I once thought I traveled to expand my world, until I noticed that it just kept getting smaller and smaller. Relative distances started to get shorter. Countries that were once a vague concept are now clearly defined.
I remember thinking that I would never go to the Middle East – land of conflicts. I can see now how media can distort concepts. Until that day that you finally make it there and see how people live. You taste the food, and one morning you don’t think it’s odd to eat salad with yogurt and olive oil for breakfast. You listen to the family stories and a war is personified. You walkthrough the streets and feel safer than you thought you ever would. It’s like climbing a hill and finally seeing the other side.
When I visited Lebanon, I felt like long distances just kept shrinking. I was meeting a family while building a bridge: Beirut – Rio de Janeiro, inviting others to cross it.
The more I heard, the more I asked.
“How was it, to live in Beirut during the war?”
“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times” replied Samira.
Astonished, I quickly replied: “how could there have been a good side?”
“People’s sense of union… Each day was a victory. To be with family and friends was a treasure. Everyone helped each other. Playing cards at a friend’s house had such a different connotation. You had to overcome different fears like choosing which street to go through, saying good bye when my daughters left for school, loud nights with bomb sounds, working with a hole on my ceiling.”
The touching part was that she told me this with a smile on her face, giggling as she pictured the memories, reliving it with such a positive side and good humor.
I truly felt this shrinking world sensation in Khiam, southern Lebanon, where we drove by the border with Israel. I went there to visit a non-profit organization called Amel Association which supports victims of the war and residents of the area with affordable medical services, vocational training, child protection and human rights. The office and medical center I visited had been partially destroyed in 2006 and was later reconstructed.
As we drove passed the border fence, I could see the military bases that physically divide what is ideologically divided. On the Lebanese side there was just an arid landscape. A few months before I had been on the other side – the Israeli, which looked like what could have been a kibutz – very green, fruitful trees…
The memories of my stay in Israel came back to me. I was now on Lebanese soil, where my Israeli friend’s family had fought. I had just seen patients that were imprisoned. All these thoughts were like a puzzle or a mosaic that just wouldn’t fit together.