Monday, March 7, 2011

The Syrian Soldier

Before Lebanon's civil war began in 1975, my father's modest grocery store had enough business to justify hiring help.  One of his employees was a young Syrian man who had come to Lebanon to work.  My father took a liking to him.  He was hard working, respectful and reliable. When he needed a place to stay, my father offered a small room in our apartment.  My mother made sure he ate whatever she was making for the family.  I don't remember how long he worked for my father, but he eventually left to serve his time in the Syrian army and my parents lost touch with him. 

Fast forward a few years.  The civil war was raging in the late 1970s and the Syrian army (not a peacekeeping force at this point by any means) had taken control of key areas of the country, set up checkpoints and began detaining Lebanese Christians without cause.  One Sunday afternoon, as my family was heading to the Bekaa Valley, we were stopped at a Syrian checkpoint.  The soldiers told me, my siblings and my mother to stay put as they took my father for "interrogation".  This scenario was repeated thousands of times during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and more often than not, the man who was detained was never seen or heard from again.  We clutched each other's hands and prayed.  Inside, my father was indeed being interrogated.  His obviously Christian name was the only reason he was of interest to the soldiers.  They assumed he was active in the Christian militia fighting the Syrian occupation.  He wasn’t but his answers didn't matter; his religion was grounds enough for torture or whatever else was coming next. 

Then an unexpected thing happened and my father lived to tell us about it.  Most of the soldiers left the room and my father could hear them whispering.  Needless to say, he was terrified.  They came back and told him he was free to go.  Relieved, he stood up to thank the soldiers and walk away when a young soldier approached him and extended his hand.  My father paused and looked at him for a moment before shaking his hand.  You guessed it.  This was the same young man who once worked for him, lived in our home and ate meals with us.  The soldier said, "I told them Elias Boustani is a good man who wouldn't harm a fly."  The soldier added, "I told them you're not organizing against anyone and you probably don't even own a gun." 

The soldier was right.  My father didn't organize or carry weapons.  He was just a good man.  He treated the militia boys like his own children, sending them boxes of food as often as he could so they don't go hungry.  He knew their parents and grandparents and practically raised those boys who hung around the store from the moment they could walk to buy their own candy.  Even in their darkest hours (and they had many), they never looted the store or hurt our family in any way.

Back to the checkpoint... That Syrian soldier was once one of my father's boys too.  And, while his kindness at that critical moment says a great deal about my father, it says even more about him, his character, his upbringing and his decency.  Without question, he saved my father’s life. 

Wherever he is now, and I so hope he has survived the unholy missions of the Syrian army, I want him to know how grateful my siblings and I are for what he did that day.  He saved all five of us.  I want him to know that we are thriving in the greatest democracy in the world, we are successful in our careers and we have loving families of our own. 

And, as his fellow Syrians plan their uprising against the criminal regime, I hope and pray that he, and perhaps his children, are right there organizing with them.  Elias and Georgette Boustani are surely cheering him on from their perch in heaven and praying for his children to have as great a life as we have had.

Laura

10 comments:

  1. Laura, very touching story that didn't end in what could have been a tragic result for the innocent. You showed how fortunate your father and the whole family were it ended the way it did, I'm glad it ended the way it did yet I am sure it cause major pains for you all.
    I have stories of my own, had to go through many situations myself and believe me having one group harassing (let's just call it that) you is much easier than having 6-7 or even maybe 8 (I lost count/track). I know of some people who were taken away, some came back and some never heard of again (by more than one group). I have seen one incident (the last one) where I was not the victim but saw the whole process of a human being lose his life 5 yards or so away from me, this incident was my calling to just get out and never look back, a few weeks later I was on a plane.
    I share with you the same hopes and wishes for the people in the entire region (middle east) to rise up and demand a change, but this process has a big price tag.

    I continue to read news from many sources trying to know/predict which volcano will be next, unfortunately for the people of Libya, they are being set to be the big experiment of whether uprisings are always set to succeed, or can they be quelled and scare the people of other countries they might meet the same fate.
    I hope I am wrong and would love to see the Syrian people get a chance at tasting freedom in their own country.

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  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm certain I would have many more terrifying stories if I was a young man in Lebanon at that time, which I'm assuming you were. I saw many neighbors and cousins suffer through those days.

    For the longest time, I didn't share these stories because I knew they weren't so unique considering how many of us are out there. But I recently decided we (I) have some responsibility to share the experiences and try to make a positive impact on the world around us. Life is too short to be quiet or guarded.

    I do worry about the Libyan people--their suffering, casualties and future. I'm also afraid their defeat would have a chilling effect on the current wave of protests and scare people into submission again.

    I also worry about how history will look upon my adopted country if the U.S. stayed on the sidelines and didn't help the Libyans. I know U.S. involvment is complicated, but it's getting to a breaking point.

    Please keep reading and commenting. And, do share your stories.

    Laura

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  3. Laura, thank you for responding to my comment. I am not very happy with how our country is dealing with the events in Libya but, try to track Russia and China's position at this time, they are both against any international involvement not even a no fly zone. Russia and China have major economic ties with the Mad Man, even Italy didn't speak out until well into the second week (in a very shy way). As it stands now, only a genocide will bring in international intervention unless the F F make real large victories on the ground. These guys are making sacrifices in more than one way, their self, wives, children and parents in some cases. What hurts me the most, is the presence of mercenaries and their absolute criminal actions, they are being paid to come from countries away just to kill, and they do kill mostly helpless women and children.
    I wish the Libyans victory, they will help many other oppressed people if they win (maybe our old neighbors).
    Jay

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  4. Of all your posts I wish I would have skipped this one. Too many terrifying memories!
    JB

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  5. Oh,JB... I wrote this and was fine all day, but you just choked me up. As a parent now, I don't know how our parents made it out without completely going insane. You can join me in writing anytime you like.
    Laura

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  6. Jay - I agree with you and understand the interests of the various countries, but shame on us, China, Russia, Italy and everyone else if we allow this to continue much longer. Think about what it says to the Lybians and others around the globe if Gaddafi survives. Think about what it says to dictators, especially our old neighbor. I think you and I agree. Anyhow, we can only watch, write and hope from here. Thanks again for your thoughts.
    Laura

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  7. Laura, Thanks for responding to my comment .
    May your father rest in peace .. very touching .

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  8. Laura, I've been meaning to read your blog since you started it and I'd keep putting it off for "when I have a little more time" and eventually today, I decided I was just going to have the little more time today, right now. And I'm glad. Glad I didn't read your blog before - because I'm glad to have made this the first.

    There is something so simple about it and the way you've told it that it shines and sparkles even though the story in itself is so terrifying. I can just imagine what you and your family went through.

    I think I will now always have the time to read your stories - you bring the entire scene to life.

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  9. Kiran - Your comment flatters me. I'm so glad you took the time to read. Just think though... My story is one of millions of stories. I just happen to be telling it. And, there are millions going through much worse right now. It makes my blood boil. There's so much work to do for those change agents.

    Laura

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  10. Yes, and an important "work" is also bringing those million people's stories to the notice of those who'd never have realized what is going on there otherwise. So your's is as important and necessary a job as those change agents - you're facilitating that change by telling us what's happening there...More power to you - keep at it!

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