Teacher 'thrilled' to flee Lebanon
Big Island teacher Sarah Ahmadia's week-long journey to escape Lebanon has ended with a short ride on a U.S. military helicopter to Cyprus.
"I am thrilled," Ahmadia told the Star-Bulletin yesterday in a cellular phone interview. "We finally got on the helicopter. I didn't actually believe we were going until we got on the helicopter.
"It looks like the U.S. government came through after all."
Ahmadia, 27, a biology teacher at the Keaau campus of Kamehameha Schools, along with her aunt and cousin, were among 200 Americans who were forced to wait another day after embassy officials overbooked the chartered cruise ship Orient Queen a day earlier.
Her other aunt and two cousins, ages 2 and 7, who had also planned to flee Lebanon, decided to stay with relatives for now, said Ahmadia's father, Jamil Ahmadia.
All were originally scheduled to be among 1,000 Americans to board the cruise ship to evacuate Lebanon on Wednesday. Because of the overbooking, Ahmadia said she and other Americans were put on a priority list to travel to Cyprus, a 50-minute ride by helicopter the next day.
"They were trying to appease us as much as possible," she said.
She and her relatives arrived in Cyprus yesterday morning.
"It's been a big relief," said Ahmadia's father.
But Jamil Ahmadia said he is worried about his siblings and other relatives in Lebanon as well as the hundreds of thousands of civilians whose lives are threatened by the conflict between the Hezbollah militia and Israel.
"Nobody seems to be taking an active role in this crisis," said Ahmadia's father, principal of Keaau Middle School, who was born and raised in Lebanon. "That's not acceptable. Our government and the world should not sit back and let this go on."
"I'm not a politician. I just want to see peace. Just leave Lebanon alone," he said.
Sarah Ahmadia and other Americans boarded a bus to an area where they planned to spend the night before catching a flight to Baltimore today.
Ahmadia had reserved seats on Cyprus Airlines to London but changed plans after the U.S. government made arrangements and will cover costs for Ahmadia and other Americans to fly to Baltimore.
Her brother, Aron, of Chicago, is expected to travel to Baltimore to meet her, said their father.
"We're probably going to stay at a hotel in Baltimore, and hopefully I'll be able to work my way to Hawaii the next day," Ahmadia said. "I'm going to try."
Among the Americans stranded in Lebanon before they evacuated by helicopter were a 15-year-old boy and his two sisters, 3 and 8, from Washington, D.C., whose relatives had dropped them off near the U.S. Embassy, thinking they were to be part of the group to board the cruise ship.
Ahmadia said the children's parents spent a week of their month-long Lebanon vacation in Kuwait when the bombing occurred. Ahmadia booked a hotel room for the children and watched over them until they reached Cyprus where they were reunited with their father yesterday.
Ahmadia arrived in Lebanon on July 8 for a three-week vacation. Four days later, Israel began bombarding Lebanon in its fight against the Hezbollah militia.
About 8,000 of the 25,000 Americans trapped in Lebanon asked to be evacuated.
Like her father, Ahmadia is worried about her relatives in Lebanon.
"I wish I could pack them in my suitcase. Leaving them was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life," she said.