Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ferry watching

I’m exhausted! More shells hit Southern Beirut at around 1.30am this morning. The force with which they hit is pretty staggering. With each strike, I can feel my chest shake – a strange thought considering they’re landing a couple of miles away. I’m sad to say I’m getting used to the hotel shudder.

The Daily Star photo gallery gets more graphic as the death toll in Southern Lebanon mounts up. Images of the destitute, the injured and the dead. Some of the burns sustained by Lebanese civilians are horrific.

Many Lebanese with dual nationality are being evacuated. I was picked up by a driver this morning and taken to the BBC’s Beirut bureau, after I had received a phone call last night asking me to talk to the Today programme. It turned out to be a busy morning – Radio 4 was the first channel I spoke to, followed by other radio interviews and two TV interviews.

I joined the BBC’s Ian Panell at Beirut’s port, where we witnessed one of the first large scale evacuations. Panell and his team wanted to shoot an evacuation feature for BBC One o’Clock News, and I was the ‘Brit’. “We’re sorry to bring you here,” said Ian, as the BBC cameraman took shots of the evacuation routine. “Maybe you should have brought your suitcase!”

We stood in the flies and heat as a steady line of Scandinavians formed at the entrance to the ferry. There were only around three hundred people in the queue. Kids buzzed around, and people waited patiently to pass the security check.

Despite the relatively small number of people, the operation was taking an interminably long time. Bags had to be examined, sharp objects were confiscated and passports scrutinised. Curiously, I was asked to be filmed watching people board the ferry. A bit of an odd feeling - so close yet so far! It was only later I realised I forgot to take photos. Fool!

‘So close yet so far’ – this also goes for my role as a journalist at the moment. It’s an immensely frustrating feeling to be in a country where so much is happening, yet be under-resourced to cover it as a professional. I feel like I should see what is happening, but freelance heroics are not an option here.

At present, I don’t dare leave Hamra – my mobile phone is only receiving some of the calls made to it, meaning I spend most of the time in the hotel as I wait for evacuation news. I often see news teams in Hamra, making use of the web café to edit video and send despatches to their editors. I feel jealous and, to be honest, a bit useless.

I feel perversely distanced from events, despite being in Lebanon. Unimaginable things are happening in parts of the country, but in Hamra the web café stays open, Smith’s market has enough Arabic bread on the shelves, and young guys buzz around on scooters. Hamra is a vacuum, an odd little space where time is elastic.

5 comments:

Will said...

Just to say thanks... I'm reading avidly.

SickBoy said...

good wishes yo.

Ben said...

Strangely, I was thinking about you only yesterday - whenever there's conflict it reminds me about your dreams of war journalism. I didn't imagine that you'd actually be in the thick of it! Thinking of you - see you soon and keep your chin up... will keep cheking back for news.
Ben & Kath

Cheeky Monkey Nut said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cheeky Monkey Nut said...

Hi Andy.

What is going on is fucking disgraceful, biomning the innocent id plain wrong and unlikely to help the security of the region.

I have spoken to my local MP but doubt that will be of any use to anyone.

Look after yourself and please no heroics.

Pete