We’re here at the Orange House, the last safe place sea turtles can lay eggs in Lebanon—Dani, a young Spanish marine biologist; Rima, a Palestinian Lebanese American discovering her roots these four years past; and me, one of the only purposeless Americans to venture this far south regularly, the guys at the permissions office in Saida made this clear when first we got our numbers to visit this beach. “You’ve got to be crazy,” the president of Kuwait recently told all Gulf citizens visiting Lebanon, and I sensed a collective nod among all of the ex-pats I’ve met here,Yep, I’m probably the craziest person I know. And, Yeah, so what we’re all into that shit.
Mona, the patron saint of sea turtles, told Dani to stay off the beach at night. It’s a military beach. He’s a foreigner. Why risk it, you know?
I know. Boy, do I ever know. I’ve taken very few words of advice to play it safe in Lebanon—hell, my whole life. I’m not going to start now. I’ve made it to damn near twenty-eight and sometimes I feel stars in my belly and see photons dancing in my little niece’s hair. I might as well end it all if I start writing up different terms now.
I had been night swimming on that beach twice before and at least a dozen other times alone along the corniche in Beirut. Friends often ask Why do such foolish things? But it’s not foolish. It’s a risk. Yes, it borders the safe and the maybe not-so safe. Or comfort and discomfort. It’s a gamble. It’s a leap and a question to god, will you catch me or will you pull the rug out? How do I fall now? Who’s there? Who’s watching? What will I do if… Could I still live if…Will you still love me if… All culminating in a promise to said god that you will regret nothing. You see the border. You push it back. You take what’s on the other side into your body and say I’ll be this now. I’ll take it. I’ll pass it. Foolishness is different. I’m not going to sit/lay here on this beach watching some Israeli helicopters illegally scouting out the coast and tell you that I have done nothing foolish in my life. But foolishness is not acknowledging/accepting the terms of risk, but doing it anyhow. You throw a hissy fit when hand cuffed in the back seat of that squad car. You mope for weeks after he doesn’t call you in the morning. You blame everyone else when that big break never comes, and you’re back at square one.
Foolishness is more fun, but you can’t make magic from it.
I took Dani out onto the beach to swim around 10:30 after eating a fresh fish dinner with Rima. The water was calm and warm. The stars nestled into our collar bones as we floated. We both heard voices underwater. If some guys strapped with AKs would have shown up it would have been a great story.
But they didn’t. Instead, after a month of waiting, the first sea turtle, a loggerhead, came to the beach to lay the smallest nest Mona had ever seen.
In the morning, we dug into the sand with gloved hands to help move it further back from the waves. To put them beneath a steal grate. To keep the water from getting in. To keep the soft white spheres out of the jaws of predators—foxes who started raiding the nests after being driven from the mountain by the bombings of 2006.
Conservation work is about reducing risk. The irony is not lost on us. It must be hell trying to keep us breathing.
We slather on sun screen after breakfast and step lightly across the rocks into the sea. We talk of god and the need for new prayers. Dani says he’s content with not knowing. With the water. With creatures he can touch but don’t use words. Rima says her god needs a new face. She’s tired of being judged and judging. She’s tired of not eating her fill of sun. I float and try to hold my breath for as long as I can under water to find some of school of fish to pretend to be a part of. I pop up, and they’re gone. It’s just me and the water. It’s another planet. That’s prayer. It’s just you and I, God. We’re good exactly how we are. We love one another enough to want to risk it. Being alone. Just you and I.
Read Rima’s reflections on finding the first sea turtle nest of the 2012 season at Orange House here: http://www.crosseyedrevolutions.com/