Out of Beirut, Stranded in Buhangin

Jul. 31, 2006

A Filipino-Lebanese family in Davao tries to pick up the pieces of a life torn apart by the war in Lebanon.

By Germelina A. Lacorte

DAVAO CITY — All they really want right now is for the war to stop so that they can go back home and continue life where they left off.

Anthony Ballouz, 18, and his brother, Ronald, 16, express this wish as they watch footages of downtown Beirut on television in their mothers home in Buhangin here, where they sought refuge from the war that broke out between Israeli troops and the Hezbollah guerillas in the southern part of Lebanon.

The four Ballouz brothers were among the Filipino Lebanese children whose families have been torn apart because of the war. Their father, George Ballouz, a Lebanese businessman, had to stay behind as the three brothers were ferried out of Beirut to take a flight aboard the Jordanian Aviation plane from Syria to follow their mother and youngest brother in Davao. They were among the second batch of Filipinos arranged by the Philippine embassy to be brought to the Philippines early last week.

Epifania Alino-Ballouz, their mother, said there are over 30,000 overseas Filipino workers in Lebanon, but that does not include Filipino-Lebanese families that form a big community there.

She was in Davao on vacation when the Lebanon airport was bombed by Israeli forces. The war that broke out had sent most of the people there packing, Ronald recalled. Everyones in a state of shock, trying to get out of the place as fast as they can, he said.

We could hear the explosion two blocks away, we could feel the ground shaking, said Anthony. We packed our things and got them ready in a car, he said. Later, we evacuated to the southern part of Beirut, but even there, we could hear the bombardment.

Although the boys had been in Davao on occasional visits before, they knew no other home except the one they left behind in Lebanon, said Epifania, a nurse who, in the last 21 years, had lived in peacetime Lebanon. The family lived in the east side of Beirut, considered to be the Christian part but very near the border with the Muslim community. We live in the part where you can hear the Church bells ringing on Sundays and the Muslim call to prayers at the mosque five times on Fridays, Epifania said.

Her family used to circulate within the big Filipino-Lebanese community during important occasions but, right now, theres no way of knowing where they are, she said.

In Beirut, the boys used to belong to the Christian group Youth for Christ, the young peoples equivalent for Couples for Christ, she said. The boys said did not know what happened to a few Filipino-Lebanese friends they occasionally met at home but they made many Filipino Lebanese friends on the way here.

I know how difficult it is in a war, so Ive sent for the children here, Epifania said. She would have wanted her husband to take refuge in the Philippines, too, but the Philippine government has been giving its citizens a priority. But Anthony said leaving his country would be a very hard decision for his father to make. If you live in the country your whole life, you have your family, your relatives and friends there, he said. For my father, its a hard decision to leave. He has his home, his brothers there. Its not that easy to leave.

He said that leaving Lebanon for Davao was a hard decision for him to make, too. Before their escape, they had to stay overnight at the monastery, where over 150 people scheduled for evacuation the following day slept. The road to Syria in the east had been bombed and was no longer passable, so they had to do a detour to the north and down, which took them 11 hours to reach Damascus.

Reaching Davao, the boys continued to keep in touch with their father and their friends back in Lebanon, through the phone and through the internet. Anthony, who stayed glued to the computer all day, said his friends emailed him to say they were about to go out of the city to some remote areas to hide, where there were no telephone lines and no internet to reach them.

Life — I miss life in Lebanon, Anthony said, still jetlagged after the 15-hour flight. Were it not for the war, he can imagine himself going out with friends to the malls, or just staying at home to relax. But right now, everything else has changed.

The economy that Lebanon has built is going to waste now, he said. Lebanons economy depends much on tourists.

As the war between Israeli troops and the Hezbollah guerillas steps up in Lebanon, the boys are trying their best to feel at home in Davao. I miss my grandmas cooking, said Ronald. Jollibee is nice but Im not very fond of fast-food. I love home cooking, my grandmas home cooking.

The war broke out when the schools are closed for summer vacation. Theyre hoping that when classes open in September, this nightmare will be over. (Germelina A. Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

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