While Beirut burns, skiing and style survive
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``We have lost two generations here,'' says Mr. Chamoun, president of the National Liberal Party founded by his father, veteran politician Camille Chamoun. ``There's my father's generation and my own. Then below us is a big generation gap. There are 15- to 16-year-olds here. But in the 18-to-50-year-old group, there has been massive emigration. Entire villages have emigrated.''Skip to next paragraph
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Chamoun's own family is an example. His father is still revered as a Christian leader. He is a fixture on the political and social scene. His eldest daughter, Tracy, however, now lives and works in London.
The pound's collapse in the past year has created real financial hardship for masses of people for the first time since the civil war began. The average worker earns 4,000 a month - roughly $40. It is not nearly enough to live on.
``Of course the situation is getting worse,'' says Michel-Henri, a young commercial filmmaker. ``We are getting divided into the very poor and the very rich, and the middle class is getting squeezed out. The poor, you can see them everywhere now, for the first time.''
Kfar Shima, a poor neighborhood, lies within a few hundred yards of the ``green line,'' dividing east and west Beirut. I talked with Christian refugees who fled to east Beirut when the Druze drove Christians from the Shouf Mountains during the 1984 battles initiated by the Lebanese Forces militia.
``When my husband finds work, he earns 4,000 a month,'' said Amal Abdu Hadad, a mother of four. ``But the money lasts maybe 14 days. Then I have nothing to buy food for my children. Sometimes, we dig roots from the fields.'' Mrs. Abdu Hadad, her husband, children, and mother have lived in an abandoned school since fleeing their village three years ago.
The Lebanese Forces, the Christian militia that gained prominence under Bashir Gemayel (slain brother of the current President), brought Abdu Hadad's family to the school. The refugees have jury-rigged electricity but have no hot water. Often, Druze fighters snipe at the neighborhood. Sometimes shells explode nearby. The building is pocked with bullet holes.
Nine families - 32 people - from several Shouf villages live in the school, Abdu Hadad said. They have no money for better housing elsewhere. ``The Druze took everything,'' she says. ``We have nothing.'' Is she angry with the Druze?
``No,'' chorus Abdu Hadad and the other women who have joined the conversation. They are not angry with the Druze, they say. They are angry with the Lebanese Forces for ever coming to the Shouf and battling with the Druze.
``We lived in our villages for hundreds of years with the Druze,'' says Almazah Bitar. ``I had a house with four stories, a garden with grapes .... It is all gone. I left at midnight in my nightgown.''
In conversations with Christians, poor and rich, several themes recur: Their lives are not their own; the civil war is being waged by forces they don't understand and cannot control; there is nothing to be done but to continue surviving and believe that one day it will all be different.
``Sure, it is a crazy situation,'' Brother Felix, an instructor at the St. LaSalle private boys' school says. ``But we are crazy too now.'' Brother Felix, born in Malta, has lived in Lebanon 40 years. He never considered leaving, he says.
``We have taken 12 direct hits during the war, the last time was in 1985. But a shell landed 20 meters from here the day before yesterday,'' he says. ``We have grown accustomed to it.'' St. LaSalle teaches 2,500 middle-class youngsters between the ages of 9 and 13.
``It is very important to the youth that we ... keep the school open,'' he says. ``It is important to instill in them the inspiration, to give them the will to struggle. You can't build a nation without a people.''