Sarah Harb was one of the Lebanese students who boarded the France evacuation flight to Lebanon on April 7th. After weeks of hearing criticism and people questioning expats’ pleas of returning, Sarah felt obliged to explain her reasons in a Facebook post.
“When I first arrived in Beirut, I was very happy for the first time in my life that I have arrived at Beirut International Airport and not any other airport in the world,” Sara began her post with.
She explained that there were two types of people who reacted upon hearing that expats are demanding a safe return to Lebanon; type (1) who accused them of leaving the country in the first place, and type (2) who told them that it was better for them to stay in Europe for their own good.
“For the first type who may think that we’re intending to live in their father’s house once we come back, I want to be very clear that I did not come back because France suffocated me,” Sarah snapped back.
“We simply wanted to be with our families.”
Sara Harb, Lebanese student in France
Sarah explains that the French government did not take away any health, financial, or food care. They were still getting their student monthly salaries and were still treated gracefully. “We just simply wanted to be with our families,” she stressed.
“The person whose hand is in water is different than the person whose hand is in the fire,” Sarah said, referencing a popular Lebanese expression.
She described the moment her dad teared up while taking her to the hotel upon arrival from the evacuation flight. “I will take this moment to the grave; the moment I could not hug you,” her dad told her.
Sarah then addressed the second type of people who commented that it was better for her to stay in France. “Maybe they say that because they have not seen what is happening in Europe right now. Or maybe because we are great at self-flagellation and always think the West is better than us in everything,” she said.
Sarah explained that when they left Charles De Gaulle Airport, which is considered the second most important airport in Europe after Heathrow, the measures taken are deemed appropriate for the normal flu and not for a global epidemic.
“It’s for sure no comparison to the level of high alert precautions we received at Beirut International Airport,” Sarah confirmed.
From check-in to the boarding in France, the Lebanese were followed by MEA employees who were careful to keep a proper distance between all passengers boarding. The passengers’ body temperature was first taken at the airport by MEA staff before the evacuation flight took off.
They were also asked to sign a pledge and write down the address of the place they will stay in quarantine in Lebanon for the first 14 days if their PCR test was negative and after spending the first night in a hotel.
At the airplane door, a doctor was taking the temperature of passengers, giving masks and gloves, and asking passengers about chronic diseases and symptoms consistent with the virus.
“We were sorted according to who have chronic diseases, who have symptoms, and who do not have any of both. We were seated with a distance of at least one seat from each other and were given the usual blankets, meals, and water bottles,” Sarah recounted.
According to her, there were general security guards on the evacuation flight, along with two doctors and a nurse. Every once in a while the doctors and nurses took passengers’ body temperature and made sure they were still committed to the precautions.
“MEA crew were (believe it or not) very nice, helpful, and friendly,” Sarah teased, “they only spoke in Arabic and all announcements were also in Arabic. We felt like home; as if we’re on a picnic.”
When the Lebanese passengers arrived at the airport in Beirut, everything was very organized and thoughtful, according to Sarah’s testimonial. They, again, gave their personal information and addresses. They also were sprayed along with their bags.
“We underwent PCR for free in the time where you could almost die requesting the test in European Hospitals,” Sara said, sharing that the PCR test is the second worst thing to experience after coronavirus (COVID-19).
After they were tested and disinfected, passengers went to the airport’s general security guards in small numbers to get their passports stamped. They then took their handbags (after being disinfected) and had to give extra information for the Ministry of Public Health.
“We were escorted to a bus where only 9 people were allowed on,” she said. The bus took the arrivals to the hotel where they quickly checked in and were escorted to their rooms.
“When we first heard that four people from the France evacuation flight were infected with coronavirus, everyone at the hotel panicked. But then we were informed that the people who had the virus were identified and taken by ambulances.”
Sarah, among the people who tested negative, was given permission to leave after signing “for the millionth time” a form by the Ministry of Public Health that explains the address where she will be isolated for 14 days in.
Upon arriving at the building of her quarantining place, three people were waiting for her to make sure her address information was credible. A team sent from the municipality also called Sarah’s dad and offered their services in case Sarah needed anything.
“When I chose to move away from my family and leave everything behind, it was because of my lack of faith in the Lebanese government,” Sarah confessed, “this is not a post of praise to the government and this does not mean I’m back and that I have trust in the new government.”
“I know very well that it is our right to return, that we paid for the tickets, and all that the government did was its duty, and they have no right to say otherwise. However, we are so used to the Lebanese government doing the least so it would have been easy for them to disappoint us as usual as we don’t really expect anything more.”
Sarah added that this time the Lebanese government did take responsibility, something that the biggest countries failed in taking even though they have more potentials and capabilities and maybe less corruption.
“Our country had an eye for what is coming and knew that its capabilities are close to nonexistent. This is the difference between us and the Europeans and their governments. They had more trust in their capabilities but dismissed the pandemic in the beginning,” Sarah proceeded to say.
“From the beginning, our government knew that if it did not do anything, we will be worse than Italy and Spain and many others. They dealt with it from the beginning and they were very honest and clear with us.”
“Yesterday was the first time that I felt like my country cares about me.”
“But the people that were with us yesterday did their duties because their morals and conscious told them so,” Sarah said, praising.
“These are the real heroes: doctors, airport staff, flight attendants, general security guards, airport guards, ministry of public health employees, bus drivers, hotel employees, cleaning staff who disinfected after us, and municipality employees.”
“Everyone who worked on-field and had direct contact with us, knowing that we come from the center of coronavirus. These are the people I came back for, these are my family too, and these are the good people who I want to be around in times like these,” Sarah concluded.
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