There was a moment last night, as we were preparing for the program, when it was so peaceful and quiet that I could have been convinced the war had ended. We were on a balcony overlooking downtown Beirut; the first call to prayer was sounding.
We had been in Beirut for 20 hours and this was the first time I remember hearing the call. I am sure that's because it was the first time I was able to focus on it.
We flew in yesterday morning on a Marine chopper, landing on the embassy grounds. Within minutes, before we had even moved away from the landing pad, the helicopter lifted off with a group of evacuees inside. Many of the Americans on board were far too young to really understand what was happening. Little boys seemed torn between fear and the excitement of getting to dress up in a military helmet and life vest.
As we drove south from the embassy towards the center of the city, the cars in the northbound lane were bumper-to-bumper. Our driver explained that people were literally heading for the hills, the mountains in northern Lebanon, to wait out the war. It was the first time I'd heard someone wish the war would end soon and not sound like they believed it would.
Beirut really is lovely, quite possibly the most beautiful city in the Middle East, even with very apparent and still open scars from this conflict, and the conflicts that have come before. People here always seem to be whispering conspiracy theories; some think that once all the foreigners leave, the real shelling will begin. It's a frightening thought if you've seen pictures of what has already been done to the Hezbollah stronghold in the southern suburbs.
On the balcony last night, the illusion of peace ended a few minutes after the call to prayer, as the silence was smashed by a massive explosion to the south.