In less than a week I am going back to Lebanon for a brief visit. One of my dearest friends is getting remarried and I can’t imagine not being there to share in her new-found love and joy. My friendships with the beautiful bride-to-be and a select number of special women and men-scattered around the Globe are bittersweet spots in my life due to the fact that I don’t see much of my best friends anymore.
One friend in Geneva is trying to make up for it. She is a Swiss/French/Italian lady with such intelligence, perception and kindness to make her a national treasure. We met in Iraq, in one of the dusty offices in Basrah, in the South where we were both based to work with the UN mission. She was in charge of Human Rights, I was in charge of livelihoods and community development. Walking into the office where she worked with several others when we first met, my vhf radio chirping on my waist, I was cracking jokes with everyone there, intermittently talking about pressing issues and upcoming missions, when she exclaimed “vous êtes un rayon de soleil” (you are a ray of sunshine!!). Our friendship never faltered since. We spent many tense moments in Beechcraft UN planes flying a perilous trajectory to volatile Baghdad. In Baghdad we were both trying to beat curfew to walk around the streets to comprehend how one of the potentially richest countries in the world had so much misery and poverty. We both stood up to the Coalition Generals in a meeting with Iraqi farmers in Qornah when the military tried to spin the tale that the prevailing situation in Iraq at the time was the failing of the UN, and to direct the anger of the farmers to us, the hapless humanitarians who didn’t start the war, but were tasked with cleaning its mess on the humanitarian level. Maybe that wasn’t very smart, standing up to European Generals in their military headquarters with a mob of hundreds of angry farmers, but that is what friends do, they stick with each other and believe in each others’ causes.
Once I read that a real friend is not someone who will bail you out if you ever get arrested in a demonstration, but will be the one sitting next to you on a jail bench exclaiming how great it was to fight for a noble cause (Greenpeace, Copenhagen, the Palestinian Cause, you name it).
One other such friend is a beautiful Lebanese woman with whom I shared more adventures in the war than I care to remember. She is the most delightful of people. She is my ray of sunshine, always smiling, and dropping everything to help if I ever needed her. I can’t wait to see her next week. I dragged her with me across the famous Beirut Green Line one New Year’s Eve so that I could go to a party in West Beirut where my University was situated at the time. I had to be at a party with a guy I liked at the time. One small detail that we had to overcome was that the Green Line, the border between Christian East Beirut (where we came from) to Moslem West Beirut (where we studied and loved and made friends) was closed. Barbed wire, shots, burning tires blocked all roads, with an angry mob of hundreds of the families of the kidnapped of the war threatening anyone who dared cross the barricades with huge sticks and stones. Our cab dropped us with our bags on the East side of the blockade and sped away without accepting to even stall to get paid. He saw the situation and escaped with his life and car intact. We looked at each other, my best friend and I, decided that it was worth the risk, as our boyfriends would be waiting, and proceeded to jump-carrying our bags-over the burning tires and barbed wire, chased by an angry mob, and ran to the first car we saw, begging the driver to take us away from there. The man did, for a huge fee, but we spent a great New Year’s Eve and never regretted or thought much about what dangers we had faced to do that. I call my friend every so often, and the moment I hear her voice, I know she is smiling. I love her with all my heart. It is such a blessing to have a person in this world who you know will stick by you through thick and thin. Any decision I have made in my life since I met her at 18, no matter how outrageous at the time, she was my supporter, with no judgment. It is a mutual yet unwritten pact. I am about to make more decisions known to her soon, and I know she will be there, as ever, my rock and my support.
Another priceless friend lives in D.C. I saw her recently and it was as if I have seen her only the day before, although it had been years since I last laid eyes on her in 2001. A kind of friendship like the one we have doesn’t need any words, any explanations, any real effort. Our love, respect and appreciation for each other comes naturally and innately. Souls come close to stick together no matter what.
If I were to count my best friends in the world, right beside my two sisters and cousin, I would name the sharp Swiss from my Iraq mission whose birthday I am missing as I have to go to Beirut, the smiling Lebanese University friend in Beirut with blue eyes to die for, the young curly-haired mother of two in D.C., the bride to be that is doted with one of the most beautiful smiles in the modern world, my Lebanese artist friend with whom I traveled to Tijuana, San Diego, and with whom I drove up the Pacific Coast highway to San Francisco, and who came to my rescue in very tough moments of my life, selflessly spending her time and energy on her friend.
One more friend that I love dearly is my tall Scandinavian colleague from the Iraq mission days, whose wisdom and cool head saved the day many times in the South, and who didn’t scream at me when I didn’t make it back to base before curfew when I miscalculated my fuel reserves coming back from the Iranian border in Amara. He was in touch, the worry in his voice coming across on the crackling radio non-stop as we were stopped on the side of the road with night approaching fast. He had to send jeeps with extra fuel to meet us in a very volatile area in the heart of the South where the Euphrates and the Tigris meet. He was scared that we might get attacked and calmly pointed out when we got back where I had gone wrong as mission leader not accounting for the AC in the hot Iraqi summer taking up a percentage of our fuel supply. He was in charge of the South for the UN and acted with great wisdom and firmness to protect everyone there, including me. We became such good friends after that, I would trust him blindly, always.
My ex-roommate, a brilliant woman with a PhD and a great sense of humor, with whom we shared nights of sleeping either in the candle-lit shelter of our dorms during heavy shelling, or putting our mattresses on the floor of our room to escape the cute overtures of the sniper we named “André” who shot at our room windows from Christian East Beirut. When one time a stranger we named “Carlos” attacked our dormitory to steal from the girls’ rooms coming in through the ventilation pipes, she laughed and laughed at me when I bought my weapon of self-defense – a hammer – and slept with it on my chest to beat Carlos with it if he ventured into our room.
Another person I miss is my funny Colombian friend who came with me to Lebanon to offer her moral support during one of the most painful episodes of my life. I left her on day one in the company of a friend on the beach so I can go see a judge. I was very late. My friend was left alone in a strange country with a lousy reputation. She spent many terrified hours alone, crying, not knowing where to go and what to do. And miraculously, she forgave me and we became such good friends. Hola amiga.
Besides family, and even in the place of family for some who have no close relatives, friends are the treasures you are lucky to have in your life if you are a good and giving person. Nothing is worth losing a friend for. One friend with whom I had a disagreement about the politics in Lebanon, I just realized I haven’t spoken to in four years. I think it is high time I call him and make up. I love him dearly yet I haven’t seen any of his two small kids. He is 35, and to think that when he was 24, he helped me and stood by me when I took a decision to leave Lebanon for good. I miss him and I have been very stubborn by allowing politics to separate us.
I am eager to get to Beirut, call my best friends’ mothers, order my favorite foods over the phone, as I always do, and go spend a lunch with each friend and her mom-all great cooks- talking about everything and nothing.
I miss you guys. Can’t wait. We have to party too. Yes, I know, you have to work the next day, and when did that ever stop us? Merry Xmas for now.