Lebanon - A Dangerous Souvenir

You can still see the marks made by the shrapnel on the ceiling of Rusha Zayoun’s family living room and try not to look at what’s left of her leg when she wheels herself into the room. A shy 17 year old, who smiles awkwardly when you make eye contact, she knows that her future is bleak. She will find it hard to marry and escape the house where her father, Ali, brought home the cluster munition.

The truth is that the South of Lebanon is littered with unexploded ordnance. The rights and wrongs of the conflict and the way in which it was fought is of little matter to the civilian population that, long after ‘peace’ has come, still endures mutilated bodies and the legacy of all the other ‘dangerous souvenirs’ that are found in the orange groves or delicately nesting, unseen, in tree branches.

To walk through a ‘cleared’ site in the company of men like Zac Jonson or Karl Greenwood is to taste the unpredictability of the land. But you have to trust. These man have ‘walked’ the impact sites still live with weapons; touched the tree bark gouged by white-hot metal; calculated, by years of experience, the trajectories of the clusters’ paths. But it’s still a walk with apprehension. Of course, you know that they will modestly dismiss their presence as ‘doing their job’ but there’s no disguising the pleasure of Lovejoy, the Zimbabwean Technical Advisor, at being greeted by a grateful wave by a farmer; of Ernst, the South African, being offered yet more coffee in the village.

These men have made a real difference and the locals know it. The staff that they’ve trained have taken these skills and are clearing their own land. It’s hot and unpleasant work: fingertip searches with clumsy body armour and visors. Mahmoud Turkiye has worked here with HI from the very start clearing his country of munitions inch by inch. While his sisters and cousins sit outside their house in the sun, he stretches out on the sofa after another day searching. His mother, interrupting his reading as she touches his head, offers quietly,

“…Of course, I am very proud of him… ”

©Stuart Freedman