I thought that nightmares only existed in our minds. I thought that people were exaggerating on social media when they described the horrendous conditions over here. I thought that we were done with the TV show “Survivor” years ago. I thought that my friends were being overdramatic, that media stations were coming up with clickbait stories, and that there was no way I could not spend the 1,000 and 5,000 Lebanese banknotes that I kept in my wallet since April.
I needed to come. I needed to see. I needed to live the situation in order to believe.
And today, I understand. That hell does exist, and that nightmares, unfortunately, do come true.
I came here to recharge, so I expected. But here I am leaving today with my batteries emptier than ever and in need of another vacation. It’s become evident that there is a petroleum crisis in the country among many others. But it’s not about fueling cars anymore, it’s about fueling hearts over here. People have literally run out of gas, out of emotions, out of sanity.
Words failed me numerous times when I tried to write this. So did the internet connection and the electrical current. But here are finally a few words for you Beirut, as I finish this misadventure and rejoin the other part of the world, beyond the Beirut silos.
As I passed by the port for the first time since the explosion a few days ago, with a half-empty car, I stopped and pondered how heavy these past 12 few months have been on this population.
The descent to hell was imminent, unlike the government formation. As one crisis appeared, another was looming, without signs of resolution for the previous. They just kept on culminating.
Ironically, the whole scene appears to me today as if a dam had been erected behind this majestic ruined still-standing structure at the port, that was — and still is — progressively being filled with boiling water. All you can see now are the Lebanese drowning and burning inside, as the columns separate them from the rest of the world, a bit like a border between two countries, where trades are not allowed.
No fuel shall pass, no gas shall pass, no medication shall pass, no bread shall pass, no water shall pass, and soon enough no humans shall pass.
And while we — the Lebanese diaspora, the expats, the exiled, the immigrants, the refugees, or whatever we are called — stand beyond these Beirut silos, we can’t but lament and witness with pain and anger the downfall of our civilization.
Ravaged with anxiety, we try to help. Our luggage content has changed. Our travel schedules to Lebanon have changed. Our priorities and attachments here have changed. We don’t care about visiting on Christmas or Easter or Eid anymore, for locals have forgotten about them long ago. They only wish for two things: to survive another day, and to find a way out of this cursed land.
They don’t care about going to work, nor earning a few bills of Lebanese lira for most anymore. For these could barely give them every month the right to pay for one basic need and only one: the rent for the month of July, the generator’s bill for the month of August, or their pills of drugs, as loans begin piling up and they start skipping treatments. Their physical health soon follows their mental health’s trend.
They don’t care about going out anymore. For most cannot afford the spiking prices of the meals, and those who can would rather not risk that, because, with electricity cuts, you’d better eat at home.
They don’t care about gatherings anymore. Neither with locals, nor with people coming from abroad. They’re tired of repeating the same tune. Tired of nagging, tired of crying, tired of surviving.
Nowadays, people over here live instinctively. They wake up every day, if ever they are able to sleep in the first place, drenched in sweat, their phone batteries half-empty, and the house’s water barely running for them to take a shower. A cold one, understandably. They put on their clothes, a piece of material they bought years ago, but cannot change anymore since shopping has become a luxury in this country today, and go down the endless stairs of their apartments to buy bread. Or get some fuel. At 5AM. Because the queues do not wait. Because the quantities are limited. And because the clock is ticking.
I came here, expecting to reverse this clock. At least to roll back some of the good times. With family, with friends, with colleagues. The ones who remain of course. But I got imprisoned, just like them, in this endless loop that keeps on spiraling and dragging them down.
I experienced the electricity cut-offs and celebrated the minutes of light the government allowed us because that’s the only thing to celebrate nowadays in Lebanon.
I experienced the queues at the fuel stations, and used my 14 years of experience in the medical domain, to give myself the privilege — and what a privilege that is — to fill up my car as a doctor in less time than others.
I experienced food poisoning, the nonchalance towards the COVID19 delta variant, and as with every trip, goodbyes.
Having money in this country isn’t enough anymore. Whether you earn some fresh dollar bills, you come from abroad, or you drown in stocks of worthless Lebanese lira notes, you cannot control your life over here. You will have to adapt to the chaos being imposed by the ruling mafia, to survive. Just that. And dream about fleeing. Of going beyond the borders. Those borders where lives were taken, grass has grown, and justice still awaits. Those Beirut silos that separate locals from us. It’s time, just like President Reagan ordered Gorbachev in West Berlin in 1987, to ‘tear down this wall’ in Beirut in 2021, before the dam behind it becomes a cauldron. Before it is labeled as another wall of lamentations. Before the isolation becomes complete and the way out of prison irreversible.
I’m sorry for not believing you. For not realizing you’re in dire need of help. For not answering your calls earlier. For nagging about our stressful situation abroad, while it is nothing compared to yours. For the humiliation you are going through. For the influencers and expats who come here to brag about how cheap the situation is. For those who post stories of the utopic side of the country you cannot afford anymore. We are behind you, and will always be, as long as the airport is open. As long as we can get you medication, food, and money. As long as we can help you get out of your prison cells in any way possible. We are behind you, till we destroy the Beirut wall, perhaps 31 years after the Berlin wall.
Till then, please hold on. Somehow. Only you will know how to survive the upcoming garbage, water, education, COVID19, and cold crises. Hold on, until December at least. Maybe then, we might be able to celebrate Christmas or New Year together. Maybe then, instead of filling our bags with the basics, and most probably in a month with books and school necessities, we’ll fill them back with gifts. The ones you always wanted. Because this is what you deserve. This is what you deserve. And nothing less.