Today, I’m angry. It’s been a year since the explosion that ripped off Beirut, the city where I spent most of my twenties, where I met my husband, where I worked as a journalist, and where I also had the best fun. It’s been a year, and no one is in jail for letting tons of explosive substance rot right next to thousands of people who saw their life turn upside down on that dramatic day of August 4, 2020.
I remember my mother telling me that all she could think of was that I wasn’t there when it happened, that I was safe, and I still feel guilty for feeling the same thing a year after. Yes, I had moved, and yes no one I love died. Sometimes, there is luck in misery. But people still lost their people, people lost their homes, their jobs, the places they used to hang out at. Life gets back on track eventually, and that’s exactly what is happening right now, one thing I’m grateful for.
Human Rights Watch published a report yesterday involving officials in the criminal negligence that led to the explosion, but will that change anything? The government of Lebanon is so corrupted that it prefers to give up before even doing any work to, at least, fix anything. People didn’t get any public compensation, apology, or trial. People are not worth the time of their elected officials in Lebanon. I wonder sometimes if that country even matters that no one, NO ONE, tries to make officials and leaders accountable there.
In the midst of an historically unseen financial crisis and pandemic, this explosion was the cherry on top. Since then, life just got harder. I keep interviewing people there, but often I can’t reach them because, hey, there is just not electricity. I keep talking to them, but there are no words I can offer to ease the pain. All I can do is keep writing about what people do to survive and enjoy, day to day, and remember how this city built me and my life. Thinking about the good memories, before it was really REALLY bad.
Last year, I wrote an opinion piece about Beirut in a local Bergen newspaper, entitled « Vi må ikke glemme Beirut », we must not forget Beirut. Today, I realized that no one in that newspaper even bothered to write something about Lebanon, because it’s so far from the focuses here. I think it’s quite ironic, actually, knowing what I meant with this piece.
Here is the English version of this piece, as those words are still accurate today:
« When I first traveled to Beirut back in 2012, I didn’t expect that I would come back to live there for six years the following year. I had time to march those streets, dance in those pubs, eat in those restaurants, visit friends in those apartments and attend exhibitions in those galleries. Beirut is where I got my heart broken but also where I met the love of my life. It’s where I became a journalist, and where I grew as a person. Most of my twenties were spent there, making mistakes, learning, developing empathy and also heartaches over the situation of some of the people I met, refugees, migrant workers, vulnerable communities. That’s also there that I met, often over drinks and during events, people that got me hopeful for the future of Lebanon: NGO workers, activists, artists, people with a vision and love for their city and country.
On the 4th of August, it is not just a city that got devastated: all that I knew seems to have disappeared in a flash. These people I am writing about have almost lost everything, got scars that will remind them forever on this minute that settled the possible future of a whole city. The situation in Lebanon was really desperate before the explosion. Now, I don’t think there are even words to describe it. I keep talking to my people there, trying to grasp what they have gone through, what they are doing now and what will happen to them. I know they are in the streets everyday, distributing food and water to the neediest ones, helping to clear the streets and the houses from glass and rubble, gathering money in order to help this person or this organization or this business, fighting yet again an exhausting fight against the despair that is slowly taking over them.
It’s quite simple in Beirut these days: without any help from their government, they can only rely on themselves. If they stop, they’ll simply die, or lose all hope. But you got to give that to Lebanese people: they can act and organize themselves better than I ever saw in the other countries I spent time in. I won’t go til comparing them to a resilient phoenix rising from its ashes: this image is tired and worn out. People are simply angry to have been kept in the dark for so long, to not have been protected, and now not even cared for or helped. Yet again, they can only rely on themselves, and each other.
From Norway, all I could do was to give money to friends and organizations I know, and many others across the world have done so. But the news cycle goes fast and soon we will only be talking about the US elections and will have forgotten all about this small country. Small country, but filled of people with big hearts.
On the 4th of August, it is not just a city that got devastated: it’s a whole Middle Eastern bubble that popped, exhibiting monstrous scars and blatant corruption on the same ground where I used to dance until the sun was rising, for so many years. Let’s not forget about Beirut. »