NAYA| Women from the Civil War: Soraya Oueidat, a Doctor's story

Underneath the smoke-filled skies, flying bullets, and strain of dealing with the injured and lost cases, for Oueidat, Lebanon remained the best option.
by Fatima Dia

10 January 2020 | 19:01

Source: by Annahar

  • by Fatima Dia
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 10 January 2020 | 19:01

Photo shows Dr. Soraya Oueidat. (Photo courtesy of Oueidat).

"Women from the Civil War" introduces you to Lebanese women who lived through the war and were able to contribute to society all while creating a better Lebanon. Share your story with NAYA's Editor, Sally Farhat: sally.farhat@annahar.com.lb

BEIRUT: The Civil War in Lebanon lasted from 1975 to 1990. During these devastating 15 years, life didn’t stop entirely— young people were entering universities and preparing for a post-war Lebanon. For one Lebanese woman from the "war-generation" the experience she had, no one ever will.

Dr. Soraya Oueidat began her journey in Med-school in 1978, at University of Saint-Joseph. During the war, a line of demarcation in Beirut called the "Green Line" divided the predominantly Muslim West from the predominantly Christian East.

“In ’78, that’s when there was the Achrafieh war, the area was empty. We had to do our entrance exam and I went with someone, a driver who knew the roads well to reach the medical department,” she said. “[The driver] went from small inner roads, and we did the exams under bombings and shootings.”

The setting of the entrance exam was a prime example of what Oueidat’s student life would be like. Her timeline falls directly in line with that of the civil war, having began in ’78, and only officially ended after her fellowship in ’89. Living on the West-end of Beirut, coming to USJ was a struggle.

“The ones who lived on the East side used to come from a door in front of Lycée, but we used to come from Ras el Nabeh, to enter from a wall in the church, and from the church, we would enter the university,” she said. Her recollections were spoken lightly, often with hinted smiles, or even laughter. “We would take courses outside, when it rained, it would rain on us.”

In her third year, the East-West divide got closed down completely, and crossing from one side to the other, even as a student, became impossible. Oueidat ended up moving in with a friend and her parents, who lived in Louaizeh.

“I had met her in university, and then I moved to her house so I could continue my education. Christine became like my sister, and her parents like my parents,” said Oueidat. “Christine and I were shot at many times when we used to come down from her house. We would pass Fiyadiyye, which was always under bombings and shootings. One time I pulled the brakes in my car, and Christine and I ran out. The cars were manual, and from the fear I didn’t pull the brakes completely so the car didn’t shut off and it began going down the road. A soldier ran after it to stop it,” she said laughing. “We followed one policeman and went behind the museum, and I told him “that’s why you get shot like birds, you need a low place to hide not a high one.”

Filled with stories, Oueidat seemed to recall the faintest of details, even what car she passed once in a rather crazy attempt at reaching Chehim to see her parents, while Israel was attacking in ’82.

“On the highway in Khaldeh, I saw a bus, a Chevrolet, and a Renault like mine, but yellow. I passed them, and soon after I heard on the radio that Israel had bombed them. I passed Jiyeh, they bombed Jiyeh, I passed Siblini, they bombed Siblini. My parents were terrified, they saw on TV a Renault was bombed; the TV was black and white. My dad called my uncle directly and him or their neighbor told them 'no, that one was yellow',” she told Annahar, adding that her parents sent her back immediately. “They told me ‘what did you come here for!’, so I left from Beit el Din all the way to Baabda,” she laughed.

One of the many difficulties of being in a war zone is accessibility. Because of road-blockages and the restrictions, a lot of patients would come needing surgeries, and the surgeons couldn’t make fit. Oueidat retold a time when she was at the St. Charles Hospital; as simply an intern, her and another intern were forced to act without a surgeon.

“We’re interns, not residents, we don’t have that experience, but a man came in and he was shot in the chest. We had to put a tube in, but we had never done that before. The surgeon was giving instructions over the phone, until the ambulance finally arrived,” she said. Oueidat went with the ambulance and the patient to Hotel Dieu, then came back to St. Charles Hospital again. 

During her seventh year at Hotel Dieu, residents’ rooms were on the roof, which meant the second shootings started, they would all run downwards.

“The emergency room and surgical rooms were all on one floor. When there was bombings and fights they would get hit, and in came the patients,” she said, adding that once she had to sew up a four-year-old who had a cut from his mouth all the way to his ear in the emergency room, when he had needed surgery.

“I did my specialty in AUH, because I didn’t want to be between East-West anymore. There, we had 10 surgical rooms, and in comes 40 or more patients,” she told Annahar, adding that, “one time, we had four on the same table, and we couldn’t save any of them. They were using these bombs that injured like a strainer. We were breaking down, you’re sleeping but your ears are on the monitor. As an anesthetic you just stay there the whole time."

Underneath the smoke-filled skies, flying bullets, and strain of dealing with the injured and lost cases, for Oueidat, Lebanon remained the best option.

“We loved to live,” she said smiling. 

The sense of camaraderie that people who go through hard times develop would be an understatement to the bond that Oueidat and her colleagues created. From sneaking out in uniform to get food when the kitchens were closed, to helping each other when there’s overload, the divide outside caused by the war did not spread among these doctors.

“Interns, externs, and residents, we were all in the hospital. Say we had work and someone is overloaded while the other is freer, they’d go help. With the exhaustion, we lived and enjoyed it. We lived together for seven years, fought for seven years over duties and doctors. There will always be this ‘we lived through these experiences together.’ It’s a community,” she said smilingly.

“The war generation, the experience we got [as med-students], no one got. Severe accidents are like water to us,” she laughed. “It’s happy and sad at the same time.”

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Welcome to “NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.farhat@annahar.com.lb

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