By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
This is Part 2 of my interview with Salim Farah, a friend of mine who fought the civil war in Lebanon between April 1975 and the early 1990s and moved to Brazil after it was over. If you missed our prior discussions, here’s the link. It’s worth going back and reading about his incredible story, his lessons, and his insights.
Can you talk more about how the civil war started and how it unfolded early on?
The story of the Lebanese civil war is incredibly complex. To be brutally honest, I don’t know what exactly happened, even after all these years. Do you see my “question mark face”? (laughs) it’s sincere.
Maybe historians don’t even know for sure, as there are lots of things we never get told. Some guys made great advancements in trying to investigate, understand, and recount it. But it’s a mixed bag in general.
But, it starts as it usually happens, lots of different interests converging and disagreeing, I guess. In our case, foreign patronage and international politics and influence played in so many directions that even today, most have a hard time accurately pointing out the reasons and explaining objectively what really happened. In short, it was a crazy mess.
At some point, it was even hard to tell what was going on. Can you imagine living in a civil war for fifteen years? No wonder Lebanon is still in a dire situation three decades after the war ended. By the way, I’m not sure also about how or why it ended, either. I guess people and the patrons were tired of fighting. Even wars and disputes need to end, or at least take a break, right?
Tell us about everyday life during the civil war. What people would do, how people would move around, how was the violence, the routines, these things.
Well… it’s crazy because some parts of life remain the same while others change completely. You adapt as things unfold because there’s always something going on. For instance, there’s food, but it starts becoming rarer and rarer, and less varied.
Back then, people cooked a lot more than today. My mother and grandmother would bake bread and prepare lots of other stuff that we buy ready from the grocery store now, you know? Today we have everything so ready and so easy. We didn’t have to hunt or anything, but we grew more stuff, and more importantly, we knew how to prepare stuff. It was the way of life back then.
Yep, it was the same here back when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s too.
So, this runs differently in each region. Lebanon is small, but there is still a difference between the regions and towns. Beirut was highly developed and cosmopolitan, for instance. It’s sad how much it was destroyed by the fighting. I remember not believing this could happen, but it got devastated. These things happen.
But that depends on where the conflicts are taking place, and it’s crazy this too because you had a very clear line where the fight happened, and only a couple of blocks away, life would look very normal; people walking, shopping, working, chatting like nothing was happening. It’s even hard to explain. Not to mention this changed, too, from time to time. The fighting, I mean.
Anyway, as expected, some products disappeared. Many products and goods. Services aren’t hit that hard, but it gets more difficult as well. You can’t find anything else as easily or readily, so you start using what you have, buying what you can, and fixing everything. Today if anything happens to something, people just replace it or call someone to fix it or whatever.
Back then, people learned to fix things. Kids knew how to replace a fuse, a lamp, a socket, how to fix their bikes and scooters, and how to build and improvise toys. Kids were allowed to work, besides studying, of course. Not everyone, but most people did. During the war, we had to do everything because goods were hard to come by, service was expensive or unavailable – directed to the effort of war, smuggled or diverted to the black market, among other things – and people had no money.
And how were trading and commerce? I mean, how was this part affected in general? How would people deal, buy, and sell these things?
At one point, the economy really went down the drain. That’s when things got serious because it’s perfectly possible to have war and work, money, commerce, and business at the same time. You can have war without those things, which is a lot worse because then it’s war all over, only war, even between the population. It’s a war for survival.
Most stuff would be delivered to the country by different players or patrons. International players, countries: US, UK, France, whatever. Most times, I wouldn’t know, and no one would care because you just had to have access to stuff to eat, work, and even fight.
Money was hard to come by, and cash was all we had. Back then, internet or electronic payment didn’t exist, so we’d trade in cash. It’s like that in Lebanon right now, too, because, during a crisis, people don’t trust the banks or the government. And local currency is important every day, but we traded a lot in US dollars because it was a strong currency, and ours was melting down.
I keep saying that too. You know Brazil has been through a lot of economic crises and struggles, and everyone needs money to pay the bills and buy goods and services.
This is how it happened, yes. It happened then. Once confidence is lost, people retreat. This has cascading effects on everything else. It’s a change of behavior which is something to be expected, right?
This seems to escape people during good times because they still think these things will remain the same, but they change when a crisis hits. Anyway, how did people deal with those things?
The market was mostly a black market. The top dogs would receive the stuff and distribute, sell, whatever. It’s no different than the normal system, really. People at the top, with power, money, and connections, get the money and the goods first. They control distribution. People must profit during wars, too. It’s always the same, just without a lot more confusion all over. But people are the same, and they will fight for money and power at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom, too.
There was a local “normal” market, but people slowly lost confidence in the system. Everything shrinks. There’s a normal local market but some stuff you only get in the black market. Lots of stuff. The worse it gets, the bigger the black market, the smuggling, and the trafficking get. Because the dog-eat-dog game happens at the top, too. And Lebanon doesn’t produce much, so it all came from abroad.
Down below, people are worried and busy with life: staying safe, educating the kids, finding some work, cooking and eating, washing the clothes, and fixing the broken stuff. And some had to worry about going to war, too. And you had to worry about staying alive, of course.
It went on for fifteen years. That’s insane. It must have been hard during the middle and late stages.
Yeah, at one point, it was just every day. War was just a thing, a side thing. Then it was ugly, and when the economy busted, then it was a real struggle.
How do people move around during a civil war?
I used my bike. To go to work, to buy fish, for everything. People walked, drove cars, motorcycles, whatever was at hand.
So bicycles are a thing during war. Hmmm… OK, but was it dangerous? To move around, travel, or just do your everyday stuff?
Life is dangerous, but yeah, it’s more dangerous during a war. You see a lot of bad stuff. I’d throw my rifle on my back, a pistol on my waist, a few grenades, and ride to… wherever I had to go. Just that.
I got lucky, and luck counts a lot, don’t believe anyone telling you differently. But I also knew where to go and how to move. You must know your area very well because your safety depends on that on a great level. When something like that happens, you must have a good – no, a great – knowledge of your… the places you go: the place you live, your building, your neighborhood, the roads you must travel, and in my case, since I was traveling a few good miles to work, fight, or to shop or whatever, sure, I had to know very well. Others didn’t and struggled or even died. You must know the times, and how to move at night. In war, you can’t be stupid or lazy.
Why do you think something like a civil war like this happens? It went on for fifteen years. That’s insane.
There is a myriad of complex reasons why a civil war happens or every war for that matter. But even when there’s some religious, moral, or even power issue at stake, the underlying reasons are more pragmatic: production, trading, or something related to economics and politics. Politics of economy or power, just that. That’s at the top.
Some interest or agenda no one knows about, be that long-term power plays related to commerce, finance, obscure reasons we’ll never know. Does it really matter? In the end, it always falls on the population. Even when the perpetrators, like politicians, the elites, or whatever, get entangled – and they do, because these things tend to affect everyone – the brunt is on the people.
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Absolutely, that’s a constant in each and every crisis. This sort of sends us back into the present, I guess. How do you see the current situation?
In Lebanon, Russia, Europe, Brazil, in the US… worldwide.
It doesn’t look good, right? I mean… there was this pandemic, and that’s crazy enough as it is, what governments and authorities did, but most of all, how people reacted.
As for Russia… They are looking for their interests. It’s always like that, polarizing, antagonistic interests and agendas. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? If it’s hard to tell even decades after, it’s impossible to tell anything right now. We know what right or wrong is, but on a geopolitical level, the priorities and decisions are made on another level. I can’t compare the decisions of someone like Putin or Biden to the ones I have to take for my life or my small business.
That said, it seems that Putin has an interest in conquering Ukraine, or at least part of it. Maybe it’s strategic to him, or the Russian elites, or even the Russian people, national identity, and that kind of stuff. It’s real, and though it doesn’t justify wars and killing, it shouldn’t just be put aside or ignored. You don’t win anything by ignoring others and their needs.
It’s not just a matter of geopolitics. There is something else. Every country has its identity and personality, its limits, and its interests. They will fight for it if they think something is out of balance or if there’s some threat. Even imaginary doesn’t matter. In the end, that’s life – we go to war, we make peace, we kill and get killed, we build, destroy and rebuild, and that’s how we go.
As for the US, they have their interests, too. And they fight for it. They were funding our civil war, some sides of it. We used ARs during the war, some used AKs, and that’s how it is up to this day. Is it any different in Ukraine? No, it’s not. Some countries are aligned and find that good, some don’t. These things are so far removed from 99% of people in the world, and that’s true also for the common Americans.
It’s the same here in Brazil. Global events will affect us, too, like pandemics or wars. But right now, down below here in our everyday life, in the street, what changes? It does change if we elect the wrong politicians. More than that, the wrong parties. We’ve seen this happening, didn’t we?
We sure did. I still talk about the mess of the 2013-2016 period with all the protests and everything, to others abroad, to other communities. It came close to me, to my home.
I’m worried about that because I live here and my life is here, I’ve been here for more than thirty years, and I know how these things run in Brazil. Because not everyone is the same. Look at history. People have different values, principles, and limits they won’t cross. Others don’t. Some have no limits on how much they will lie, steal, or manipulate. Some people will sink and keep a lie until they’re dead, even after that. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I do, I feel the same. Humans.
Exactly. But that depends a lot on the context, too, you know? On the whole, we’re predictable in our behavior. But we’re not the same. Some work, some hate work. So like sports, others hate it. Some eat meat. Others think this is a capital sin.
When everything is fine, and the world is at peace, these things are small and uneventful. No one cares and follows with their lives, their goals. There are other things to worry about, or should I say, there are more distractions. Because a great part of life is a distraction in all directions. It’s on purpose. It’s by design. It was less pronounced back then for various reasons. The world was simpler.
But people are people. We already spoke a lot about that, right? When things get crazy, everything, even the smallest of things, starts bothering and taking another dimension. It’s like, when you’re good, healthy, strong, making money, everything is fine. When you’re uncomfortable, sick, or down, a small thorn in your side, or a colder wind, can become a huge problem.
It’s the same with people: what other people do, say, eat, believe, or pray for will get to your nerves. Maybe not you, I’m generalizing here. It’s people, humans. And the ones controlling the power and money will do stupid things to make people commit crazy things and atrocities. It’s been like that since the dawn of time. What changed?
The delivery has changed, the weapons, the technology? Lots have changed. It’s now internet and social media and other manipulations, but the methods are the same. Back then, it was newspapers or whatever. We can’t let that happen, but it will happen because avoiding it only happens at the individual level. Collectively people act like cattle. We’ll fall for crazy ideas again and again because we’re…
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This has been awesome, Salim. We could talk for days, and I hope we can talk more because those are some great lessons and insights. I thank you so much for sharing all that with us, also in the name of The Organic Prepper community. Any closing thoughts?
I thank you for listening. All the better if it helps anyone in any way. It may get ugly in the future. It probably will because life’s been very good and pleasant for so long now, and nothing lasts forever. Now, I’ve seen the worst, and I’ve seen the best. Will I see the worst again? Maybe not, I’m already over sixty, and this can take some time to come to a head. Or maybe I will, who knows. God knows.
But I don’t despair. I don’t overthink, so not to go crazy. No one should. The world is much bigger than that. No one is special. I’ll be gone one day, and you will too. Keep working, and keep taking care of your family. Take care of your health, too. It’s one of the most important things in life. Life is family, work, friends, and sports.
Money is good, things are good, everybody loves it, and it’s part of life. But not all of life. Peace is good. Also, evil and bad are part of life, but not life. Unless you let it into your life, you turn it into your life, but then you’re lost. Just know that you’ve lost.
Let’s hope people in Brazil can vote right and don’t lose their minds because I know once order is gone. It’s hard to bring it back. It’s costly and painful, just know that. I haven’t seen it returning to my Lebanon yet. Hopefully, one day it will. But right now, I’m too old to go through this shit again (laughs), but hey, you know… I will if I have to (more laughs).
[End of interview]
What are your thoughts on the Lebanon civil war?
Are there other lessons you think that people can learn from the Lebanon civil war? How can you apply this knowledge? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments section below.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor