Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cruisin' the Mediterranean

The American evacuation might take as long as 10 days. The Israelis have given guarantees to a handful of governments-- the US obviously, Germany and a few others, (but not to the Australians who arrested a Mossad agent a few years ago), that they will not attack their convoys and ships. The consensus here is that once the evacuations are completed, the shit will really hit the fan. How much more can it hit? A lot more. It seems other militias in the country are getting ready for battle. More on that later. The German embassy called today and told me that there's a 10 KG limit on luggage, and that I should try to bring a "ball-point pen" ("Und bringen Sie wenn moeglich auch 'nen Kugelschreiber", she said, for all you Germans out there.)

A few hundred Canadian awaiting evacuation were congregating on the seafront in Beirut, outside the sprawling mounds of sand which cover the landfill of garbage that was dumped into the sea throughout the 15-year civil war (1975-1990). They had been waiting for five hours when I arrived. Everyone was complaining and shouting about how unorderly and "un-Canadian" the evacuation procedures were, and some were scaling the fence. A soldier was calling out names through a megaphone, in an attempt to get angry Canadians (picture that!) to proceed in alphabetical order. Then they decided to hand out numbers instead. And then, women, children and the sick and elderly were given priority. In the meantime, noone was let in. Everywhere, there are camera crews on site from all around the world to cover the plight of the evacuating Europeans and Americans.

The American, Greek and British evacuation is taking place at the Beirut Port. They have a series of warships, some British, some American, and luxury cruiseliners. Yesterday, the HMS Gloucester-- a British anti-air warfare Destroyer-- evacuated a few hundred Americans and some Britons. Naval officers handed out pamphlets detailing the history of the Destroyer. It was a grotesque spectacle; 100 media outlets gathered for the parade. 2,200 Marines are on sight to help with the evacuation of 10,000 Americans. Are they going to carry people out on stretchers?

Today, the Orient Queen cruiseliner will evacuate 1,000 Americans to Cyprus. Entertainment will be provided on deck by a Brazilian- and a Bulgarian band; there are two swimming pools, a casino, a theater, a spa, and duty-free shopping.

Juliet, a middle-aged, impish US embassy employee with a clipboard and a whistle around her neck, is in charge of coordinating the evacuation. She sports a red poloshirt, kake pants, white sneakers and an androgenous haircut. I asked her if they would evacuate me in a few weeks, if I wanted to leave then rather than now. She stared at me with that look of moral righteousness, characteristic of dental hygenists and librarians when they confront someone with long-overdue books. "Listen here, Sweetheart," she said, squinting to stare me in the eyes. "This is not happening at your convenience." "I understand that, Ma'am", I obediently responded, because she seemed poised to blow her whistle in my face. "Well, as long as we've established that. We will evacuate every American that wants to leave." I asked her if they would rescue the Americans trapped in the south, which is under heavy bombardment (and now, invasion). "We are working on it". The party line. "When we give that last call, you better be on that boat." And then she was gone, followed by a trail of news teams from NBC, Australian- and Greek TV.

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