ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sarah Ahmadia, center, was happy to be home with her parents, Phyllis and Jamil Ahmadia, Sunday at Hilo Airport.
Tears and hugs greet returning teacher
Sarah Ahmadia is finally home in Hilo after fleeing Lebanon
HILO » After being evacuated from Lebanon and traveling six days to get home, Kamehameha Schools teacher Sarah Ahmadia is back in Hilo but still thinking of the relatives left behind in the war-battered nation.
Ahmadia's father, Jamil, born in Lebanon, said he worried about her emotional state despite the fact that she is a "tough girl."
"She's very concerned about her relatives (in Lebanon)," he said. "She feels like she abandoned them." On Saturday night she had a nightmare about her cousin, he said.
Ahmadia arrived in Hilo late Sunday night and planned to take it easy at her parents' home.
"I'm going to go back to my parents' house and pet their dogs because that's good therapy," she said.
Yesterday morning, Ahmadia's mother, Phyllis, said her 14-year-old female Shih Tzu, named Sheeba, seemed to realize Ahmadia's need. Sheeba has refused to sleep with anyone but Ahmadia for years, but last night she would not leave her and slept with her, Phyllis Ahmadia said.
At the airport, the family hugged each other in tears. Ahmadia looked tired at one point, then beamed with happiness the next.
She also was greeted by Stanley Fortuna, headmaster at the Keaau campus of Kamehameha Schools; a second Kamehameha official; and her boyfriend, who did not want to be identified.
The emotional roller coaster at the airport mirrored emotions in Lebanon. Ahmadia said her happiest moment there was during a wedding, even though guests could hear bombs going off in the distance.
"The bombs went off and we turned up the music," she said.
The most harrowing time was the drive from the town of Sharoon, where she had taken refuge. She had to drive back to Beirut, fearful that her car would be bombed.
"It was really, really scary. Thankfully, it was uneventful," she said.
Ahmadia, along with other evacuees, was flown on a U.S. military helicopter from Lebanon to Cyprus on Thursday. She made it back to the mainland on a commercial flight chartered by the government.
Jamil Ahmadia, now a middle-school principal, came to America in 1969 to study, settling on teaching. He married Phyllis, a lawyer, and they moved in 1981 from Marin County, Calif., to Hilo because of its wholesome, multicultural society.
Sarah, 27, is their oldest child. Their other children are daughter Gabby, 25, doing biological research in Indonesia, and son Aron, 24, working on a doctorate in math in Chicago.
Phyllis summed up Sarah with a single word, "brilliant."
Sarah played piano with the Honolulu Symphony when she was in the sixth grade, her mother said. In the seventh grade, she got the highest score on the Big Island in a math competition, her father said.
Ahmadia graduated early from Waiakea High School and the University of Southern California and began teaching at 20.
She was the last of the Ahmadias' children to visit Lebanon. With Lebanon in an extended period of peace, she thought this would be a safe time to visit, her mother said.