Temperatures have been hovering in the nineties all summer in Beirut, and it doesn’t cool off much at night. But it’s not the high temps on the thermometer that have me (and everyone else in the world) worried, but the heat coming from Syria. Lebanese have been working hard to keep the fires at bay all summer, but temperatures have risen this week, with the reported killing of four Lebanese hostages in Syria.
Eleven Lebanese men were kidnapped in Syria in late May, Shi’ite Muslims, abducted by the rebel group Free Syria Army, the main opposition army group in the Syrian civil war. The kidnappings occurred just after my arrival to Lebanon, but my fledgling knowledge of Middle Eastern politics wasn’t enough to sort out the “whys” and the “what nows.” Politics are universally labyrinthine, and despite all I’ve read about Middle Eastern politics in the past three months, I’m still just at the beginning of the maze. Even this week’s news reports have been confusing, with ones in the end of week indicating that the hostages were not killed after all.
But before the deaths could be confirmed or refuted, protests had broken out in Beirut. Then a Shi’ite clan in Lebanon claimed to have kidnapped some 20 Syrians, in response to the kidnapping of one of their own within Syria. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all wealthy countries whose elite summer in the relatively cooler and more liberal Lebanon, urged their citizens home. Turkey followed suit today, advising its nationals to postpone any non-essential travel to Lebanon. My understanding is that the Shi’ite clan holds Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey responsible for the kidnapping of their clansman due to those countries’ support of the rebels.
To understate it, Lebanon had a tough week.
Security recommendations are to stay at home. I’ve got experience in hunkering down. In Ecuador in 2005, when President Lucio Gutiérrez was removed from office after a week of massive public protests, I hardly moved from my neighborhood, although I did make the occasional run to the mall five minutes away at the edge of town. In Honduras in 2009, when President Manuel Zelaya was taken out of power and out of the country by the military, a curfew was imposed on the entire country that at times lasted through the day. We managed to eat several meals with our friends who lived right across the street, as they didn’t mind scurrying across in order to see a friendly face and break bread together. It’s a strange sort of limbo to be in, with some ordinary tasks like cooking and cleaning and taking care of children requiring their usual efforts. Tensions are high (to astronomical), but life goes on, although the only people you see might be the ones who live next door, or maybe just those who are within your four walls.
So I admit, I wasn’t daunted when tensions were elevated right after our arrival to Lebanon because of the kidnappings. Some people were staying home, and Lebanon’s largest English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, had recommendations on how to hunker. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Lifestyle/2012/May-23/174334-how-to-stay-sane-when-those-around-you-cant.ashx They included washing your delicates, and instructions on how to make your own Scrabble game (first spending the time to write up the tiles and cut them out, and then playing the game – you could while away hours). The suggestions seemed absurd to me, but perhaps no more so than the getting-together-with-friends-in-the-neighborhood-for-a-barbecue that we’d done during tough times in Tegucigalpa. Seeking normalcy under duress. Who am I to knock the ideas in the article? The Lebanese have got survival skills down to an art.
When I told people I was moving from Honduras to Lebanon, my friends and acquaintances wore out that old cliché about leaving the frying pan for the fire. Although Honduras is a beautiful country to visit, street crime is high in the big cities, and I lived in one of them. Until this week, Beirut was feeling a heck of a lot safer than Tegucigalpa. In Beirut, I can drive with my windows unrolled and worry about getting car-jacked. I can walk down the street and not fear that I will get mugged.
It’s been hot this week, and I’ve been feeling it. But, friends will be glad to know, not in Beirut. The heat I’ve been experiencing is from the sunshine in Sicily, where I’m visiting my in-laws and hanging out on the beach. Not a bad time to be away from the sparks of the fire.
It’s mid-August, and there are plenty of dog days of summer yet to be had along the Mediterranean, in spots like Sicily, Lebanon, and Syria. According to the Internet, the term “dog days of summer” came from observers in these places, in countries lining the Mediterranean, where the hottest days of the year coincide with the weeks before and after the conjunction of Sirius, the dog star, and the sun.
To me it looks like the heat in Syria will far outlast the dog days of summer. As much as I wish I could influence the matter otherwise, there’s not much I can do. But I can still join with the regular folk affected in Syria, in Lebanon, and region-wide in one thing. I can share the hope that the fire in Syria gets put out.
Locals in Beirut find ways to escape the summer heat.