Have you ever felt like you were constantly on guard, because a calamity could happen any moment? Have you been looking for places to take cover, everywhere you go, just in case of an explosion? Have you been afraid to allow yourself to fall asleep, because you feel like you may wake up in the midst of another catastrophe? I have. And I’m not the only one. Ever since the 4th of August, six million people, including myself, are experiencing this. It’s something that nobody should ever have to endure. By talking about my personal experiences, I’m hoping that others will be heard as well.
On Tuesday the 4th of August, 2020, I was supposed to meet with friends in Gemmayzeh after work. For various reasons, each of them canceled. In retrospect, I can say that I have never been more thankful for canceled plans, ever. I don’t want to focus on the explosion itself, as it has been all over the news. And it won’t change what happened. However, I know that this will impact the rest of my life. The Lebanese will have to cope with traumatic emotions, trying not to burden our clueless children with the pain, caused by this event. I hope that I will be able to adequately share the horrors of this lamentable experience by writing this story.
The city is in ruin
The day after the explosion, I received an e-mail asking for volunteers on the field to document what exactly had happened. I failed to consider my mom’s fears and concerns, got dressed and immediately headed to the affected area (Achrafiye, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael) with my colleagues Taya, Maria and Jean. As an HR officer, I don’t get to experience fieldwork often. I thought I would have been somewhat prepared and that I had a thick skin. Guess what? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nothing can prepare you for what you encounter in a situation like this. As I went from the suburbs towards the port of Beirut, it felt like I was in the midst of a post-apocalyptic movie. The soundtrack was a dissonant combination of sirens and broken glass being swept up.
As I walked down a street near the port, in one of the most heavily affected areas, I saw people cleaning their streets, contemplating how they survived yesterday’s massive explosion. Some people wore casts and had stitches all over their bodies. I saw people with patched eyes, dislocated shoulders, and broken hearts. Some coped with the situation by detaching from reality. They would light a cigarette and just sit in the ruins of what once was their home or their source of income.
In the area’s main alley, fed-up civilians got into a clash with worn-out police officers. The team and I rushed to take cover as people started screaming: “Shooting! Guns! Back off, take cover!”. While running for our lives, a young man grabbed me by the arm and asked me how he could help people as well. I kept telling him to take cover but he insisted on getting contact information first. I asked him to quickly take a picture of the Dorcas logo on my jacket and contact us whenever he could safely do so.
This guy, and many others didn’t miss the chance to volunteer and help out. The streets were full of people handing out food and water to anyone who was cleaning and assisting in rebuilding the area. It was tough. After some time I got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore.
We have to move on
When I wake up in the morning I relive the trauma. As soon as I open my eyes, I’m ready to take cover while quietly crying my eyes out. I take a deep breath and comfort myself with the fact that I will be able to help more people that day. Many are heavily affected, dead, or feeling guilty that they made it alive while others didn’t. What happened cannot be reversed, but with the help of God, we can help rebuild the city and its people.
Beirut has been razed to the ground. Literally. People need shelter, clean water and food, as well as mental and physical assistance. My thoughts are with the traumatized children as I go to bed in the comfort of my house. The sight of these broken people rebuilding their surroundings is truly inspiring. If you can help in any way, you need to help! The fire of the Lebanese people should never be extinguished.
11 August 2020