Under attack: Life in Lebanon

Kai Ryssdal Jul 18, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s seven days of fighting now in the Middle East. Cross-border air strikes and rocket attacks continue tit for tat. And there’s no real sign of an end anytime soon. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said today she’ll go to the region, “When it’s appropriate.” And President Bush said this afternoon it’s essential the Lebanese government remain in power. But ordinary Lebanese probably have other things on their minds right about now. Lena Saidi’s a freelance reporter in Beirut. We got her on the phone earlier today. And I asked her how civilians are getting by.

LENA SAIDI: Well, the supermarkets, the larger supermarkets, are still open. And some of the smaller ones. But the smaller ones are running out of stock very quickly. And when you go to the larger supermarkets, the people — as usual in situations like this — they hear they have a blockade so they have been panic buying. And you go to the supermarket and there are long, long queues. I mean, you have to queue for at least a half an hour after you’ve bought whatever it is you’re purchasing.

Normal shops, like clothes and everything else, all those sort of shops are closed. Anything you can imagine apart from supermarkets and grocery stores are closed.

RYSSDAL: But when you go out to buy food and you stand in these queues, you put yourself at risk.

SAIDI: Yes, you do. And that’s why you find people wait for sort of like a lull. And they will go out very quickly. They will go to their local supermarket. But they have to get food for their children and for their homes. Because, they’re scared that if they don’t by now, and you have a blockade and goods can’t come in to the country, then they’re going to be stuck in their homes with nothing to eat and drink.

RYSSDAL: Are there shelters that people are stocking up?

SAIDI: Most buildings here do have basements. But the basements are usually used either as car parks or they have been rented out as warehouses. There are no such things as bomb shelters.

RYSSDAL: People, obviously, are leaving Beirut. How are they getting out?

SAIDI: People are leaving Beirut all the time. They’re trying to go out the roads, but it’s a very dangerous drive. The roads and the bridges, as you’ve heard, are a constant target. But some people are willing to risk it. The other thing is that they’ve become amazingly expensive to get out. What used to cost, say, $20 or $30, now costs $400. And people can’t afford that sort of thing. And, of course, as you know, evacuations have started. They started yesterday and people are being evacuated by ships and today by helicopter.

RYSSDAL: Are all those tens of thousands of people who are coming to Beirut to be evacuated putting even more of a strain on things?

SAIDI: Well, it’s definitely giving the people who live in Beirut a very sinking feeling. The thought of evacuation, it’s almost like telling them, OK, we’ve given up on you.

RYSSDAL: How do you feel right now?

SAIDI: I feel very, very sad. I mean, I came here in 1987. And I felt that I could contribute to a country that eventually came out of war and went through the processes of restoration and rebuilding. And just to see what has happened now . . . it totally . . . I really don’t know what to say. It’s very, very sad.

You’ve taken a country back 20 years, 20 years of rebuilding and . . . it’s just unbelievable.

RYSSDAL: Lena Saidi is a freelance journalist living in Beirut. Ms. Saidi, thank you so much for your time.

SAIDI: Thank you.

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