In the midst of shocking and unexpected tragedy in Beirut, members of our Lebanese community around the world share their thoughts and reflections.
Sara is an architect & designer at Speetra Design Studio.
It was like any other day of the week. I woke up tired both mentally and physically, and we have not had proper electricity for the past month. We were going through 60% inflation rate, currency devaluation, COVID-19, unemployment, bankruptcy, but I continued to work every single day.
I went over my to-do-list, shot a webinar, had a discussion with my dad and went home.
Next to the window, I sat with my mom and sister-in-law, thinking about our future and our country. Are we going to continue living like this?
Beirut has been the city of living dead since October 17, 2019,.
At 6:00pm, the electricity finally came. my mom went and closed all our windows and turned on the air conditioner - we freeze the rooms in case the electricity goes off again.
6 minutes later, we feel the earth shaking, the shelves were falling and my sister-in-law ran to carry her one-year old daughter. I tried to calm her down by saying “it’s just an earthquake”. As I was moving away from the window to follow her, a black cloud took over the house, and the air pressure pushed me away. Glass was shattered everywhere, car alarms were going off, people were shouting and I was standing barefoot, shouting at my dad – who is still fighting for me to stay in the country – “is this the country you want me to live in?"
20 days later, I am writing this reflection from France. I decided to leave everything behind and live a life I deserved. But my heart was and always will be Beirut, I ache when she aches, I cry when she cries and I will only live when she lives.
You can connect with Sara here.
My wife and I are Lebanese expats living in Hong Kong. I recall seeing the first WhatsApp message - August 4 at around 11 pm - asking if everyone in Lebanon was ok. With little idea of what was happening, we immediately started calling all our relatives and checking up on friends to make sure everyone is safe. The response: panic, shock, disbelief. The next day, other feelings rushed in: heartache, agony, grief, distress - a lump in the throat that we call “GHASSA”.
What happened is surreal. No one deserves this! And this is not the first time that the government and political leaders have gambled with people’s lives. Lebanon was torn by a civil war and destroyed by another led by warlords transformed into politicians. In Lebanon, politicians control the judicial branch erasing any hope of effective oversight or accountability. In Lebanon, politicians own the banks that kept on lending the government money at sky-high interest rates to cover up for losses and corruption for the past 30 years.
Lebanon has already lost 60% of its currency value in 2020, its banks are on the verge of collapse, unemployment was reaching alarming figures, and the people are suffering from unprecedented hyperinflation. And then the country’s main port gets rocked by a devastating blast caused by institutionalized corruption, negligence and lack of governance.
Enough! We need to rise from this Beirutshima stronger and united against the humanitarian crimes inflected on us by the different governing parties. The first step is to ensure that our judicial system is independent from political bias and bring justice to the people starting with an independent investigation of the recent explosion. The second step is to guarantee true and strong leaders are elected to guide us through the crisis. This will allow us to take a step forward in regaining trust of the people and international community.
Lea is the Executive Director of Embrace.
Embrace has the Embrace Lifeline (1564): the national emotional support and suicide prevention helpline in Lebanon ready to respond to all individuals in emotional distress or suicidal ideation. While the Lifeline operates from 12 PM to 530 AM daily, we are volunteering on the ground as well to offer psychological first aid to people impacted by the explosion offering them support and referral to community services. These ground efforts are being done in collaboration with a local NGO that is matching people with houses. Furthermore, we are launching a walk-in free mental health clinic in Hamra where people can be directed (either from ground response or from the lifeline calls) to come and receive free mental health consultations to talk about the trauma and losses they have experienced.
Hundreds are still missing under the rubble. A hundred are confirmed dead but that number will surely, surely rise. The latest tragedy in a country that is on the verge of total collapse, bankruptcy, failing leadership, capital control that has held people’s money hostage for months now. Basic needs like electricity are not even provided. The price of bread has doubled. And now —now thousands of homes need to be rebuilt, not to mention the trauma, and those who have lost their lives and livelihoods.
The cause of the explosion is not yet known —the official statement says it was 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate, a highly explosive material, left in the middle of Beirut seaport, right at the edge of the busiest and most crowded place in the capital. And the government knew all about it. So while the cause still isn’t clear, the reason, the responsibility is obvious: A corrupt government of leaders whose only concern is to stay in power have run the country to the ground and there is no way for us to hold them accountable, because the corruption is so deep it is embedded in every single Lebanese institution.
Elections are a year and a half away, and still, there is so much distrust in every institution nobody can guarantee it will be fair. Worst still, nobody can guarantee Lebanon can hold on for that long —the Lebanese Lira has lost 80% of its value in the last year, 40% of the population is now unemployed, and poverty and desperation were already sweeping the country, even before the Coronavirus pandemic.
Now another trauma to add to the list, and the only relief in sight is the people themselves, helping one another in whatever way they can. Many, like me, have packed their bags and left the country they love and call home. Many, like me, have to live far from their families and worry about them from afar. We have to hold this government accountable for their actions and also for their inaction. We are all responsible for what is happening, if we still want to call Lebanon home.