There are no words. And yet, words are all I have. Words are all I can use when I am thousands of miles away in a country that is not my own- but where I am safe in.
I was on the phone with a friend, laughing with his two-year-old when he suddenly said "There was a bomb in Lebanon.” I’ve heard those words many times before. My first reaction was "where?", to know, to measure the amount I should worry --is it somewhere that could affect people I love? Yes, yes it is. It's at the port. Minutes from my father's house. My father. My 64-year-old father who is home alone. I hang up, and a video comes in. I watch, in shock, as an enormous mushroom cloud engulfs my childhood
neighborhood. I want to run home. I want to speed through the streets and run home and check on my father, but I am not anywhere I can run, so I fall to the floor and call and hope he answers. He does. He is still in shock. He is bleeding, scared, he was thrust across his room from the blast and broken glass debris-covered him. Nothing serious. Thank God.
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.
"I don't know what happened," he says, "how did you know?"
He was still picking himself off the floor while the video of the explosion made its way around the world. But he was talking. He was okay. Now I had to call everyone else. Everyone, everyone else whose house was shattered. Everyone else who was inches from tons of glass collapsing above their heads. Everyone who lost, in a moment, the last of what they still had --home.
There are no words, but I only have words to use.
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.
Image credit: Tamara Saade
The brave few who are trying to revolt, who are trying to change this country - they are doing the work a government should. They are picking up the pieces, raising money for hospitals, finding housing for those in need. And they have been doing it for months now. But there is a limit to what they can do, especially when no foreign country wants to help a corrupt government, and has been holding back billions of dollars in aid for conditions the Lebanese government are not even close to meet.
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.
My words are not enough. No words are.
Yasmina Hatem was born and raised in Beirut. She holds a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and she currently works as a writer and journalist, based in Malaga, Spain. You can follow her at @yasminawrites on instagram and Yasmina Hatem on Facebook.