Away from the Beirut bombings
George ’04 and Simon Sarraf ’06 enjoy jet skiing on the Mediterranean Sea while visiting with family in Kousba, Lebanon, this summer. They were impressed with the American government’s ability to evacuate the 25,000 U.S. citizens who were in Lebanon when the bombing began.
When brothers George ’04 and Simon Sarraf ’06 and their sister Jenny flew from Peoria to Lebanon in July to visit family there, they had no idea their family’s homeland would soon be making international headlines.
One week after the Sarrafs’ arrival in their parents’ hometown of Kousba el Koura, the bombings in Beirut began. “We were in Beirut the day before they hit the runway at the airport,” Simon said. “We had very mixed feelings. Some people were not very afraid; however, others remained very skeptical. As the bombing spread throughout the country, the situation seemed as if it was only going to get worse.”
Although they stayed in their hometown more than they planned and did not to go to the beach one day when they heard bombs in the distance, they enjoyed their visit. “We were sad to see everything happen the way it did, but we got to spend time with our family and friends. It had been six years since we’d been there. Beirut and other major cities, even our hometown, were more beautiful than we could ever remember. With all of the restorations and new additions made to the infrastructure, it was clear why Beirut is considered the Paris of the Middle East.”
The Sarrafs were in their hometown when they heard about the bombing. George said, “It was amazing to see how calm the people remained, even though they knew that a war was taking place around them. Lebanese people have been through so much war, but their unshakeable faith has remained strong and they still have hope for peace.”
Feeling at home in Lebanon
When the bombings began, the Sarrafs’ parents told their children to heed the advice of their cousin, also a U.S. citizen who was visiting at the same time and who worked with the U.S. Embassy on their behalf. Simon said, “We wanted to stay as long as we could. We were really happy there. There were a couple days when we didn’t feel it was safe to go anywhere, but we were with family and friends we rarely see and we were having a great time.”
George said, “We were a bit disappointed that our time was cut short, but we were most disappointed that others were complaining that the U.S. was not doing anything to safely evacuate their citizens. There were over 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon when the bombings occurred. That’s not a small number. We were not able to bring back souvenirs or all our clothes, but we were able to return safely. You’re talking about human life. What are a few souvenirs and clothes?”
When their cousin told them it was time to leave, the Sarrafs, along with cousins from Detroit and Boston, boarded the Orient Queen cruise liner. “Most of the passengers were Lebanese-Americans traveling from Beirut to Cyprus. It was a 10-hour cruise, and we didn’t have to pay for anything. We only waited two hours in Beirut to board the ship; that wait was nothing.”
George added, “They told us we had nothing to worry about because we had a U.S. passport. I’m thankful to the U.S. government, the U.S. Marines, the Lebanese military, and the Red Cross, both American and Lebanese.”
In Cyprus, they were in the airport one hour before flying to Philadelphia, where airport personnel helped with luggage and their cousins’ small children. “Everybody was very compassionate about the situation. We are citizens of the U.S., and the U.S. had our backs. They took care of us, step by step.”
Once on American soil, they purchased discounted airfare to Chicago. They received free national and international phone calls, food, and each person could have a guide. Simon said, “They were having normal daily operations at the airport, and yet, they accommodated us. Everyone should be proud of what this country did to make sure their citizens returned safely.”
Now back home, George is a graduate student at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Simon began the marketing training program at Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria in September. Their sister Jenny is a sophomore at Illinois Central College.