The Courier

On a normal day in Lebanon in 1967, a young Kenyan man was attending Prof. David Gordon’s History class at the American University of Beirut.

You blink I blink, boom, the class came to an end with Prof. Gordon’s mouth half open on an unfinished sentence. All the students were being ushered out of the class with unfamiliar urgency.

This had always been a peaceful part of the Middle Eastern world, what now?

With no time to put a full-stop to his notes, the History student in this story marched out of the class with the rest to await evacuation orders.

He is telling me this story, better than a Spielberg movie, and I’m doing my best to pass on the essence of this first-hand experience being narrated over 50 years later. Just be patient.

It’s not as if there hadn’t been a warning. Days leading to this dramatic turn of events for this young man, the world at AUB had been filled with the usual run-about of majority Middle-Eastern students and international students learning, connecting and expanding their horizons beyond their local growing up.

There had been whispers from Egypt. Students and professors had been sharing waves of information and disinformation.

This former History student is narrating details to me far more intense than reading accounts in a library book – about the talks that led to Egypt’s Abdel Nasser becoming the avenging leader of Pan-Arabism.

“After Israel got independence in 1948, the Arab world felt the displacement of Palestinians demanded a final response. It didn’t end well for the Arab world.” I listened.

I knew about this part of history, how the Six Day War ended, but I was hearing it from someone who had been “in it”. And boy was it a story!

“There had been a vigorous propaganda at the University,” he said.

“Every hour, announcements would be broadcast over the College radio station for the Middle-Eastern student population. Over and over again they said the Arab alliance was dropping Israeli planes victoriously and none had a chance to hit the Arab countries. None of us students knew any better – that in fact, Israeli attacks had crippled Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces decisively.”

I’m sitting under a tree with this elderly man and drinking in this first hand account of events he would soon play a key role in. Well, key enough for me. He is now in his octogenarian years – that time in life when the past rushes to embrace the present.

He taps his walking cane on the ground as he always does to gather the next sentence. I have known never to interrupt these pauses. It is in the tap-tap that his memory comes rushing with the astonishing certainty of a steel trap.

“The Kenyan students were under the charge of the United Stated who had sponsored our scholarship. The US Embassy got us on a plane to Kenya via Athens. They needed us out of harms way until the war cooled off.

“At the airport in Beirut, a man approached me. He was British.

“Are you heading to Athens?” he asked me.

The elderly man taps his walking cane. I wait.

“Yes, I am,” I said to the British man.

“I have a package I need delivered to someone waiting at the airport in Athens”


“Take it with you and deliver it directly to my colleague. I will give him your name and alert him of your arrival.”

I want to interrupt the Old Man and ask if he knew what was in the package. Again, I hold my breath.

“He said he was a BBC journalist, so I knew I was carrying counterintelligence.”

I really hold my breath now. This elderly man telling me this story is my father.

He speaks dramatically of his younger self, a History student in his 20s in the Middle East, caught up in a war as an information courier, NOT an informant.

My mind wants to say- dad, that Brit should have paid you lots of money! I don’t say it. It’s the past.

I want to trace that British journalist, probably dead by now. His name is the only thing dad does not remember.

I suppose the man needed the fastest way to get information out without the sluggish bureaucracy of agencies. Why he approached my father I’ll never know. I just know that here I am, telling you the story.

In Athens, dad delivered the package to the man who had been instructed to look out for this African student. I can imagine the instructions from the BBC guy-

“He’s a slender student, about 5’6″, wearing an impeccable black suit and a perfectly knotted tie.”

It’s the way I’ve seen dad dressed in his 60s photos. Dad still dresses up sharp every Sunday, just to sit at his favorite spot and look out as his legacy.

My brother remembers a time when dad would wear his graduation gown on Saturdays, with his smoking pipe with no tobacco in it (I remember that prop), and just sit out basking in the tropical sun as his kids played about. After all, what are graduation gowns for?

2023 is winding down, and I watch him daily tuning in to Al Jazeera to catch up with the war in Gaza. I listen to his opinions on this conflict, informed and personal, as if nothing really changed in that world after Dr. Gordon’s class was evacuated.

I put down my storyteller’s pen with an overwhelming sense of unfinished duty, gratitude, and a daughter’s love that stretches to places unknown. On this last fact, I’m sure I speak for my siblings too. Today, December 29, 2023, dad turns 84.

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