When the shelling stops, the Husseinis climb up to their flat, cement roof to put in several hours, despite the turmoil of combat, making birdlime sticks -- branches smeared with a sticky substance to capture birds, a popular delicacy in the Lebanese diet.

In a deceptively peaceful setting of cactuses and palm trees, the Husseinis' modest little home east of the Beirut airport lies directly within the firing range of Christian artillery positions on one side and the guns of Shiite Moslem militias on the other.

"When the fighting gets bad, we crouch under the staircase, or I use the time to catch up on my housework downstairs. There are no shelters around here and we don't have a car anyway," Noura Husseini, 42, said.

A few hours after a cease-fire took effect Thursday, ending four days of Christian-Moslem shelling that had trapped the Husseinis in the middle, they were back on their rooftop toiling industriously at the family trade.

Tannous Husseini, 65, Noura and their seven children are one of two or three Christian families left behind in the wasteland of potholed dirt roads, junk yards and shabby houses in Mreijeh, an area now under the control of the Shiite Moslem Amal movement.

"We were busy making dibeq birdlime one day. When we went down, all our neighbors had left," Noura Husseini said, recalling the "mountain war" between Christians and Moslems two years ago. Her sons -- a carpenter, a construction worker, a painter, a stonecutter and a full-time birdlime maker -- all help out with the family business when it is quiet. Her two daughters are married.

Her son Elie, 30, explained that no tools or machines are used in the 10-day process of birdlime-making, which requires picking, grinding, whipping and dyeing the green, sticky substance before it is ready for sale at $10 a bushel.

Despite a life of scarcity, hardship and continuous risk, the Husseinis appeared calmer and less fretful than more privileged families living far from the Green Line, the zone that has divided Beirut's Christian and Moslem areas through 10 years of civil war.

"Of course we are afraid sometimes, but where can we go and who will have us?" asked Tannous Husseini.

"We eat whatever there is in the house and we live in the hope that things will get better," his wife said. "I fill my water barrels daily and have gas lamps and candles ready. I am always ready for power cuts."

Mona Macksoud, who is working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology at Columbia University and is doing a year of internship in Lebanon, noted that people establish patterns and coping strategies that make them feel in control of their day.

"It is not important how much stress you are exposed to but how you cope with it," she said. She added that the Lebanese have recourse to social support from family, neighbors and friends, beautiful weather and ample food, which helps them reduce tension, and she said there also is a "denial detachment" strategy rooted in the national character.

A fatalistic attitude that is traditional in the Middle East, financial limitations and a high threshold for stress have kept many Lebanese civilians holding on to what seems like an intolerable way of life to the outside world. Those who stay have no choice but to adjust. But many complain that despite their acclimatization to a life of chaos and despair, they have reached their limit.

In a country where monitoring news reports is the equivalent of listening to storm bulletins, last week was a nightmare of car bombings and shellings, which killed more than 300 people and left hundreds more wounded or maimed.

"Why do we have to live in this anxiety? What have we done? It is not our fault and we don't want to be part of it," exclaimed Lubna Kalot, 43, who has four children. She was wounded by a shell that crashed into her bedroom two years ago and now leads a cloistered, fear-ridden existence. She refuses to go out, except for occasional weekend visits to her home town, Nabatiyah, in southern Lebanon.

The Kalots, a Shiite Moslem family with western habits, are an example of the middle-class Lebanese who lived well in prewar days but who can no longer afford to travel or live abroad. They live in a comfortable apartment in Moslem-controlled west Beirut. The building has its own generator and water tank.

Describing her leg injury, Kalot, 43, said: "It was at the start of the mountain war. I never thought the shells would reach our house, but that it was a fight between the militias in the streets. I was asleep and all of a sudden I was burning. My son had to drive me all the way to Sidon because it was too dangerous around the American University Hospital" in Beirut.

"Since then, my leg has healed, but I haven't," she said. "I am not the same person. I am afraid to go out, but I envy those who do. I can't sleep many nights, but I don't take sleeping pills or turn on my air conditioner, because I want to be able to tell when there is shelling."

While many other housewives have resorted to tranquilizers to make it through the day, Kalot's salvation has been good friends, light novels and prayer.

"I have real friends. When it's bad, they come to see me so I am not alone," she said. "It makes all the difference." She said she spends most of her waking hours switching from station to station on the radio until her children and husband are back from work and school.

When Kalot's husband, Ali, a French-trained surgeon, and her children go to the beach, she stays behind, in suspended agony, until their return. "Before my injury, I took aerobic classes," she said. "I really miss it now, but I don't dare go to a closed place with loud music. When there is shelling, I want to hear it."

Dr. Kalot complained that he is afraid to go to his clinic in Ghobairi, in Beirut's southern suburbs, and that his hospital in Nabatiyah has been robbed and damaged.

"We are sitting in a prison," he said wearily. "It's a miserable life. We can't even go out on our own balconies some days. Some nights we carry our mattresses on our backs and choose the safest room or hallway. We are like refugees in our own home."

"Our suitcases are always ready," Lubna Kalot said.

"We find no tranquility here. One day, your house is robbed; the next day, someone steals your car in broad daylight," Dr. Kalot explained.

"There is no government to protect you. People insult you, smash your car and you just look the other way to avoid more trouble," his wife said, encapsulating the resigned attitude of the ordinary citizen in the face of violations and injustices in a city where gunmen and gangs reign.

No one smiles in the Kalot family. The girls -- Chirine, 19, a college student, and Joumana, 17, in high school, are indifferent and blase about the war. The children all live with their parents because it is too expensive to rent separate apartments, and good jobs in safe areas are scarce.

Joumana, wearing jeans and a pink top, represents the typical detached Lebanese teen-ager, seemingly oblivious to what is happening around her.

"When there is fighting we stay home. When it is over, we go to the beach. I guess I am used to this war," said Joumana, who rarely goes out after dark. "I try not to think ahead and I watch a lot of video films. If I am sitting at the beach and a shell falls, I look around me. If people run away, I do too, otherwise I stay put like everyone else. You either live or die, you can't do anything about it."

Her brothers, Mazen, 22, and Kamal, 23, also have chosen to distance themselves emotionally from the turmoils ravaging Lebanon. Mazen, an economics graduate student, trains at a nearby bank and reads law to fill his spare time.

"Of course I don't like what is going on here," he said. "I would like to do something for Lebanon, be someone important. But the very important person here is armed and I have never touched a weapon in my life."

Mazen said his main concern is to find a job abroad.

Kamal, an engineer, rarely goes out, preferring to save himself for better days. "Now there are normal days and bad days. There are no good days," he said. Unlike his brother, he is not interested in leaving Lebanon, because eventually "you will want to come back, so why not practice living here now?"

Both brothers acknowledged that they felt restricted in west Beirut and hesitated to visit friends in Christian east Beirut, where night life is more exciting.

"You are always afraid of getting blocked and not being able to cross the Green Line to return home," one said.

The word maalesh, which means "never mind" in the Lebanese vernacular, is often dropped into conversation in the Kalot household. Psychologists here insist that maalesh is a key to the resilience of the Lebanese.

Mitri Saab, 30, a Christian, and his friend Mohammed Hariri, a Moslem, run a school in Mreijeh. It has been closed for weeks, but students inquire daily when the summer session will resume.

Saab's wife and three children live in Los Angeles and he visits them during vacations, when he can afford it. Asked what he does to relax from the nerve-wracking sound of gunfire and the tension of living in a war zone, Mohammed chuckled: "A cigarette, a cup of coffee and a 'different kind' of movie," meaning a pornographic film.