The Diaspora Potrezebe - Newsletter of the Alumni Association of the American Community
School at Beirut, Lebanon.
An ACS Alumni Revisits Beirut
by Jeanne Plant Tyler '37
When we arrived, my sister and I, at Beirut Airport from London, the sun was setting and my first view of the land I had lived in so long ago and loved so much was of the Chouf Mountains bathed in a soft pink light the same as I had known them so long ago. However, the following week I was to see sights I had hoped I would never see. Beirut devastated. All my old haunts, Bab-Edriss, the whole business section right down to the port, a lot of Corniche and Ras Beirut including my old home all under many feet of stone and rubble and debris, and between the ruins many high rises that have shot up to house the homeless. The buildings are very close to each other, shutting out the light and eating up the streets.
The town of Jounieh, where I visited my stepmother and three sisters, is full of apartment buildings reaching up to the top of the once lovely hills of that little town, and reaching down to the still blue Mediterranean Sea that meets the lovely Bay of Jounieh.
My thoughts turned to my school days at ACS when the whole school, around 60 pupils in those days, would take the old train to Jounieh Bay to picnic on the lovely beaches with banana groves growing down to the sea! Only garbage and pollution remain. After 17-plus years of war, only ending just over 2 years ago, many things have changed. But the Lebanese have survived. Indeed they have. Always been a joyful busy people, they truly have survived. Their positive attitude to living is very dominant. In spite of the lack of infrastructure, the lack of sewer, water, garbage disposal, roads and any traffic control whatsoever (70 traffic deaths per month). Inside their apartments all is spotlessly clean and lavishly decorated with marble floors, tiled bathrooms with bidets and sunken baths, all in the latest fashion.
Their supermarkets are three stories high, filled with foods of all kinds, enough to make the most lavish Safeway jealous! With special automatic cable lines that carry your shopping carts from one floor to another. You can buy the latest Paris fashions in Jounieh and the Best Italian shoes.
If you shop down the old souks of Tripoli and Sidon, you can purchase the loveliest Abas and Arab dresses all hand-made in Damascus
However, that which was all around me and on which no price can be put was the outstanding spirit of these Lebanese people who have been through so much, left with so little, and yet have determination and optimism with every breath they take. Seemingly left by the powers that be in the outside world with very little financial assistance, the Lebanese are soldiering on to both exist for the present and build for the future.
One of the great resources is education of the young. An example is the studies of my niece Ghinwa Chamas, aged 13 years, who is to graduate from the 8th grade to high school. She has to study ALL of her subjects in three languages and also pass in them: Arabic, French, and English. These people will succeed.
Out of the rubble of 17 years of war come some rays of sunshine. At Beit Meri, such a beautiful place during my earlier times in Lebanon, I was taken to see the unearthing of some old Roman baths with the most exquisite mosaic floors from hundreds of years ago in history. Thus the horrors of bombardment have uncovered priceless archeological findings and I understand that similar unearthings have appeared in other areas around Beirut.
The ACS I knew is of course no longer there, but my sisters, all ACSers, visited the "new" ACS near the AUB campus and were very impressed. All seem to be flourishing.