The Explosion: Lebanon Isn’t What Lebanon Was

(Photo: Shahen Araboghlian)

The most beautiful sunset I’d seen over the Beirut horizon was only yesterday. It was a magnificent fusion of smooth, peachy orange; pink cotton candy; with a bright blue backdropall full of toxic nitrates released from the traumatic explosion in Beirut. I write these sentences out of ragea dominant feelingwith a pinch of numbness. Numbness that pushed me awake through the night, writing this piece.

It was almost power-cut o’clock in Lebanon, which is almost every hour, on a calm Tuesday afternoon. When I say calm, it’s very relative. It’s calm because no company or institution made hundreds of employee layoffs today; it’s calm because the internet still worked until 6:00 p.m.; it’s calm because I haven’t heard of a suicide attempt today; it’s calm because the exchange rate has stabilized, albeit at unimaginable heights. It was calm but at a cost.

A short shake startles me on the hilltop of my home in Mezher. Easy, earthquake. We’ve been over this Jumanji stage before. And then, a tiny boom. Something nearby blew up, I think. And then, a proper shake, which takes me stumbling over to my room door, in confusion. This has become a dangerous earthquake; we need to take cover. I look out my window to see the Homenetmen Stadium’s large window panes blow into pieces, and then, a deafening boom.

For a moment, I was sure we were getting bombed. For a moment, I was confident that all I was hearing were airstrikes approaching us from afar, and in the next few milliseconds, we would be next. I froze. I didn’t run. You can’t run from an airstrike. I stood there and accepted death.

Spoiler alert: it never came. I had to shuffle passports and paperwork and laptops into a backpack in case the third strike gave me a chance to run to the building basement. But the third strike never came, because it was never a strike. It was an explosion, and mom knew, because the Civil War still lingers in the daily memory of my parents’ generation. They can differentiate between airstrikes, missiles, mortars and bombs.

Whatever was left of Beirut vanished within minutes. The bars that squeezed their last pennies out in Mar Mkhayel, the almost-empty stores in Gemmayze, and the rest of already-suffering Beirut were all heavily hit. You forget about your fresh trauma and start calling around to check if your loved ones are fine, and hopefully alive, begging the “calling” screen to turn into “00:01.”

Over the next few hours, you see it all, and then some. You see the movie scenes of the exploding mushroom cloud, perishing all in its way. You see the Instagram page set up for the 200+ souls who haven’t been found yet and wonder how their families’ sleeplessness is so different from yours. You see underfunded Red Cross volunteers, scrambling to pull dead-or-alive bodies out of burning debris. You see homes, shelters and buildingsunlivable. You see doctors performing surgeries with smartphone flashlights, open-air, because our hospitals are underfunded and at full capacity. You see videos of children screaming that they don’t want to die.

And you count your blessings.

You read all about Lebanese resilience, everywhere. We party through pain; we’re happy through hardships; we conquer calamities and catastrophes. But not anymore.

The phoenix can only rise from the ashes so many times.

You’re asked to close your windows to limit toxin inhalation, but my window is in pieces on the floor. You’re expected to rebuild what is broken, but my money has been confiscated by the bank.

It kicks in. You realize, this is it. This isn’t the Lebanon I grew up in anymore. This Lebanon hosts poverty, disease, anger, frustration, hunger, anxiety and depression. This Lebanon spits in the faces of the underprivileged, of the foreign worker, of minorities. You decide you want nothing to do with this Lebanon anymore. The Lebanon I know can only be reconstructed in dreams and memories. The Lebanon I know no longer wants to be reconstructed because it is unable to. The phoenix can only rise from the ashes so many times.

And in those ashes, there is another Lebanon:  

The Lebanon I know stands in line to donate blood, less than half an hour after the shambles. 

The Lebanon I know selflessly helps the wounded. 

The Lebanon I know creates donation links and shares tweets and Instagram stories and Facebook posts, asking the diasporaand the worldfor assistance. 

The Lebanon I know always finds its way out of the dust and rubble.

But the people of Lebanon can only handle so much.

I write these sentences in rage, but in them too is love for this nation and for her people. Eventually, the rage will subside, making way for total numbness. The Lebanon I know is at a tipping point, and the Paris of the Middle East is a tale of bygones. 

Shahen Araboghlian

Shahen Araboghlian

Shahen Araboghlian is an alumnus from the Lebanese American University, BA in Political Science/International Affairs, with an Exchange Degree from Sciences Po - Paris. He’s currently a management assistant and social media strategist at h-pem.com. His interests revolve around labor rights, social movements, development studies and IOs.

6 Comments

  1. I feel so sorry for all these innocent civilians.
    It’s too much after the cruel financial siege lead by the U.S.
    This is the tipping point.

    • Thank you Shahen Araboghlian for this detailed article about Lebanon. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you for this piece, which brought tears to my eyes. I am heartbroken for my family and friends in Beirut, and everyone in Lebanon. Wishing we could do something more to help. In the meantime, donating to the Lebanese Red Cross and other trusted orgs (ARS1910, Impact Lebanon) is the least we can do. Our hearts are with you.

  3. Your words made me cry for the Lebanon that was … For the people who have been suffering for so long with a government that doesn’t care for it’s people but my heart feels with the warmth of it’s people who have risen like a phoenix before and they will rise again and soar over the Lebanese mountains like before Dear Shahen. Please don’t lose all hope, you will all rise again. May God be with you all.

  4. We are praying for you all….and will send a monetary donation to the Prelacy, but may God protect you and help you in these very very difficult times. My last visit to Beirut was in 1968 returning from Erevan…..I fell in love with this beautiful country……Alas we all are under Gods care. bless you all.

  5. Heart wrenching account of that moment that will live with so many. Well written and expressed. Feeling very sad for the people of Lebanon who have been under-served by corrupt administrations. We wish you well and a rise from the ashes yet again. I remember my years at LAU and soon after I started the civil war started too. Neverending pain.

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