Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Crisis in the Middle East: I Is Refugee

I read today on Channel NewAsia about the story of how student Samantha Kudus and businessman Gerald Anthony were evacuated from war-torn Lebanon. According to the report, Ms Kudus and Mr Anthony were assisted by the Singapore Consulate in Acharafieh to evacuate through Tripoli in the north to arrive to Damascus in Syria.

They probably will never forget the experience of their evacuation from Beirut. If there wasn't a war to escape from, it would have been a pleasant drive up north this time of the year in the beautiful Mediterranean summer. As Lebanon get once again engulf in war, they probably wondered like I did if there is another chance to visit the magnificent ruins of Balbeck or the crusader fort in Sidon. Both Balbeck and Sidon are currently being hit by the Israeli military.

Reading the report, I felt glad that they safely got out of Beirut eventually. For them, the war now may seem to have nothing to do with them, except for Ms Kudus who still has a boyfriend in Lebanon.

It is a different situation for me. Living in Beirut for almost a year, it has become a home for me during of my expatriation. Fortunately, I was already out of Beirut when the crisis broke out. Now the problem is that I can't get back into Beirut. It is anyone's guess as to how long and to what extent the conflict will go on.

With the escalating tension and unabating violence, it is certain that the crisis will be a prolonged one. So now it is certain that there is a war to wait out before I can eventually return to my home in Beirut. At the meantime, I am "surviving" on a small suitcase with 3 change of clothes and 300 US dollars because I originally had the intention to travel only for one week until internation politics spoilt my plans.

Life is pretty comfortable as the subsidiary company is now providing for my basic needs. Hopefully, diplomacy bring about a resolution in months to come. Already things are beginning to look bright, we have accounted for all our twenty-one Lebanese staff, including several living in Hezbollah active areas. They refused evacuation and have chosen to re-open our office and continue working. Perhaps I will be able to return in the near future. Certainly, that is not too much for a "refugee" to hope for right?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Crisis in the Middle East: Private Concerns

When Israel invaded Lebanon few days ago, I was away on a business trip to Morocco fortunately. I am very grateful to those who tried to contact me out of concern for my safety.

During the start of the crisis, most of my expats co-workers were either travelling or on vacation with their families. It has been decided to temporary set up our office at our distributor office in Morocco. For the time being, I am going to be based between Morocco and Algeria.

At present, there are few personal concerns over the situation in Lebanon

The first concern is to the colleagues who are still in Beirut. As the telephone lines and internet are down and the office closed, we have no knowledge of their well-being. At this stage, I think Beirut is still pretty safe but it is very difficult to speculate what will happen next. If the situation worsen, they will be endangered.

The second concern pertains to the relocation of our office. Even if the crisis ends in a few months time, it will be in the best business and employees' interest to relocate to another country. The question is when and where?

The third concern is whether I can ever get back to my apartment in Beirutto retrieve my personal belongings. If I do return in a few month's time after the end of the crisis, I wonder if my landlord will give me a war time discount and not charge me months of unpaid rent? The content in my fridge must be spoilt by then and it will be difficult to clean up.
As each day passes, we follow the news closely to grasp the situation in Lebanon and hope that the situation doesn't worsen.