Hawaii teacher trapped in Lebanon
The Kamehameha Schools Keaau teacher dodges bombs in anxious wait for evacuation
Twenty-seven-year-old Sarah Ahmadia planned on having a fun-filled vacation during her first visit to her father's native country of Lebanon.
Instead, Ahmadia has become one of thousands of Americans trapped in the crossfire between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, seeking shelter from nearby bomb explosions and witnessing body bags being carried away.
"We had virtually no warning and no chance to get out," Ahmadia said yesterday during a cellular phone interview from Sharoon, a small town near the port city of Beirut.
Ahmadia and about 25,000 Americans were waiting for a commercial vessel to start evacuating them starting today.
"We're just sitting tight and waiting for instructions, which we hope will come soon," Ahmadia said.
The 1996 Waiakea High School graduate and biology teacher at the Keaau campus of Kamehameha Schools arrived in Sofer, a summer resort town overlooking the Mediterranean, on July 8 for a three-week vacation with her aunt and cousin, who live in the San Francisco Bay area.
She met brothers, sisters and cousins of her father, Jamil Ahmadia, the principal of Keaau Middle School, who was born and raised in Lebanon.
Problems started soon after she got there. Last week, Ahmadia and family members were at beach south of Beirut when they heard a rumble. Soon after, her cousin saw a bomb. At first, Ahmadia said they thought the bombing was focused on one area. A day later they learned through television news that the airport and other parts of Lebanon had been bombed.
"Huge booming sounds" of bombs shook her relatives' multilevel Sofer home, shattering glass. "The bombs came down within 500 yards from the house we were all staying in," Ahmadia said. She counted five bombs that exploded near her relatives' home.
Ahmadia also described the buzzing sound of a reconnaissance plane that hovered above the home. "We knew it was planning a target, and we knew another bomb was coming," she said.
Even though she feared for her life, Ahmadia said she maintained a calm composure for the sake of her relatives' young children, eight altogether age 2 to 10.
Finally, the sight of smoke billowing from bombs that struck the roadways sent Ahmadia and her other relatives to the basement.
After the reconnaissance plane moved on, Ahmadia said, they grabbed their passports, jumped into a vehicle and headed to the home of relatives in Sharoon, a town in the mountains about 15 miles east of Beirut.
"It was definitely a scary couple of minutes. We got up to the house here, and we still could hear the planes going overheard. At least they're not bombing here," she said.
Ahmadia's father said he is grateful that his daughter is being cared for by his siblings during the turmoil and that they can keep in constant contact with her through her cellular phone.
"My wife and I were there not too long ago. It was nice to see the country being rebuilt and the economy recovering. It's such a beautiful country," he said. "To see this happening, it's so disheartening to me."
With the language barrier and intermittent electricity available, Americans stuck in Lebanon have had limited access to the Internet to find out what they need to do to evacuate, Ahmadia said.
All of the information she is getting is being fed to her by her mother, Phyllis, of Hilo, and brother, Aron, of Chicago, by cellular phone. Ahmadia also has a sister, Gabby, who is currently in Indonesia.
Ahmadia noted that what is being broadcast on television news is different from what she has observed so far.
"They're not hitting military targets. They're hitting a lot of civilian targets despite what Israel is saying. I've seen it," Ahmadia said. "They've definitely killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians," she said.
"We keep seeing more body bags. Every time we hear a bomb, we wonder how many people are getting killed," she said.
Her father has two brothers and three sisters in Lebanon. "A lot of my close family (members) are affected, economically and emotionally. It's been difficult for all of us," he said.
Like many other Lebanese citizens, Ahmadia's father said he does not support the Hezbollah militia. None of the Hezbollah are victims in the recent bombings, he said. But he is equally disappointed in President Bush, who he described as being more concerned for Israelis than Lebanese citizens.
He said he wants to see the United States play an active role to end the fighting "so innocent lives would stop being lost and so our American citizens can get out of there," including his daughter.
"We're praying for her safe return," he said.