Tea with Hezbollah
- Thursday, February 18, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table, Our Journey Through the Middle East by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis.
Into the Lion's Den: A Journey into Madness
THE FIRST CLUE that I had thrown myself into the mouth of madness should have been clear before the Middle East Airlines 767 took off from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with hardly a soul aboard besides me, the lowly writer, and Carl Medearis, the fearless trailblazer who sat beside me, trying to look at ease.
Correction. The first clue should have come five days earlier when I received the call that the Hezbollah had just stormed the parliament buildings in Beirut, had declared their own form of martial law, and were killing dissenting party members who'd taken up arms. A full-scale war had broken out in the very city Carl had talked me into visiting on this quest of ours.
Tanks and military vehicles, hundreds of them, were rolling down the streets. Citizens were fleeing. Hezbollah had seized control of the airport and stopped all flights. The American State Department had just issued a travel advisory, essentially prohibiting travel into the region.
I remember the call vividly. I was standing in a small luggage shop in my hometown of Austin, Texas, trying to decide whether the exorbitant price they were suggesting I pay for Tumi bags was worth the extra coin. I could buy a good Samsonite suitcase for a third the price.
It was then my cell phone chirped and I stepped out of the shop, glad for the distraction.
"Have you heard the news?" Carl asked in his ever-nonchalant voice.
"Lebanon's at war."
"The airport is shut down."
"Many are reported killed."
You see, my own use of those words, really and wow and seriously, should have sealed the deal for me. Going to Beirut at a time like this was ill advised. And going to Beirut to have tea with the top leaders of the Hezbollah, of all people, was now just plain absurd.
"What about Saudi Arabia?" I asked with as much bravado as I could muster. I was the apprentice here, playing the role of adventurer-in-training, and it was important that I didn't start squealing like a frightened child.
"Well, this is the Middle East," Carl came back casually. "Samir just evacuated his children on a private plane. He's adamant that we cancel the entire trip."
Samir. One of Carl's many friends in the Middle East, but unique in that Samir knows and is trusted by everyone. A linchpin for this trip, he was responsible for many of our appointments. If he said cancel, clearly we canceled.
My partner wasn't panicking, so I followed his most admirable example. I glanced back through the window where my wife, Lee Ann, was talking to the clerk about the Tumi bags. Naturally we wouldn't be needing either Tumi or Samsonite—the world was coming to an end.
"What about Syria?" I asked.
"Yeah, well, the road from Lebanon into Syria is blockaded with burning tires."
"Seriously?" Again that word. "So our meeting with Assad's government—"
"Is now probably out of the question."
"What about the West Bank? The Hamas?"
"Yeah, crazy, huh? Same with the bin Laden brothers in Saudi Arabia. The whole region could erupt. This is big news."
What does Chris think?" Chris is Carl's Greek goddess, his marriage partner who has given him three children and traveled the world at his side with superhuman grace. That's my take.
"Yeah, she thinks the trip is dangerous."
Now that I think about it, I did take notice of those early clues that traveling through the Middle East to ask "never before asked questions" of Islam's most influential ideologues and America's "enemies" was a misguided mission. In fact, I distinctly remember feeling buckets of sweet, cool relief washing over my body as Carl broke the news.
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