Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Blast


I had never experienced a blast before that fateful day. I had only seen missiles flying overhead but never once did it land anywhere near where I lived. During the Gulf War of 1991, we all went into over-drive, going to neighborhood meetings to discuss emergency and rescue plans, taking first aid classes just in case Jordan was dragged into the war, but never once did I see Red Cross/Crescent people going into full action. I had seen old bombed buildings in Central Beirut and on TV but had never experienced it first hand until that terrible day.

We used to spend most of our day and some hours of the night socializing on the Main Gate steps over looking College Hall (Picture above). It was simply beautiful. An old building that warmly greeted you the moment you walked through the university's main gates….Majestic in my eyes and the eyes of many AUBites. It held years of wisdom in its every stone since the university's establishment in 1866; the hall that was visited by three of my family's generation and was held in high esteem by all of us. Even though I had attended two other universities, none touched me as deeply as AUB did and College Hall was definitely one of my favorite structures on that campus.

But alas... that old structure was to be no more within 3 months of my first step on that campus. The day was November 8th 1991 a few minutes past 4:00am. I was in my dormitory bed which was on the lower campus of the university, a walking distance away from College Hall, when I woke up a few minutes before the unforgettable deafening sound. For some reason, a voice asked me to wake up and open my window overlooking the sea. When I went back to sit on my bed, I turned around and saw a strange orange light painting the sky. Seconds later, the sound of the explosion engulfed my whole body and disturbed the sweet dreams of sleeping students. I will never forget that sound which still rings in my ears 20 years later. I remember how not a single sound came out of my mouth as my roommate screamed with fear. I was in shock; my mind was racing trying to interpret the unfamiliar sounds, vibrations and strange sights, trying to make sense of them.  I went to my friend’s bed, slowly led her to my own and hugged her tightly.

After ten minutes, I went down stairs to the dorm lounge to see many girls walking around crying and looking worried. Their shut windows had shattered and filled their rooms with sharp broken glass. They were huddled together wondering what on Earth caused that explosion sound. Was it another skirmish between factions? Was it the start of a new war? Phone calls from other dorms and security guards on the gates started flooding the system. Since it was dark, not many were sure what was going on. But then the blood draining news came through the telephone lines... College Hall was bombed!

Against the advice of my resident mother, I left the dorm through a broken window and went to check on my friends in the surrounding dorms to see if they were all right. I am not the type who would stand there and wait for news. I had to explore and check what was going on by myself.

After making sure my friends were all right, I made my way up the steps to Upper Campus and walked slowly trying to feel my way in the dark. The early rays of light were still not enough to see things clearly and so many times I found myself squinting trying to see through the dense pine trees on campus. I was looking for it.... the Campus compass and which was seen from many corners of the serene grounds. I kept making my way towards the hall... my beacon... desperately trying to find it. When the way was cleared by the trees, I found that my beacon was no longer piercing the sky but resting on its side beside a pile of rubble. I took in a deep breath, held it in for a few second to give my mind a chance to process what my eyes were looking at.

The sea view side of College Hall was completely damaged... in ruins... and the Clock Tower... Our beacon... Our compass... was on the ground lying broken and helpless as the man it trapped underneath the rubble. The rescue team could not move him as he would have died instantly. They stayed with him for 6 hours trying to keep him as comfortable as possible... but as the Old Clock stopped so did his heart. A sad day for every AUBite!

The after several days... many students went into action trying to save as many of the important documents as possible. I was one of many students who risked going into the broken building to retrieve anything valuable from the destruction. Every sound the standing rubble made, we had to run out of the building thinking it would collapse in any minute. I believe we were trying to breathe in the last moments of the Hall, to touch the remaining stones that contained years of history and be its companion until its final day. The last time I ran down the steps tracing its dust covered walls with my fingers, I picked up a few of its number signs as a memento just as we keep pictures of loved ones who passed on. 

7 comments:

paula devi said...

I remember when this happened and how saddened I was by the senslessness of all this destruction. I remember reading that the one death was the librarian. Is my memory correct?

Lana, how sorry I am that this became part of your life experience. Sadly, as you know, I have lived through too much of this horror, months in shelters with my children, bombs, noises and smells that will never diminish in my mind. So much more that I can't speak about. It's still too close. All of us living in these beautiful countries of our area, just wanting to live our lives. So senseless, no real meaning to all this carnage and suffering and loss and pain that really never leaves us - why do we as humans choose violence? How are we capable of inflicting such things on each other? May God take pity on us all and lift us out of the hell we create for ourselves. Inshallah.

Tabouleh said...

So True Paula... but I believe it is because there are deeper issues when it comes to our area... and that maybe why people are experiencing so many hurtful and horrific moments...
As for the man killed... it was actually one of the guard ... he had been working at the university since he was 13 years of age...he used to tag along with his father... he was supposed to sleep at another hall that night as usual but there was a party and the students had kindly asked him to sleep at the College Hall so that they would not disturb him...
What I experienced was nothing like what many people around the world are having to experience every second of the day now... Sorry that you had to go through that experience yourself...

db said...

I'm sorry you both went through what you did, and sorrier still for those that still do, and even more for those that didn't survive, and for their loved ones that did and have to live with the loss.

We all have to keep trying in every way we can manage, to encourage peace and discourage violence.

It is very nice to have you two back from Blank; There is so much to be expressed and done, like College Hall was rebuilt. The bell is back in it, the clock was remade by students, and it is back to being a beacon and a compass for the students, Beirut and perhaps the world.

Thank you.

paula devi said...

It's true Lana about deeper issues. That may be true but it may also not be so complicated and complex. It becomes so when hearts are hard toward the other. When we are blind to the greater truth that what we want and need for ourselves is just what the "other" wants and needs for themselves. It is a matter of "Do unto others....". This is really something simple. All of us in our area have danced with the devil and it is the same devil. He's a mixer of the stew (I don't know how to say that exactly in English.) We are blinded by our need for power, a stronger shout, a bigger ego - and by fear. And people die and suffer. We all suffer alike, we all die alike, we all bleed alike and we all grieve alike.
All of us deserve so much more that what we are doing to ourselves.
The more we see the complexity, the less we looe touch with each other. The more we allow ourselves to hide beind deeper issues. I don't know Lana. Who am I to speak about it. When my son comes out of the army a stranger to me and to himself do I grieve more than a mother in our neighboring countries does about her son. No. The answer is no. It will always be no. God help us all to open our hearts to each other. I have to stop now. I am crying. Do I cherish your sisterhood and friendship less because you live over a border. No. I am grateful for the blessing to have found you. Okay. That's enough. I send you kisses and love dear Lana.

Tabouleh said...

Your words are gems dear Paula... and there is nothing I could add to them...

Hakim said...

No college influences us like Aub

Tabouleh said...

I agree with you Hakim... I am a proud third generation AUBite and I have never viewed a campus such as breathtakingly beautiful as AUB's where the atmosphere is ever changing but always refreshing.
AUB fil Qalb! :)