Carnet de voyage – Lebanon #3

Amy Rodriguez30 July 2021

Day 3: Beirut one year after the explosion

by Giacomo Pizzi 

Despite being very tired, the heat stops us from sleeping at night: the 7 AM alarm is somehow relieving. Today we have scheduled a visit to 12 beneficiaries’ families, some of the victims of the explosion of Beirut’s harbour in August 2020. 

A quick breakfast and we are in the office to meet Pro Terra Sancta Lebanon staff: Fadi, Stephanie, Georgina and Nadine. While driving through the suburban areas of Beirut, I ask the guys why they are not wearing our branded t-shirt

“When we come here – explains Stephanie – we cannot wear the t-shirt as we would be assaulted by millions of people asking for help. They are desperate and we could be in danger as well”. 

On the horizon the skeleton of the harbour, a symbol of the devastating explosions and of the Country situation: completely paralized. Nadine’s eyes are now wet and, for a few minutes, the crew stays quiet. 

“The reconstruction of the harbour never happened – says Nadine after recollecting herself – there is a project financed by privates but it was postponed multiple times as they are still tracing down the guilty parties”. 

Local and international non-profit associations and a small money amount coming from the army, the only authority still respected by Lebanese people, were the only helping hand in reconstructing the damaged buildings. 

“The real big new thing is – says Stephanie – the solidarity between people. Everyone is doing their part and, as the Government is not able to react, many moving episodes took place”. 

Mrs Shama, for example, found a new fridge in front of her door a few days after the explosion. The generous anonymous donor left it there during the nighttime.

We hop back in the car and continue our trip through the more and more dismaled streets of the poorest neighbourhoods of Hadath, Achrafieh and Burj Hammud. “Burj Hammud. BH. The Beverly Hills of Beirut” ironically notice the guys in the car. 

We park in front of a condo and walk the 6 floors separating us from the next house we are visiting. A terrace was dividen in rooms with drywall and metal sheets. The sofa and the armchairs are not fitting in: they are outside. 

Josephine and Sami, with their 9 children moved here recently: because of the explosion, they could not afford to pay the rent of the old house anymore and Sami lost his job as well. The rental of a terrace is cheaper and the Government consider their accomodation as a house. 

There is a small living room with a bar improvised with wood board. Behind the counter, on the tarpaulin wall, a Lebanese flag. 

Sami still believes in Lebanon. Not in the Government that abandoned him, but in Lebanon: “it’s hard, but we won’t give up. People like you are giving us the strength to keep on going”. He smiles. We leave the family with a hygiene kit, medicines and basic goods like every month.  

We move to another apartment, 50 square meters in a decrepit condo. To get there, we go upstairs in the total darkness. There are no windows and electricity is a commodity of the past. 

Here Muna and Rami, their daughter and 4 grandkids are living all together. Walking through a long corridor, with a kitchenette and a small bathroom on its side, we get to the main living room: three bedrooms and a sofa are wedged in the room. An old fan is the only remedy against the heat and the rancid air. 

Going in, I notice a baby girl, 1 year old. Suddenly my thoughts go to my daughter. I leave the room, overwhelmed. In the living room I meet Rami and Muna. She tries to sit up despite her slipped disc. They thank us for the repairs to their house non stop. 

Our tour of Beirut’s families goes on all day long and we meet many, many people. Everytime we discover new aspects of a limitless misery, hidden by the sea of skyscrapers of the capital of the land of the ciders ’til a few years ago. 

There is Marie, left by her husband a few months ago. He went out for some “business” and never returned. He probably left the country to escape this hell. Marie’s older son is traumatized by the explosion and now stays in bed all day. He is only 13. 

Madame Farida, 70 years old, woke up one morning on her bed fluctuating on half a meter of water: after the explosions, her ground floor house was never renewed properly. 

We are helping more than 7000 people. 7000 of them tell us that “you are different from the others”. Nadine explains why: “first we collect the helping requests, we go to see the houses and verify their status and usually notice many other things we can help with”. 

Pro Terra Sancta Lebanon staff supports these families with passion and care. “Their needs are endless – says Fadi – and it takes a lot of effort to follow all the cases. This is what impresses people: they need everything right now but what they need the most is not to feel abandoned”. 

While the sun sets on Beirut’s skyline, we hop back in the car and go grab something to eat with our staff. We want to get back at the frary as soon as possible, before they turn off the power units or we won’t be able to call home.