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Beirut Will Not Die
The People of Lebanon Are Grieving
I cried like a child on Tuesday August 4th of 2020, when I saw on television the massive explosion in Beirut. My tears sprung from shock, helplessness, sadness, and anger.
The August 4th blast caused terrible destruction, apocalyptic scenes, and a heavy human toll with about 200 dead and 5,000 injured.
The Lebanese website the961.com reported on January 4th of 2021 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States has found the August 4th Beirut Port explosion was caused by only 500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, rather than the previously believed 2,750 tonnes.
Achrafieh District of Beirut
I spent my last four years of schooling at a public school in the Achrafieh district of Beirut. I loved Achrafieh, especially because it was the home of two lifelong friends: Samira and Gloria.
It is in Achrafieh that I held a job, where I first learned how to meditate, where I fell in love, and where I spent a good chunk of the day. So many memories!
Most of Achrafieh’s beautiful places and homes were destroyed on August 4th. Its old grand palace Sursok has taken quite a blow. One of the schools I went to as a teenager was on Sursok street.
Another blow to the Christian community in Beirut. Lebanese Christians are resilient folks who lived through many wars and tragedies, but the August blast is more than they can bear. I mention the Christians of Beirut because it is their district, their homes, their families, their workplaces, their educational institutions, their religious institutions, their livelihoods, and their lives that were either destroyed or lost by this ridiculous tragedy.
My Sister and my Niece
Less than two hours after the blast, I had confirmation that my sister, my niece and her family were safe. My sister, who lives in eastern Beirut, had her apartment’s doors knocked off their hinges and her windows shattered. Thankfully, she was unharmed by the blast.
My sister’s neighbour was sleeping when the blast happened. The windows glass of her bedroom shattered and fell on her back.
My niece felt the earth shake and thought it was an earthquake. She and her family live at a distance of 30 kilometers away from Beirut.
My sister was shaken by the blast like so many of the Beirutis who are reliving the horror of that day. For a while, even a small sound made her jump and her heart race. She is counting on prayer to stop reliving the moment of the double explosion and to heal. The psychological impact is unbearable. The people of Lebanon are feeling dizzying anger and devastating sadness.
The Lebanese expatriates are in shock, grief, and despair. We feel hopeless and helpless when it comes to our cherished Lebanon.
As the Belgium actor and director Roda Fawaz says it so well, being Lebanese is a job, not a citizenship. A perpetual job that is transmitted from generation to generation with its joys, heartaches, stories and traumatic experiences. You have to keep working at it. ... Being Lebanese means going from hope to despair, back to hope to despair. Lebanese people cannot escape Lebanon wherever they go. Those who worship the land of Lebanon cannot live there and have to leave. Those who live in Lebanon curse it but cannot leave.
Some Lebanese expatriates are helping by sending money to relatives living in Lebanon. Others are helping by raising funds for the non-profit organizations on the ground in Lebanon that they trust much more than the government.
Many will make sacrifices to help and let the people of Lebanon know that they are not alone. It is the awful feeling of having been abandoned that is the cause of anger and rage in Lebanon.
Free Virtual Medical Support: People in Lebanon who have been traumatized by the Beirut Blast can now get medical support from a new non-profit organization, Heal Beirut, set up by Lebanese expats in the United States with more than 140 healthcare providers. Heal Beirut affords a remote medical consultancy venue, free of charge, in English, French, and Arabic, making it possible for all in Lebanon to use its services at no cost[i].
Today, I was able to chat with my friend Samira. I still have to connect with Gloria, but I heard that she is fine.
I translated here my friend's words from Lebanese-Arabic and did my best to faithfully reflect the emotions behind the words. Her house is close to the port of Beirut and is almost completely destroyed.
“For a week now, since that ill-fated Tuesday, I have not been able to say good morning to anyone because anger is swelling in me. Anger can be greater and more violent than feeling good,
Or maybe because I feel we are still alive by chance,
Or it could be because what happened is greater than anything anyone could have imagined,
Or maybe because I never thought a day would come when I’ll hear the screams of my children and my neighbors, or see them in such a situation,
I lived many days of war, but not once was the feeling of disappointment and pain shown on the faces of people in my neighborhood like this, like what I am feeling now,
Or it could be because the neighborhood, the streets, the people and their nice homes that are several generations old, their people and their memories were destroyed in a second ...
Just a week ago, they were sitting in front of their homes. I would say good morning and good evening as I pass by and I would hear their greetings in return. Since that day, I have not seen any of them, not after the ambulance teams came to treat their wounds,
Goodness was absent that day and is missing with their absence, and hope has become minuscule.
Even the blessings of these old houses were taken from me that day.
Here, for years they have lived in these houses and on this street, their parents, and grandparents too. I did not know their names nor did they know mine, but wishing each other good morning and good evening was what brought us together.
The anger and ache in my heart are more than I can bear and is the reason for this narration ..
In an unforgettable moment.. all the screams and cries that I cannot stop hearing, and the image of the blast that I cannot forget. In a blink of an eye, many things have ended, and many stories have died. It was just a moment but the whole story ended."
I asked Samira if she wants me to convey a message to the world. Her answer was “for the fist time in my life, I am in a state of complete despair. I hide. I pretend that all is well but deep inside I feel abandoned and helpless in the face of the monster”.
Statue of Hope and Power
If you visit Beirut, you will see a statue of hope and power erected close to ground zero of the blast.
Hayat Nazer, a Lebanese artist, created a 3-meter statue made from debris taken from the blast of August 4th. The statue shows the scarred face of a woman standing with messy hair blown by the wind. A broken clock sits at her feet. The hands of the clock point to 6:08 PM, the exact time of the blast. The statue is unidentified to represent every Lebanese woman affected by this tragedy. It is a statement of hope and power[ii].
“I felt like Beirut was a woman who despite what she suffered is very strong,” Nazer said.
Song for Beirut in Arabic by Nancy Ajram, Famous Lebanese Singer.
Christmas 2020 in Beirut
Lebanese are usually keen on celebrating Christmas with fanfare and gorgeous decorations. They are trying to live the Christmas spirit in spite of all the issues and challenges they are dealing with.
Christmas 2020 is subdued. The961.com site showed the downtown Beirut Christmas tree “decorated with civil defense uniforms and pieces of equipment, intends to show support for the needs of the firefighters’ teams.” This was the creation of artist Hayat Nazer, the same woman who created the Statue of Hope and Power at the site of the blast.
Christmas Evening Special
My friend Samira, who hosts a radio show in Achrafieh, hosted a Christmas Eve special for doctors, nurses, and health care workers in Lebanon.
To help the Beirut relief efforts, you can donate to the Red Cross, Save the Children, and other not-for-profit organizations. There are 300,000 homeless individuals with 100,000 children among them.
The Lebanese Red Cross has been on the ground since the disaster first struck. It is the main provider of ambulance services in Lebanon and has aided in search-and-rescue operations.You can make a one-time or monthly donation. Money raised will help support health facilities and other humanitarian needs in Lebanon, which will evolve based on emerging needs.
[i]”There’s A Free Service Offering Lebanese People Virtual Medical Support” by Rim Zrein. the961.com
[ii]“Lebanese Artist Turns Beirut-Blast Debris Into A Statue Of Hope & Strength” by Rim Zrein. the961.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
thoughtsprocess from Navsari (India) on August 15, 2020:
Heartfelt. I hope and pray that the people of this city and country will rebuild their shattered lives.
greg cain from Idaho, USA on August 14, 2020:
It is tough to read a line like this: "hope has become miniscule." The explosion in Beirut was all the more tragic for the fact it could have/should have been prevented. We have never been to Lebanon, but my son has a lifelong friend who lives there in Beirut and we've worried over him and his family until finally hearing from him in recent days. He and his family are safe but angry and hurt and in shock. Here's hoping the return to some semblance of normal does not take too long.
Liliane Najm (author) from Toronto, Canada on August 13, 2020:
Thank you Danny for your affection to Beirut. It’ll take time and a lot of effort and good will to get Beirut and Lebanon back on track.
Danny from India on August 13, 2020:
Liliane, you are lucky to spend a part of your life in Beirut. Being Indian, we know the glamour it carried before. Now this news is shocking. But the city and country will once again be back on its foot.
Lorna Lamon on August 13, 2020:
I was horrified when I saw this tragedy on the news. I think what makes it even more unbearable is the fact that it could have been avoided. The utter destruction was terrifying to watch and the aftermath even worse. During these terrible times I was moved by the bravery and resilience of the Lebanese people and how they came together as a community to help each other.
This country has suffered the effects of war for years, and for many this is just too much to bear. I pray that once again they will be able to rebuild their shattered lives and hope for a safer future. I am so sorry for your loss Liliane and Samira's story is heartbreaking.