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My War-Cursed Country

BPP video producer Zena Barakat as a four-year-old. hide caption

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I was born in Lebanon in 1980, in the midst of the civil war, and my family moved to Nashville when I was six years old.

From time to time, I remember flashes of my childhood in Beirut, and this morning, they came back to me as I read the Washington Post article about the street fighting in Beirut.

"Hezbollah militants, some carrying assault rifles or rocket-propelled grenade launchers, patrolled outside Starbucks and other shops in the mostly deserted commercial strips of neighborhoods normally controlled by Sunnis loyal to the U.S.-backed Lebanese government. Masked armed men in civilian clothes set up checkpoints and asked passersby for their identity cards..."

It's a different time — but it's a disturbingly familiar scene. That mention of Starbucks tells the story of the brief period in last few years when things seemed hopeful, open, and safe in Lebanon. No more.

Flash.

There were security checkpoints setup throughout Lebanon during the civil war (1975-1990) and for years following. When I was four or five, I remember hiding behind my mother's legs in the passenger's side of our Dodge Colt as we drove through a security checkpoint. I'm not sure why I was told to quickly crouch there, and there's still a lot that my family doesn't talk about when it comes to the war.

We were blessed — nothing happened to our family, we stayed safe — but we knew other families who didn't have the same luck.

Flash.

I remember hunkering down with my family in the safest part of our Beirut apartment: the center hallway. I could have been two. I could have been five. It happened throughout my childhood. My aunt and uncle and cousins were there, too. They lived on the 4th floor of the same building, but our ground floor apartment was less in the line of fire.

The street fighting would last for hours, sometimes for days.

When it seemed to be quiet again, we'd walk outside to survey the damage. My siblings and I would gather the bullets and shells and grow our shoebox collection.

My parents moved my family to the United States in 1986. I have returned to Lebanon every two or three years. In my visits, I would sometimes hear the rat-a-tat of automatic gunfire in the distance. It always startled me, but never my family who lives in Lebanon. They have learned to live with it — they've had to. A certain amount of fighting is just a part of life there, but there is a threshold, a line not to be crossed, and everyone knows it.

The civil war is a recent memory, and it is not something anyone ever had gotten — or will get — used to. It is not something any Lebanese wants to live through again.