Seeing war brought certitude for career choice

It was June 23, 2013, 40km South of the Lebanese capital Beirut, and in the shadow of the Ancient Roman Hippodrome North of the sea port Abra.

I emptied my utility bag, tossing anything that could weigh me down – a hard copy of The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes’ “state of nature” where only the law of the jungle reigned.

Four bullets fly over Lebanese Armed Force in the distance and senior correspondent for The Daily Star Matt Hensworth signals for me to move.

I see the United Nations protected media post sheltering The London Times and McClatchy News. Before I can even coordinate my way, two Israeli Defense Force F-15 fighter jets rip through the celestial sky, sparking the 72 hour long strife that would become The Battle of Sidon. My stomach turns. Every milligram of Valium I had knocked back to calm me down prior to then came right up and I dropped.

My mind went elsewhere.Where am I?

Five months ago, I was in Ottawa, seated in the office of my journalism professor with news that I would not move on with my studies – that I was not a good journalist – and that signing and sealing a deal as an intern with The Daily Star was something I would not be ready for.

I remember Hensworth pulling me up and strapping an official lexicon to my vest. It was a list of codes: amina meaning a route is totally secured by army or police; salika meaning a route was free of snipers, but not police; hatherath meaning a route was manageable, but with a 30 per cent chance of sniping; and ghair amina meaning a route is extremely unsafe.

Scribbled on the back of lexicon was a question that changed life as I know it: Life or death?

In retrospective, that professor was right. June 23, 2013 in Sidon was something I was not ready for.

No amount of Valium could numb me to the texture of life in war and I did not possess the wild imagination to survive the darkest corner of human behavior.

More so, the prospect of dying senselessly taught me that I never want to be war correspondent.

I was too stubborn and too ignorant to admit it then. But I can’t imagine how my life would be if I did things differently.

I went to Beirut set on breaking news in a country where there are more questions than answers; where car bomb victims aren’t given names in headline news reports and where the most common question following an explosion isn’t how many people died or who did it, but how will it affect the dollar rate.

A mother’s stories of her time as a war correspondent with The Red Cross can capture one at a young age. Selfishly, I believed that following such footsteps was my duty, never minding the fact that she escaped a life of war to give my brothers and I a chance. The perception of what was noble was misguided.

And though I tried hard to convince myself I was more Lebanese than anything, the truth inevitably hit me: I was a ’90s kid, born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa, with no worldview but the one provided by my Western environment where every death is a tragedy and never a statistic.

Nonetheless, I would remain in Beirut and fulfill my commitment to a six week internship with The Daily Star. After all, I had to prove to my professor at least one thing: I was a good journalist.

And though I was required to witness the destructive spill over battles that made their way across the Syrian border to the Lebanese regions in Tripoli, I would branch off from the violent stigmas to capture the beauty of Lebanon as much as I could.

From the bay window of my ornate, high-ceiling suite, where Rue Bliss meets Avenue de General Gaulle in the heart of Beirut, I would look to the Corniché and the Mediterranean Sea, and I found a reminder for all.

We, as young Canadians, are privileged for everything we have. It’s easier said than done, but don’t let dreadful Monday morning class drag you down because somewhere in Lebanon, my hard-copy of Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature is most likely in the hands of a man who has lost everything but a reason to smile.

When my professor failed me that day, he told me to walk out with my head held high and to really think about his advice. Out of spite, I chose to ignore his words. And I had to learn the hard way: I’ll always have a lot to learn.

I have since written memoirs of my time as a correspondent in Lebanon. I invite you to read it.