mardi 8 août 2006

Silent Struggle: A Displaced Family Copes with Private Tragedy (By David Snyder)

There is little left for Fatimah Houmany left to do now but watch her husband die. Bone thin beneath a red wool blanket, her husband Kamel has stopped eating, the cancer inside him taking its toll daily. Powerless now to help, the doctors here in Beirut have sent him home with just five days left to live.

But Kamel and Fatimah Houmany have no home to return to. Having moved to Beirut to see Kamel through his chemotherapy sessions, the family was living here when the war broke out. Their two sons, living in southern Beirut to attend school and be closer to their father through his illness, have new fled deeper into the city, the neighborhood they left now the scene of daily air strikes by the Israeli military.

Today, the Houmanys live in an empty room at a school in central Beirut, the desks stacked to one side and clothes hung on a line to dry. Here they, along with more than 900,000 others now displaced by the war, will wait out the conflict now engulfing Lebanon.

But surviving the stress of the war is only half of their battle. Each day, Kamel grows weaker. Each night, Fatimah says, the sound of Israeli air strikes echo through the empty walls of the schoolroom.

“He couldn’t sleep at night,” Fatimah said, gesturing gently towards the still figure of her husband. “He cannot eat, but he takes a bit of juice and water.”

For Fatimah and 75 other families here, that comfort comes from Caritas Lebanon, who is working at this site to supply the 400 displaced people here with the essentials of which the war has deprived them. Having been established in Lebanon since 1975 – the first year of this country’s brutal 15-year civil war - Caritas Lebanon is now once again at the heart of the relief effort in this war-torn country. For Fatimah, her face taut from the strain of caring for her husband amid the war, the assistance is welcome almost beyond words.

“When I talk I cannot express with words how well they are caring for me and my husband,” Fatimah said. “I don’t need to ask for support for support to come.”

Though Caritas Lebanon is reaching more than 85,000 people with critically needed food, water, medicines and other essentials, the scale of this conflict is outpacing the ability of any agency to help. An estimated 50,000 people are still trapped in southern Lebanon, unable to flee the fighting that rages there. Nearly one quarter of the entire population of the country is displaced, many of them, like the Houmany family, cared for only through local organizations or even the kindness of strangers who have taken in hundreds of thousands of war victims.

Leaving the family, their faces heavy with the enormity of the days they now live, I asked Fatimah if I could take her photo, along with that of her husband. She sat up in her chair, and straitened her brown-toned headscarf.

“I want you to take my photo so you can show the world how we are living,” Fatima said. “God be with you, and let the future be of peace.”

Such are the hopes of thousands here in Lebanon tonight.