Biding their time in Beirut
A Queens native and his family decided not to flee Lebanon at first, but now will journey to their Swiss home
By Shomial Ahmad
July 23, 2006
Queens native Bill Coen sat on his 10th-floor balcony in Beirut yesterday, watching the sun set and U.S. Navy ships carrying American evacuees away across the Mediterranean Sea.
"It's kind of surreal," said Coen, 43, speaking from his cell phone. "We're stuck in the middle of it."
The conflict in Lebanon is Coen's first experience in a war zone. He hopes he and his family will be on their way today to a safer place aboard one of those U.S. vessels.
"It's quite bizarre to see warships on the horizon," he said from the resort where he and his wife, Sabrina Iskandar Coen, 41, were vacationing and visiting relatives with their daughters - Shannon, 7, Blaise, 5, and Chloe, 3 - when the bombing started a week and a half ago.
The Coens, who have been in Lebanon since June 30, began making plans last week to return to their home in Basel, Switzerland. Because their Beirut vacation home is in a gated resort area in the city's Christian section, they didn't immediately scramble to leave. Instead, Coen said, they followed the daily e-mail updates from the U.S. Embassy.
Today in the predawn hours, they plan to go to Port Dbayeh, two miles from their Beirut apartment, and wait for however long they must to board a boat to the island of Cyprus. From there, they'll take a commercial plane to Zurich, Switzerland.
The couple's daughters don't know the details of the conflict, their father said. They know that there is fighting and that they will board a huge ship.
Still, the sounds of bombing frighten them.
"My youngest daughter, Chloe, a couple of nights ago, comes to our bedroom running, saying that she's afraid of the lightning," Bill Coen said. "We just tell them that there's a bad thunderstorm."
Coen, who grew up in Woodside, met his wife when both worked at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C.
Sabrina Coen, who was born in Lebanon and lived through the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s, doesn't want her daughters to go to bomb shelters like she did as a teenager.
"I'm very lucky to have the privilege of being an American citizen," she said. "I am privileged that I can be taken out of here and watch this from the outside."
When the hostilities began, Beirut residents immediately switched to a wartime mode, Bill Coen said. They moved furniture away from windows and adopted certain personal habits, always keeping their passports handy and always wearing shoes in case they had to run away from a blast.
Yesterday afternoon, the Coen family was at the gated community's pool when the boom of an Israeli air strike resounded. Bill Coen said he felt shock waves through his body.
The people at the pool calmly picked up their towels and sought shelter in their apartments. Watching from their terrace using a pair of binoculars, the Coens looked at two clouds of smoke, about five miles away.
When the fighting started, Sabrina Coen said, she immediately remembered the civil war of her youth. As the days passed and the bombing appeared to be targeted at specific locations, she felt a bit safer.
She holds onto a thread of hope that the Hezbollah militants somehow will be disarmed.
"On the optimistic side, hopefully this will be it," she said. "This will be the last battle."