By Nash Wills, Staff Writer
Life nowadays is, if nothing else, both short and fast-paced. Our lives have become digital. Our friends are now virtual, and everything you could ever want to know is just a click away. Experiencing the world through endless secondhand information is not enough. If we want authenticity, we have to initiate it.
In the short month and a half that I have spent at Thunderbird I have already felt, and came to the realization, that campus is a lively place—electric—and full of all kinds of different people with stories and backgrounds that are just as vast as the desert which surrounds us. Contrasting with the outside world, campus persists as a place where the timeless art of storytelling still thrives, and if you just listen to what people have to say and where they come from, you would be amazed at what you might learn.
Dan The Man
The first time I met Dan Zlaket was over a game of pool in the Coleman Lounge between Career Management Center lectures during the first week of Foundations. Upon first glance, and based purely off of small talk, I made the assumption that Dan, like myself, was just a normal, relatively well-traveled American trying to make his way in the complex world of international business. He grew up in Phoenix, went to Arizona State University, and subsequently initiated a promising career for himself in management at Target over a two-year period. So whenever he casually told me that he spoke fluent Arabic, was a dual Lebanese-American citizen with Lebanese parents and spent months on end there every year, I was not only a little bit jealous, I was stunned. It was an even bigger surprise for me though when, a few nights later, and in between beers at the pub, he told me about the time that he was in downtown Beirut with his cousins and friends, enjoying the city’s nightlife in the Gemmayzeh district, when a war broke out and he was stuck.
The 2006 Lebanon War was a 34-day military conflict involving Israel and Hezbollah—an Islamist political faction—that took place over the hot summer month of July and in which Dan found himself inadvertently involved. The engagement was precipitated by a Hezbollah hostage crisis, in which they abducted two Israeli prisoners in an attempt to barter a prisoner exchange. Israel refused the exchange, responded with an airstrike, and back to the story….
Back to the Story
As Dan described it to me, the scene was five o’clock in the morning, riding back home from downtown Beirut with his friends and family whenever they received a call from a friend, informing them of a recent airport bombing. They had heard rumblings the day before about the hostage situation but had decided to disregard it as a serious problem. It was summertime, his family had been planning on staying in the country for a couple of months, and for a family that was used to life in Lebanon, things did not seem to out of the ordinary. That would all change soon though.
The tension in the air the next day was palpable, and because Israel had already begun to bomb Lebanese ports, Dan and his family left town for the mountains where they own a house—the idea being that a more rural area would be safer and further from any action. However, after waking up to the sound of a nearby bomb one night, the family knew that staying in Lebanon was not an option. For about three weeks they persisted in calling the American Embassy, wanting to know what the plan for the evacuation of all expatriates. After an extended period of time spent indoors and losing around 20 pounds, the family finally received word that all Americans were to be evacuated from the port at Jounieh along the western coast. Dan subsequently took a military-style transport boat from Lebanon to Cyprus, and then a military plane from Cyprus to Germany and then on to New Jersey. He made it all the way back to Phoenix and if you look in just the right places on campus to this day (the pub, the commons, or most likely the IBIC) you may just find Dan pushing on, living life, and carrying with him one of many crazy stories that seem to bind us all together as Thunderbirds.
Cover photo courtesy of: https://culturewarclasswar.wordpress.com