Two years ago, an unprecedented explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon killed over 200 people, left some 300,000 homeless and caused long-lasting damages to the city's infrastructure and economy. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war impacts further exacerbated the social and economic crisis. CARE International's Communications and Media Manager in Lebanon, Patricia Khoder shared her daily challenges and reflections on living in Beirut today, while looking back at the city's recent lively past. This is part 1 of Patricia's diary.
Beirut Diaries: part 1
Thursday, July 14, 2022
Every morning I get up and I tell myself, to give myself courage, that I am in good health, I have work and that I did not die in the blast on the 4th of August, 2020.
Yet, I know, like all the other inhabitants of the city, that even if I survived, a part of me has been forever buried under the rubble of Beirut.
I also know, like all the other inhabitants of the city, that we are all survivors.
When I think about it or when we talk to each other, we think it's a miracle, with all the destruction that there was, that only 220 people were killed and 6,500 injured. There are still, until today, those who are dying from their injuries. Some people died several months later, never waking up from their coma. I am also thinking of the elderly people who witnessed the explosion and who, in the past year, following the explosion, passed away silently.
Friday, July 15, 2022
Since the end of the successive Coronavirus confinements and since the world has come back to life, I have compared the situation in Lebanon to that of other countries. In fact, the Coronavirus in Lebanon is a lesser evil compared to what we have been going through for almost three years.
Now, more than one in two Lebanese lives below the poverty line.
Today, almost three years after the onset of the economic crisis in Lebanon, we live with one hour of electricity a day, we lack medicine, we have spent months queuing in front of gas stations. Finding an Internet card can sometimes take ten days. Every day, I waste time sorting out problems that should not arise in a normal country, and which relate to water, electricity, medicines, finding spare car parts.
Before the explosion, a lot of things bothered me especially the fact of wasting time.
Today, I feel that nothing can affect me anymore or that nothing is worth worrying about, because without expecting it, in a split second, everything can collapse.
This is what happened in Beirut. The city exploded while we were in it, living our lives, yet struggling with the economic crisis, the worst since the 19th century according to the World Bank.
Sometimes I want to scream or cry, but I calm down and tell myself that I am very lucky. At least I have the means to eat, take care of my family, buy medicine… and, above all, I have survived the blast.
Every day, I see poverty, striking poverty! I am thinking of our beneficiaries, of all the people who have fallen into poverty.
There are those who can no longer afford gas for cooking, who can no longer subscribe to the neighborhood generator and so are living with almost no electricity. There are children who eat twice a day, nothing but sandwiches sprinkled with thyme. There are desperate parents who cannot make ends meet.
With the crisis, the poor have become even poorer and the middle class has sunk into poverty. Among my own friends, acquaintances and neighbors, there are those who live without a generator, those who rarely eat meat, those who ration their purchase of fruits and vegetables and who sell their furniture to pay the rent. This is done discreetly, behind closed doors. They don't complain, because they have too much dignity and they had never imagined that life would push them down so low.
Saturday July 16, 2022
There is not an evening, not a lunch, not a meeting between friends – who live in Beirut – that is spent without talking at least a little about the blast. From that day of August 4, 2020, buildings are still destroyed, there are streets and neighborhoods that we no longer go to because they were very close to the epicenter, the silos of the port…we simply don’t have the heart to go there.
I grew up with the silos of the port. Built in 1971, they are exactly a year older than I am. As a child, from our balcony every morning while waiting for the school bus, I watched the boats arrive at the Beirut port. Every day, I passed in front of the silos. The elegant building, of white reinforced concrete, was always there, facing the sea as if guarding the city and it was very reassuring to me.
Today and since the explosion, a few days after the explosion in fact, I am unable to drive past the destroyed silos. I change my path, I take another road. I just don't want to see this gaping wound in the city. Maybe, I also refuse to see my own wounds.
Sunday July 17, 2022
I drive through downtown Beirut, driving from my place to the beach. I had always loved my life in Beirut. The proximity to the sea, the fact of going after work and on the weekend to the sea, ten minutes away from home.
Today, I thought about the sweetness of my life before, about this happiness that I felt in my daily life, just by moving around town. Swapping my clothes for a swimming suit after a long day at work and sipping coffee in the sun. For me, happiness was accessible. I still do that today… but my heart is not there.
It is as if I had been mourning for almost two years. As if I had lost a loved one, a man that I am madly in love with.
I have always thought that Beirut belonged to me, that every stone in the city, the cobblestones of the sidewalks and the sea were mine. When I was on a trip and I had a little mishap, I used to say to myself, "I don’t care. This is not home. I'm going home soon." Beirut was my home. It still is, but it is now bruised, broken and horribly sad.
The night of the explosion, I did not sleep. Actually, I stayed 5 nights without sleeping a wink. Thanks to (is it ironic? Or have I been really blessed)- or because of - my work as a journalist, I was among the first people to see the extent of the destruction of the city.
My article, published the day after the blast “When the sun rises Beirut my city will no longer exist,” was published around the world. What a sad triumph for the journalist that I am.
On the evening of the blast, I said to myself, “those who lose their parents are orphans, those who lose their husbands are widows, those who have no country are stateless. What do they call those who no longer have a city? Those who no longer have a city, what are they called?"
Patricia Khoder is a lifelong resident of Beirut. She majored in translation and journalism at Université saint Joseph and worked for over 20 years as journalist at L'Orient-Le Jour, one of the most trustworthy and prestigious newspapers in Lebanon. She is currently Communications and Media Manager at CARE International in Lebanon