Esseily and her husband, Tony, have three children: a 10-month-old, an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old. They and 1,000 other American evacuees from Beirut arrived in Cyprus aboard the Navy transport ship USS Nashville early Friday.
The ship was to return to Lebanon to pick up another 1,000 people.Like thousands of Lebanese-American families, the Esseilys’ family visit to Lebanon coincided with Hezbollah’s capture of Israeli soldiers and the Israeli airstrikes that followed.
Esseily doesn’t consider herself “inside the war.”
“I was three kilometers away, and I heard [an airstrike] and [it] shook my house. The smoke was coming up my way, and I smelled the plastic and the burning of the homes and all that. But I never went into it,” she said.
Her children remained stoic the entire week they were trying to get out of Beirut, despite being scared, Esseily said. Not until they were trying to get through a mob of people in Beirut, yelling and screaming to get onboard the Nashville did her 11-year-old break down and cry.
“I said, ‘Lucina, it’s OK, we’ll be safe.’ ” “She goes, ‘It’s not that. It’s that lady over on the other side of the wall.’
“She’s crying because [the lady] can’t get out to us with her baby. So they were feeling more emotion for all of the people who would be left behind,” Esseily said, adding, “But they’re not. They’ll come today.”
People were emotional and confused from the heat and lack of water, Esseily said.
She spoke with CNN.com by phone from the state fairgrounds in Nicosia, Cyprus, where the American evacuees were being housed and given cots, pillows, food, diapers and showers while waiting to go home.
In addition to Marines who greeted them, volunteers — Cypriot and American ex-patriots — also showed up and set up 1,200 cots, Esseily said.
Much of the talk among the evacuees — primarily Lebanese-Americans — centered on what would happen to Lebanon, she said.
She and her husband have been text messaging his family members still in Lebanon, and they’re OK, she said.
“They live about a mile and a half from one of the major bombing areas,” she said. They too will join the Esseilys by way of Cyprus or Syria, thanks to U.S. visitor visas, and hunker down with them in Dana Point, California, for a few weeks. For Esseily, the challenge isn’t about getting home to California.
“I’m out of Lebanon, and I know that I can get out, and I can get back to the states now. No matter how long, I can get back home. It’s within 24 hours (and) I’m on a plane going home. … The U.S. government’s helping me do that,” she said.
“The challenge will be emotionally. And I’m going to cry,” she said, her voice breaking up over the phone.
“To try to understand why, to try to explain to my children why, when I see the children on TV with their legs off from a bomb, with half their bodies burnt to hardly a recognition … the cruelty of humankind.”