Bekaa Valley, Lebanon – A single light bulb hung from the ceiling in the makeshift room. Tarps served as ceilings and styrofoam were tacked on poles to insulate the walls. This was a lesson on how to build a city with what you can carry on your back.
We rode in a van for 3 hours from Beirut, stopping at military patrol crossings to get to our destination. The windows were tinted so not to advertise the Americans in the back seat. Our guide pointed out hotspots along the way, “this is where a suicide bomber exploded. That is where a bridge was blown by Hezbollah…” I realized that this was normal for them. It was more than poverty, but a life defined by war and a constant fear that lived in their sub-conscience.
We stayed in a convent where nuns kept gardens built in the hillside that overlooked the valley with a distant view of Syria. We were just band-aids to a situation that seemed to have no end. It was one thing to see refugees on the news and another to visit a camp right on the border between Lebanon and Syria.
And now I was here, led through a maze of ramshackled rooms to where I would do my work on people who lived with no basic rights, and no ability to leave the camp. These are the most unwanted souls on the planet.
There were about a dozen people in the room, and my friend Jeri was the only other American. Mothers held their babies also assisted by older siblings, and we aided them one at a time.
Suddenly, one of the translators came in and barred the doors so no-one could get in or out. The sound of helicopters dominated everything, and as we later learned, the secret police of Lebanon raided the camp to extract three ISIS fighters who’s future now seemed at an end. Things soon calmed down and they unlocked the doors so that we were free to go. But our minds were blown. This was what it was like just 2 miles from the Syrian border.
It would take a lifetime to understand the conflict in the Middle East. It is a level of danger that we cannot relate.
I plan on going back, but meanwhile will continue my practice, grateful that I am in the relative safety of Birmingham.
Dr. Frese grew up and now resides in Birmingham, AL. She still takes the occasional dental mission trip to remote regions of the world and is taking new patients at Iron City Dentistry in Forestdale.