I have a huge love-hate relationship with the airport in Beirut. It was where my husband and I were reunited after his one month of being incarcerated at a Federal Detention Center awaiting his deportation. It was where I met his warm and welcoming family for the first time. It was where I could pick up some last minute good-bye Middle East sweets as I awaited my plane to America. But the absolute worst memories of saying good-bye were also at the airport in Beirut. It also represents all the fears my loved ones had for me as they tried ferociously to convince me that letting Leila live with her father in Lebanon could only have bad consequences.
More than twenty years ago, the airport in Beirut meant one thing for Fred, HOPE. Many people are surprised to find out, but Fred was amongst the top students in his year in all of Lebanon. But, in Lebanon it’s most definitely about WHO not WHAT you know – it’s still like that today. Despite the odds, he somehow made it into a top-ranked medical school in Lyon, France: Université Claude Bernard. Getting a passport during a civil war is no easy task, but somehow, he managed that too. Now he had to wait. The airport. In Beirut. During a war. It closed and opened at irregular intervals based on how bad the fighting was. The start of school had come and gone, and he was still waiting. Months passed. And he was still waiting. The first opportunity he had, he pounced. With no time to spare even for goodbyes, he was on the first flight to Paris after the airport opened.
At the same time, I was also saying good bye to my home. My parents had worked more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, determined to provide a better life for my brother and me. We were living in a tiny Queens apartment. I had many happy memories there, and some not so great memories as well. But it was time to say good bye. We were moving to the SUBURBS! To a tiny town in Bergen County, New Jersey that had great public schools, quiet streets, and gigantic houses (so it seemed to this eight year old from Queens!).
Fred and I were both starting our lives for the better despite the odds – the running theme of our relationship: FIGHT THE ODDS!
But the odds were always against us. Instead of the four months I was hoping for, Fred and Leila spent 18 months in Lebanon. Our first airport good-bye was the day before Valentine’s Day. My baby, my soon to be one year old baby, looked at me from the window of her grandfather’s ancient Volvo as her father drove away. A flood of tears from all. Screams for “mama.” Screaming emotions flooding my head. I ran after the blue Volvo, as if my life were trapped inside of it – and it was! My life: my baby and my husband. What hurt most for Fred was not the loud cries for “mama” as the car pulled away, but the eerie silent ride home. Leila stared out the window, quiet, pensive, and single tears streaming down her face one after another. Not even one year old, but she had already suffered unexpectedly losing her father (her main care-taker), and then her mother.
But the goodbyes at the airport would get easier. Leila could understand I’d be gone for some time, but I always came back, even if it took a while. The airport in Beirut became my worst nightmare just as we were ready to say good-bye to good-bye’s at the airport. Just as we were going to start a better life again, just as we were going to be reunited as a family in a stable, safe, predictable country again, the airport in Beirut was BOMBED.