An interview with Ms. Nayla Awad about life in Beirut four months following the port explosion

Bambi’s regular readers know about Ms. Nayla Awad, Bambi’s childhood friend whom she interviewed on March 15, 2020:

Ms. Awad (as shown in the picture below) is one of the most lucid and straightforward persons Bambi has ever met in her life (her own mom shares these qualities).

In our last chat, Ms. Awad described the double crises of Beirut, the financial tragedy combined to the coronavirus pandemic. Six months later, the August 4th’s Beirut port surrealistic explosion took place. Its images shocked the whole world. Beirut’s port nightmare was devastating to say the least: 200 people lost their lives, 6000+ were injured, 12+ are still missing, 300,000 are homeless, half of the capital destroyed including food or medication storage, hospitals, schools, etc. Many citizens are still living in their damaged/risky homes (it is now the rain season in Beirut and snow season at higher altitudes). In addition, there are those still struggling with the trauma’s after-effects and/or with survivor guilt.

Of course, there is still no accountability concerning this crime or criminal negligence.

Keeping all this in mind, here are a few questions that Ms. Awad generously accepted to answer:

Bambi: Thank you Nayla for your time. Bambi’s first question is as follows: Can you describe to us life in Beirut today, end of November, 2020? How does it compare to life before the explosion?

“Life was already awful and disastrous before the explosion due to the financial collapse and money devaluation, which triggered the people’s revolt (since October 17, 2019). The explosion did not change anything in the sense that it is still a disaster.

 What has changed since is the following: The Beirut blast brought instant, massive, and unbelievable level of destruction to the capital. This means more damage added to the already awful situation Lebanon has been in.

Of course, in addition to families who lost their loved ones and all the injured citizens, there are all the material costs to repair what needs to be fixed. It is only yesterday that we were able to fix our doors [4 months post-explosion]. We are lucky. Some other people, like where your own parents live, like Gimmayze, Mar Mikhayel, etc. are still living in their destroyed homes. People do not have money for repairs. The explosion was the death blow. A death blow, morally and financially speaking. The morale is usually affected by finances. Both!

What is hard is to still not have financial support after this tragedy. The Lebanese army visited residences to estimate the costs [and in some devastated neighbourhoods, they distributed food boxes]. By large, not much came out of this governmental initiative. At times, the army wanted to help and it did manage to do so in some rare cases. The problem is that you do not understand the operation’s logic. Based one what criteria? How much? Why this family? Why not another one? For instance, a close relative whose house was damaged (seriously although not as much as others) received 1 million Lebanese pounds [the equivalent of CAD$858]. She was happy. Same for another old neighbour [Bambi’s childhood neighbourhood].   

All this to say that there are devastating costs to the explosion, coupled to hyperinflation triggered by the financial crash that began before the coronavirus pandemic and its many lockdowns/measures.  

The Lebanese people went into a revolution, massively taking the streets for months (over a year now). No one listened to them. People lost their savings, their jobs. People were put in jail. People were silenced. And the regime did not change. We discovered that we live under a dictatorship. Some people were beaten or tortured. Some thrown in jail. Some even have criminal records now.

It is in this context that the explosion took place (in the middle of the pandemic too).

Since the explosion, so many people have already migrated. Many are planning to leave Lebanon for good soon. There is no more hope. Some desperate citizens are even leaving by boats from Tripoli in miserable conditions like what we used to see in the media about other less fortunate countries (e.g., Somali refugees, etc.). We are now there. A father had to throw the body of his dead son in the Mediterranean Sea. Can you imagine?!

No, we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. We live day by day. Today may be a dark day. Tomorrow, we do not know. Lebanon’s situation is highly volatile.

The worst is that we are stuck with the government that resigned after the explosion but which we did not want in the first place. It is now acting as a caretaker government. The formation of a new government seems quasi-impossible. There doesn’t seem to be any hope, as we speak. As citizens, you do not understand all the shenanigans between those in power. Some say as long as there is the actual President with Hezbollah allied to his son-in-law (Mr. Bassil), things cannot move forward”.

Bambi: Where were you when the Beirut explosion happened? How did you react? What thoughts came to your mind then or following this tragedy, if you feel like sharing?

“I was in the car, driving and my son with me. We were in Bourj Hammoud. Thank God, a wall protected us. By a miracle, glass did not explode in our faces. I even managed to drive us back home in the middle of this chaos. The sensation I had was that we were going to die, both of us in the car. This is our end. I spontaneously thought it was an Israeli aviation airstrike. There has been a rumour circulating in the country for a while that a war with Israel was going to break out in August. Even for a whole week following the explosion, I was still left with the same sensation of an air strike. As I mentioned earlier, my first sensation was simply our death. Then, whilst driving on the bridge to get to our neighbourhood, I was again convinced we were going to be hit by those airplanes. In the past, bridges were hit by the Israelis in earlier wars (e.g., July, 2006). I was driving seeing bloodied people walking and walking, almost everywhere. Some were lying on the streets. I was seeing endless destruction and death all the way. I do not know how I kept driving until we reached our destroyed street and damaged building. I saw my husband and daughter outside of the building, in a state of shock and worried about us. Shattered glass was everywhere. Again, more bloodied injured people. When we reached our apartment, we realized that was also quite damaged. We were speechless.

Yes, we survived (grateful to be alive… others did not have this luxury), but, make no mistake, we are still dead inside. We exploded with that explosion… Our country exploded. We have been robbed  spiritually, physically, mentally, morally… and financially yet again…” [Nayla explained that after four months, she is able to say all this without crying… It is Bambi who could not contain her tears at that time of the interview. Nayla joined her. Mind you, the latter lost many friends in that explosion. Anyhow, after pausing for seconds to wipe away their tears, they continued their Zoom interview].     

Bambi: Where do you see Lebanon in the shorter and longer-term?

“Hell. In the short and long-term. No hope. Even before the explosion. I will tell you I had that feeling 20 years ago (it is not new) and this is what made me immigrate then. They weakened and destroyed Lebanon from within and from the outside. Both! For me, it is like a conspiracy plan against this country. To use the words of the Lebanese Maronite [Roman Catholic] Patriarch, “they have weakened Lebanon to the point of threatening its existence”. They have impoverished it. People cannot afford educating their children anymore. Some schools are literally destroyed. And we are sinking lower and lower in misery, day after day.

Every external solution, the Lebanese politicians made it fail, starting with Mr. Emmanuel Macron’s initiative. It is as if there is a plan, both internal and external, to turn Lebanon into a failed state. I will re-use the words of this same Patriarch, people are now impoverished, without their savings, immigrating to avoid being killed. There is no hope.”

Bambi: What words of comfort or what piece of advice would you give to Lebanese youth of the same age of your children?

“Get the fuck out of here!”. This is what I tell them. This is what I tell to myself too. I daily repeat it to myself in my mind. I feel for those who want to stay, those who have to stay, or those who cannot leave. I am afraid that, in order to survive, they will have to build an alliance with the corrupt thugs in charge.

Bambi, I cannot end our conversation on a positive note. I wish I could.

No one feels this hope, Bambi… Well, maybe there is a former politician who has resigned, Mr. Hikmat Fraim, who is among those who believe in Lebanon and still do so. According to him, there will be a new movement and a new system in this country one day. Although I usually like listening to him because of his optimism, I admit that I do not see this hope… Not anymore.”

Thank you Nayla!

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