بعد فكّ الحجْر وتراجع الإصابات... بيروت ترقص وتغني برغم الغلاء الفاحش
People are leaving their homes to fill the streets of Beirut making up for lost times in the lockup. In Mar Mikhael, a young lady leans out of the window and screams out as if she’s just been released from prison. Young men sit on parked cars, asking passers-by to sing along with them. In Hamra, music rises into the early hours of dawn and fills Makdisi Street as people stay up late on the sidewalks. Life thrives in the same place that had witnessed death, a major blast, and economic collapse. Anyone passing through cannot comprehend what is happening, specifically because “normal life” had disappeared and recovering it seemed an almost impossible feat.
In Zakaria Pub on Hamra Street, Ghida says that she saw new, young faces dominating the place. She reveals that those same ones who had lived their adolescence during the quarantine period are going out today and making up for everything they had been deprived of in their social lives.
What we are witnessing today is a natural reaction in the face of the extreme situation and the physical imprisonment that we have gone through due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, and of course there is the Beirut blast
Ren, 20, says about the return to normal life, “The home quarantine was put in place right after my final year of high school, so up until now, I have not experienced university life in reality — only through virtual classes. Also, this is the first time that I have gone out and stayed out late with my friends. I had not been able to see them at all before our parents took their vaccinations and in consequence, we were able to guarantee their health and safety.”
On Hamra Street, Ren moves from one place to another with her friends. They are careful to pick out the cheaper bars, especially after the prices of alcohol skyrocketed, and they even avoid eating outside. Ren comments, “We did not have a chance to find jobs during the quarantine. The summer jobs that we used to save up our own money from have now closed down, so all the money in our pockets is from our parents. This is why we have to stick to a budget. We choose the cheapest places, and when our pockets are full, we buy beer bottles and sit on the stairs or on the edges of sidewalks.”
Breaking Free from a Psychological and Physical Prison
On Gemmayzeh Street, Kh. M., a 29-year-old manager in one of the restaurants on the scene, says, “For those of us who have experienced our adolescence in a natural world, we are surprised at the scene that we are seeing today, despite our ability to understand it. What’s been happening is that since last week, after the general lockdown was declared over and thus lifted, crowds of young people have flocked to restaurants and bars and filled them up. These crowds are a new generation that has not yet experienced any of these emotions and physical freedoms and has been deprived of necessary human contact for a long time. It also did not enjoy any normal days, except for intermittent and short periods of time. Throughout my career in the night life industry, I have not seen the drive and momentum that we are witnessing today. When a group of people head to a restaurant and find no place or table to sit at, it uses the street instead to sit on and spend the late evening there. Last Saturday night saw a gathering of cars when their owners began racing each other despite traffic in the area. The shops turned into small bars that met the demands of those exploring after they had found no space for themselves in the Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh districts. What we are witnessing today is an extreme, natural reaction in the face of the extreme situation and physical imprisonment that we have gone through due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, and of course there is the Beirut blast and its effects on the specificities of people’s lives.
It’s the first time that I have partied and stayed out late with friends. I had not been able to see them at all before our parents took their vaccinations and in consequence, we were able to guarantee their health and safety
The Beirut Blast and its Effects
Hoda, 27, was at her friend’s house in the Geitaoui area when the infamous August 4 blast happened. On that day, she says that her social life changed — before the explosion was not the same as after. She says, “Before the blast, I was overwhelmed by anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic, since I stayed quarantined at home and did not go out even when it was lifted, and we were allowed to leave. However, after the blast, a state of shock took over my reality, and the death that I was witness to and survived became a standard for my life. And in response, I transformed from a person who loves to stay at home to a person who did not want to come back to it. Since the year 2019, we have been deprived of normal life and communication with the outside in the way that we wish for. That is why I now search for every signle moment that makes me feel present and in the now through meeting friends and strangers, or by drinking coffee, or as I am currently doing by going out every night on to the streets and listening to music in bars with the people I love now that the curfew has been lifted.”
She concludes with, “Between the Coronavirus, the blast, and the economic collapse, the outside world has become the only escape from frustration. I don’t want to sit at home and think about all the calamities that have befallen us.”
We adapt and find new ways we can afford to carry on with our lives and create new daily adventures that are not the same as the ones we’ve been used to, but they are enough for now
Economic Anxiety and Spending Evenings at Home
Frustration dominates a large portion of individuals who have lost their jobs and their private businesses. So, while the age group that does not bear any economic burdens compensates for home quarantining by going out and staying up late, the remaining larger group finds itself constantly concerned about the general state of affairs, specifically the financial situation. On this, Rasha Sh., 34, the main breadwinner in her home, says, “I went out a while ago with my friend to spend the evening in Beirut, and since that night I decided to stay at home because our bill amounted to 350,000 Lebanese pounds, even though we did not overdo it with eating or drinking. Although I receive half of my monthly salary in the dollar currency, the house bills, especially food, have grown larger with the decline in the value of the Lebanese lira, and consequently, my purchasing power has become limited in a house that contains four family members.”
As a means of enjoyment and at the same time maintaining her economic status, Rasha decided to continue staying up and spending her evenings in the house — something that she had resorted to during the quarantine period. She swapped foreign types of alcohol for local ones, of which the price of one bottle does not exceed 35,000 Lebanese pounds.
Speaking on the return of some sort of normal life — or its equivalent — she goes on to say, “It is human nature to adapt, and if someone had told us years ago about everything that was going to happen, we wouldn’t have believed them at all. Teenagers and adolescents are returning to the streets. Older people are taking the vaccine and, in consequence, are coming out of hiding. Children are coming out to play again. Despite the economic collapse that is deterring some of us from enjoying life outside our homes, we adapt and find new ways and methods that suit our capabilities in order to carry on with our lives and spontaneously create new daily adventures that are not the same as the things that we were used to, but they are enough for now. I learned about a year ago that life is overcoming the pandemic, an economic meltdown, and the blast.”