Vacation To Hell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   On July 27, 1993, my family and I journeyed to the Middle East to the small country of Lebanon, my father's birthplace. On the day of our departure, Israel had launched a massive air, land and sea attack against Lebanon and our plane landed on a runway made invisible by thick black smoke. As we waited for the jammed cargo doors of the plane to be forcibly opened to claim our luggage, I went in search of a bathroom. Things were not looking good. The bathroom looked even worse. Because of the ongoing war in Lebanon, much was in disrepair and this bathroom was no exception. The doors to the stalls were torn off and the room was completely pitch black. Toilet paper seemed to be considered a luxury. My most memorable summer vacation had begun.

My father had always told us that he grew up in the countryside of Lebanon. Throughout the one-hour ride at high speed on winding mountain roads which overlooked sheer drops of 10,000 feet, I imagined a peaceful village with hens and chickens, and maybe a lamb or two. When we arrived, I was amazed to see that the house was on the main road connecting Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, to Damascus, the capital of Syria. It was like living on the median strip of a major highway. That night, it was impossible to sleep. We were all crowded in the same room with our good friends, the transparent lizards and the bloodsucking mosquitoes. After finally dozing before dawn, I was wakened by the sounds of the Moslem call to prayer at a nearby mosque, a distant bomb, a caravan of large trucks, and a rooster. Well, this was the country, right? Day two, and I was ready to return home.

The incident that occurred the next morning was highly unexpected. As my family was getting ready to go out, we heard a startling bang and shatter. We all rushed to the front balcony. On the busy street in front of our house we saw a tightly compressed blue BMW with red blotches on the windshield belonging to the driver. Lying on its side in front of the car was a giant potato truck. The road was covered with smashed potatoes and little old ladies screaming at something and scurrying to pick up potatoes for a free dinner. As we found out this would be one of the small surprises in our exciting vacation.

Lebanon is the most beautiful country that I have ever seen, but the war has taken its toll. During our four-week stay, we had no hot water, no drinking water that we didn't have to boil, and electricity for six-hour intervals. Much of our socializing was done with flashlights and candles. Besides these inconveniences, what disturbed me was the lack of personal freedom. In Lebanon, you cannot drive on the road for more than five miles without arriving at an army checkpoint where your papers are examined and, in some cases, your entire car is searched. Male Lebanese citizens over the age of 18 are pulled out of their vehicles and immediately put in the service of the army.

Besides the lack of freedom and the lack of amenities, what bothered me even more was the lack of safety. It seemed as if there were no laws. There were 12-year-old kids driving cars, and there were no stop signs or traffic signals. This might seem like a fantasy for many teenagers in the U.S., but as a cautious ten-year-old I was as nervous as can be.

We decided to visit the old Lebanese city of Baalbeck. There were beautiful pieces of architecture and carved stones, not to mention breathtaking cliffs and bottomless pits just lying in the middle of your dehydrating walk-through tour. My two-year-old cousin nearly ran into a deep hole but, luckily, my aunt caught her in the nick of time.

However, what struck me the most was the resilience of the Lebanese people. Throughout all of these hardships, they faced each day with a smile and a song. Listening to them play music on their rhythmical drums brings a joyful smile to your face. No matter how little they may have, they will always have that little extra for a relative or friend. They laugh, they sing, they dance, and they make the most of what God has given them. We, in the land of opportunity, should take a long hard look at our Middle Eastern neighbors and learn that we have much to be thankful for and ittle to complain about. No matter how down or deprived I sometimes feel, whether I'm grounded, can't watch TV or can't play sports, I look back at my "vacation to hell" and realize that I really have a lot to live for. c


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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