Bombs And Reconstruction Booms: A Lebanese Story Of Going Round In Circles

I was supposed to go and watch Star Wars at my friend’s place on Friday night. I actually had to convince my mum to let me go, even though she only lived five minutes away. I managed to do so but the evening didn’t go as planned, which was only fair considering the fact that my day didn’t go as planned either.

My friends and I had planned a trip to Faraya for that Friday. If you’re not familiar with Lebanon, Faraya is a place you don’t want to miss this time of the year – the best place for skiers and snowboarders to catch the first snow of the season. I woke up early, trying to decide on the number of the layer of clothes that I needed to wear. I had just finished putting on my second pair of socks and was opening my closet, reaching for my jacket and thinking that an hour later I was going to be on my way to Faraya, when my mum walked in.

“Hold up. There’s been an explosion.”

I’m eighteen and I have heard that sentence many times before, and yet it still manages to shock me and twist my guts into angles I cannot explain. The next second I found myself on the couch with my family, watching the news. I still wish we hadn’t turned the TV on. The first thing I saw was a man who barely managed to walk to the sidewalk and lie down on it, trying to hold his face up. He was all bloody and he wasn’t the only one. The camera zoomed in on dead bodies or, what seemed to be dead bodies. The news reported 5 dead, 70 injured, 6 buildings, 14 shops, 42 vehicles… but we all know that it’s more than that.

The problem with things like this is that they happen. You may think thats okay, that’s it, it happened and now it’s over, but it’s not. Living in Beirut is like building a house of cards over and over again; it requires a persistent determination to rise up to the challenge of bringing pieces together and make something out of them. Then an obstacle – a lethal one that sweeps away whatever achievement was on its way. Then start over again. Then another incident that shatters your work. You’re not back where you started because you lost something on the way… and you just can’t explain to yourself, or to anyone for that matter, what the hell is going on.

Round in circles

I spent a great part of my day in my room not knowing what I should do. There are times when you feel powerless. You just have to stop and think things over.

The first explosion that I can remember was on the 14th of February 2005. I was leaving my school, heading to the car, when I heard parents and bus drivers talking about the explosion that just happened. This was all new to me. I was 10 and violence was 18+. I didn’t know much about Lebanese “politics” back then – I was just familiar with some names (the same ones you still hear of when you tune in to our news) and that was it. As I grew older, it got worse. Every time that it seemed that we were “on a break”, it just happened again. What I still don’t get is that we’re supposed to be relieved when the media announces who the last bomb was targeting. “It turns out to be an assassination.” So what? Should I feel less depressed and frustrated that this all can be “justified”? I just feel even more depressed and frustrated that the people seem to be so insignificant.

Beirut has a rotating blacklist of areas to avoid. Down Town isn’t safe. Dahye isn’t safe. Hamra isn’t safe. The seaside isn’t safe. Achrafieh isn’t safe… and it goes on. Then you just start getting driving instructions. Nothing technical, just places to avoid, like mosques on Fridays or “political landmarks”. Staying safe is an art and in a country like ours, the survival of the fittest is a myth.

Where was I? Star Wars.

After returning home, I sat down with my mum and had a talk. I wanted to explain to her why she shouldn’t worry so much about me wanting to watch just a third of George Lucas’s fine trilogy five minutes away from home.

“You haven’t lived the war. I did.”

Yes she did. Fifteen years of civil war. Fifteen years of people’s life. Death and bullets and snipers and bombs and ongoing nightmares whether you’re asleep or not.

“I can’t help but think about it every time a bomb goes off. You never know what can happen next.”

She’s most probably going to read this so I might as well go ahead and confirm the fact that my mother is somehow 100% right 100% of the time.

“Do you ever think of living somewhere else?” she asks me.

Another bomb, less than a week later. More deaths, more flames, more conspiracy theories. The house of cards has lost its balance once more. As people start cleaning up the city, scrubbing the blood stains, sweeping away the shattered glass, grieving, redecorating, grabbing a drink and moving on, the house of cards – whose foundations are as shaky as ever – takes shape again, alert and patient, waiting for the next blow.

“So, do you ever think of living somewhere else?” she asks again.

I nod. After my degree is finished, I might pack up and leave, just like many other fellow Lebanese. Where to? Canada, Brazil, Sweden? Where will we be four years from now?

Will we even be here at all?

I have often heard that Lebanon falls seven times and stands up eight, but between me and you I don’t think that that’s enough. I mean, I have just lost count of how many times we’ve fallen. To those of you who compare my country to a phoenix, stop it. I know that you may think that it’s cool that we’re auto-destructive and reborn from our own ashes and all, but why the heck do you think that we should burn down at every wing flap?

Why can’t we stand up and then just hold still, you know, for a change?

You can find this article on the International Political Forum

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