Observer intern Leah Caldwell grew up in Houston and received her degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin last May. LETTERS TO THE EDITORS 307. W 7th Street Austin, TX 78701 [email protected] Though they had taken us against our wills, the men wanted to demonstrate some level of kindness. Our driver asked his supe rior if he could crack my window more and give me a newspaper to use as a fan. Another man tried to comfort me as I sipped my juice. He asked in Arabic, “Are you afraid?” I said yes. Laughing, he repeated to The same man asked my friend if he was Muslim. My friend said yes. “Sunni or Shia?” the man asked. Sunni. The man nodded his head with slight approval. Our talk came to a halt when the driver got in the car and began reversing course rapidly. I watched out the rear window as we zipped by the buildings, suddenly noticing that several large gun lay behind my head. We made a sharp turn down an alley and came to an abrupt stop at what appeared to be an apartment building. More black flags marked the entrance. I had yet to see the familiar yellow and green Hezbollah flag. We followed the juice-bearer up two flights of dimly lit stairs. He knocked on the door and a stick-thin man greeted us. He politely welcomed us into the apartment and instructed us to take off our shoes and place them in a shoe rack near the door. The apartment consisted of one long white hallway lined with doors, each marked with a letter of the Arabic DECEMBER 1, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31