«Blue Water & Blue
Fins in Blue Beirut»
Roger Y. Yazbeck
Saturday, September 30th, 1978 - 3h30 P.M.: Radio Monte Carlo
(broadcasting from France) and the B.B.C. (British Broadcasting Corporation) announced to over a million Lebanese civilians who had been
trapped in the bomb shelters in East-Beirut (Christian side) for 100 days, that the Syrians had agreed to a cease-fire to take effect one
hour later. For a hundred days, the whole city of Achrafieh had been under siege by
the Syrian invaders. Non-stop artillery pounding had forced us to spend
most of our days and nights in the shelters, without any running water or electricity... no phones... cut off the outside world... days of hell,
let me tell you. The last days before the announced cease-fire, our food supplies had
reached critical low levels.
That Saturday night, we slept in our beds, at home... what a blessing...
we were thrilled at the idea that on Sunday morning we will be able to cross to the neighboring cities in order to get some food!
But at 3h30 a.m., Sunday morning, I woke up as a warm pinky-red light lit up the walls in my bedroom (Not only am I sensitive to any light
when I am sleeping, but my "soldier's" sixth sense was acute too)... I opened the blinds and saw the parachuted light bomb dropping down
slowly. I immediately pushed my younger brother out of bed and jumped
across the corridor to my parents' bedroom, brutally waking them up...
"Get down... NOW!!" I remember screaming hysterically... I grabbed my late father (God bless his soul... he was diabetic and suffering from
the lack of insulin shots, which had to be kept in the fridge... but no electricity, so... He could barely walk) and carried him down to the
first floor of the building. My mother barely had the time to put on her
night gown when all hell broke loose.
Until 11h00 a.m., we were stuck in our neighbors' apartment on the first
floor, as we had no bomb shelter in our building, and the shelling intensity was such that we couldn't even cross the 100 ft separating us
from the nearest one. During the next hours, as I was holding my weak
father in my arms, I made a vow to give up smoking, should we all make it through...As the bombing pace started slowing down, we were able to move to the
shelter, where we stayed eight days and nights, 150 people, one garage bathroom... no water, no food, no nothing. My parents' bedroom was
demolished as it took a direct hit from a Katioucha rocket... These last 8
days were the worst.
On the 9th day, the radio announced that some of us would be allowed to cross to another city. My neighbor and I, immediately drove the car out to
the first open bakery in Antelias, a suburb city, 5 miles north of Beirut, to buy
bread for our families. After hours of line-up, we had his car loaded with
fresh bread, food and water and we drove back before night fall to our
homes. What we weren't told though, was that we couldn't get back in! We tried
every checkpoint, and they all turned us back. The last one even convinced us to stop arguing, by firing his AK-47 at the car in front
of us which tried to drive through anyway, and killing its passengers.
Now, where to go? Luckily, my friend had the key to his cousin's chalet in a luxurious beach resort, 10 miles north of Beirut. The chalet was really
a big cabin... barely enough place to sleep... But it was heavenly: HOT water!!!
SHOOOOWER! The smell of soap and shampoo was like a revelation.
Coca Cola... Chocolate bars... I felt so guilty enjoying this, when I knew my family was stuck there and probably very worried about us. So, I
managed to notify my arms companions by radio, who in turn went to see my parents and told them we were safe. Luckily, the cease-fire was
respected this time. So I was comforted knowing they were back to our devastated home, and that they managed to get food supplies through the
Red Cross. One thing though: for the next 18 days, no one could get in or out of the city... So my neighbor and I were both stuck outside.
Having spent all our money on the supplies, not imagining we were to be in this situation, I had 5 LL (Lebanese Liras) in my pocket (less that 2
dollars at that time. Today, one dollar gets you 1,700 LL..!)That first night at the "Solemar" (the name of the resort we were in) I
saw some sport-fishermen reeling in some really big fish in the bay! By big I mean 1 to 3 lb each. These were porgies (exactly similar to the
ones we fish in Cape Cod between mid April and June).
Fresh fish in Lebanon is a delicacy and a luxury. Even today, to give you an idea, the minimum salary is 150 U$ a month, and an engineer would
earn 500$ a month, and one kilogram of fresh grouper (2.2 lb) is never
less than U$ 35 !!! The sand grouper (dusky grouper) is sold between 45 to 65 U$ a Kg., depending on the season)
Also, that first night, I saw many rich people playing poker and a card game much similar to Gin, we call "Bee Do" in Lebanon. having spent all
summer in the shelters with nothing to do but playing cards day and night, I was invincible. I mean, when you're gambling, knowing that the
next 240 mm mortar bomb could very well go off on your head, who's gonna
bluff you?! At the Solemar, I was the predator! My 5 LL.. grew to 45 LL.. before 2 a.m. Very early next morning, I was
at Olympic Sports, a diving store in downtown Jounieh, the closest city to Kaslik, where Solemar is located. I bought a snorkel, a mask and a
"cheap and weak" 25 in. spear gun with a triangular trident tip. The fins
had to wait for tonight's Bee Do game. Before noon, I was in the water.
October in Lebanon is the most beautiful month of the year... The sea is
like a "mirror"... Visibility is at its best then, water is very warm, and the
fish is abundant. In no time, I had located the porgies hide-outs caverns. Luckily they
were in shallow water; you see, spear fishing without fins doesn't allow
you to go very deep.
One of the owners of the resort came to see me as I came up from the water, with the hanger loaded with fish. (yes, I used a hanger from the
chalet's closet for stringing the fish)
"How much do you want for these?"
That night, I didn't play the Bee Do... too cheap. I joined the more fortunate poker tables.
Next day, I got the fins and some new clothes, as the set I came with the first day wasn't exactly helping me improve my social life...
The following days, I cleaned up the whole caverns in the area from the octopus, porgies, groupers and other marine life... After a week, the anglers weren't catching a single decent fish all night, and the
gamblers offered me a guitar to entertain the ladies while they played cards, so that, as one said to me, there's no hope for me showing up
with a new boat next morning.
I was back home when the roads were re-opened, almost 3 weeks later. Our
city was half destroyed, our two cars looked like Swiss cheese, and my father was "hospitalized" in our living room, from diabetes and heart
Three days later, I had to sneak out to the airport in West-Beirut, in order to fly to Saudi Arabia. The only way for a Christian militia
fighter or a Lebanese soldier to cross that border without having his throat slashed by the Syrian soldiers and other local and imported
terrorists, was to be in disguise and most importantly: to be escorted and protected by some of these terrorists themselves, for a certain fee,
of course. (Thank God for gambling and spear fishing) But that's another story...
Montreal, June 19th, 1997