My story is about an unusual journey that happened in August 1989. It started with a telephone call from my fiancé who was studying in London to let me know that I had been awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the UK. Having the scholarship in hand, I went to the British Embassy to get my visa. But I was informed that there were no visas because all the diplomats had fled Lebanon; I was directed to go to either Cyprus or Jordan to get it.
Since Beirut Airport and various sea ports were essentially closed due to the chaos of Lebanon’s civil war, my best option to get a visa was to travel by car to Damascus and from there take a plane to Cyprus, where existed the nearest British embassy.
The roads from Beirut to Damascus were in no better condition because of the shelling and the risk of kidnapping. For that reason, very few taxi drivers dared to undertake that 84-kilometer trip to Damascus. But I managed to find one driver who agreed to take me at 4 a.m. the next day. It was the safest time to travel as combatants usually had a couple of hours of truce around 4 am.
At home, Dad was very reluctant for me to leave under such dangerous conditions. But Mum opposed him and said decisively: “Let her go. Let one of us survives this war.” When I heard her say that, I hesitated to leave, but Mum insisted and said, “You have a great opportunity you can’t miss. Go and don’t look back.”
Unfortunately, the evening before my departure was a very bad night of heavy artillery shelling. After I finished preparing my luggage, I waited anxiously in the corridor—the safest place in our home—together with Mum and Dad. Toward 3 a.m., the bombing stopped and I managed to snooze for an hour until I heard a frenzied honk at our front door. The driver had arrived to take me to Damascus!
The road to Damascus was deadly calm, no one on the streets, just our mad taxi driver, me and Dad who decided to escort me to Damascus to ensure my safety up to the border. We crossed several checkpoints where the soldiers were half asleep. They checked the car, and since there were no young men on board they let us pass. The driver was in such a hurry to reach the Syrian border that he was driving extremely fast, and we nearly had a fatal car crash.
“If you're going through hell, keep going.” ― Winston Churchill
We reached Damascus early in the morning and I stayed with my aunt who happened to live there. A week later, my fiancé flew in from London. We got married very quickly in a small church and then traveled to Cyprus a week later for a honeymoon of sorts. We remained there for almost two weeks until my visa was approved. It normally takes 5 hours to travel from Beirut to London, but it took me 30 days to get there in 1989.
We reached London penniless as we spent all our money on that long journey and my scholarship was due one week later. The first day we were there, we went for a walk in Fulham Road. While walking, a summer breeze lifted some tree leaves from the sidewalk together with a twenty-pound note that got stuck on my foot. I could not believe my eyes! What was the source of the money? I really don’t know, but this piece of money had come out of the blue when we most needed a penny. It triggered in my mind the idea that I was never alone since the day I left home and went to London. I can even think and argue that probably I had never been alone since much earlier—probably from the day I was born.
As a result of this journey, an important chapter in my life started. And it simply would not have happened had Mum not pushed me to go for it. Mum was and still is my guardian angel and my main inspirer. She taught me to remain positive, to never give up, and to work hard and see opportunities in every difficulty I might face.
“Our journey is filled with never ending struggles, we must meet them with an open heart.” ―Lolly Daskal
Picture by Christelle Rahme