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How Love Survives Beirut, the Fallen City

How Love Survives Beirut, the Fallen City

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Wednesday 4 August 202111:00 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

بيروت... كيف يعيش الحب في المدن المنهارة؟

On the day I decided to go out to a café, I pass by a long line of cars waiting for some long overdue respite. Their respite is gasoline. I kept walking. Nothing will stop me from making my trip to the café today, for I fully dressed up for the occasion. I even put on some make-up! Maybe this way, I can tell myself I’m fine, that I’m not depressed.

The faces on the streets are all the same. They are the same faces of frightened and anxious people. No one knows when Beirut will completely fall, and when it will burn, or blow itself up, or even kill itself. A sharp argument between a man and a produce shopkeeper catches my attention: “When did the price of vegetables become so expensive?” I smile. It was always expensive, but I was constantly living in a bubble, like everyone else, pretending that the country was fine, that it was breathing, and loved us very much. I wipe my salty sweat, and I do not know if it is sweat or tears. I hate these tears. They are of no use. They say that a little girl named Joury passed away yesterday due to lack of medicine. I embrace the fetus in my womb, and start crying again.

In the café, the waiter greets me with a sulky face. He tells me, “I drank plenty of alcohol yesterday, and when I woke up, I wanted to take a shower, but I couldn’t find any running water.” He then jokes, “Perhaps I should fill up a gallon with water, and go take a shower in front of the Lebanese Parliament, or the Grand Serail (the Government Palace), or before any political residence that I could ‘blow off some steam’ in front of.”

A friend calls me, yelling and complaining that all relationships are falling apart in the country. She does not talk to her husband about anything except unresolved problems that never end. She says that she feels hate, and that the same mornings repeat every day. Then she asks me an unanswerable question: ‘How does love survive in cities where its values, fundamentals, and basics of life are collapsing?’

Expatriates bring medicine in their suitcases, and we carry in our hearts the slow death of a city that is being squeezed every day, like a lemon.

No answer. I hang up, and I wipe the salt from my eyes. I think of cities I once loved to visit: Baghdad. I smile. It is at the bottom of a collapse, too. Perhaps Damascus. It has also faded away. Alright then, what about Haifa and Acre? Under occupation. What about Yemen and Egypt? Before I can finish, my phone rings again.

A friend apologizes for not being able to meet up, because her son has a sudden fever. I wanted to hug her over the phone, and tell her: You will find medicine, a bed, security, and safety, be safe.

I am frustrated like many others in Beirut. Electricity; we do not remember its existence, and we do not even hope that it will return. The air is polluted by the explosions that have taken place, or will take place. Water decided to play with us, too; it only visits us whenever it wants. As for medicine, it is the greatest calamity. Expatriates carry medicine in their bags to us, and we carry in our bags the slow death of a city that is being squeezed every day like a lemon.

During my latest therapy session, I cried for a long time. I told my doctor that she cannot travel abroad to work, just leave me, and leave us here. She tried to maintain her composure and keep a calm face, saying, “I can no longer stay here. I wish I could carry all of Beirut in my bag and leave.” Even my doctor is leaving. This means that there are no Thursday sessions anymore, in order to “let off some steam” and curse this lowly, despicable world that humiliates cities whenever it wanted.

The coffee is delicious. I drink it quickly, and I tell the waiter my story with my round and swollen belly. I am expecting a little daughter. The young man, in turn, says, “There is no formula milk for babies, you will have to breastfeed.”

I pay the bill, and I run home. I climb the stairs. I sigh. I think of Mahmoud Darwish. How did he say what he said? “Beirut is our tent”? How, Mahmoud, does love survive in cities that fall apart every day, and die before your very eyes? How do I tell my memory to get up, and fight back, tomorrow will be better. Beirut, a can of sardines, and a home with no water, no electricity, no medicine, and no fuel.

The coffee is delicious. I drink it quickly, and I tell the waiter my story with my round and swollen belly. I am expecting a little daughter. The young man, in turn, says, “There is no formula milk for babies, you will have to breastfeed.”

I always go back to the first moment the heart discovers the city it belongs to. I do not remember a single moment that we did not know any ups and downs, fears, and anxieties in. Beirut suffers from the disease of instability. It’s moody, hot-headed, afraid, and full of love. The day it all exploded on our heads on the 4th of August, I sat for a long time on the sofa. I picked up the tweezers, and plucked my eyebrows, the hair on my legs, and the ones on my arms. Time passed, and I became more afraid. I wanted to leave, but when I imagined myself outside the city, I would choke in pain. I want it so badly, but it doesn’t even want itself. Friends try to explain revolutions at length, how they arose and came to be, and I do not understand. Beirut does not bear revolutions for too long, they stay only for a while until they are aborted. It doesn’t completely die, and it doesn’t live long either. Beirut is in a coma. Missing on life in its coma. What is the value of life, while you are in a comatose city? Then, we are all asleep. We are neither dead, nor are we alive. Oh, Beirut.

Following the assassination, many political, cultural, and intellectual faces were eliminated. The tragedy was the loss of all those lives, and their assassination, without knowing who was behind it all. The reasoning and statements ranged from settling scores between international interests, a Syrian occupation, an Israeli occupation, an American, an Iranian, and a Russian occupation. We cannot talk about this era as the first ever divide in Beirut. It had suffered from division during the civil war, and then the Ta’if agreement (officially the National Reconciliation Accord) came to confirm the sectarian division, by dividing the state of law into sectarian seats.

The equation in Beirut began to grow and amplify; from the economic collapse, to political infighting, corruption, and the constant interference from international and regional axes within internal decisions. Beirut has reached a point that is considered the worst in its history. The Lebanese people in their entirety have been robbed, through the control of the citizens’ savings and deposits, and their seizure. And the fall of the Lebanese pound has made us pay the price of stabilizing the currency since the civil war, up to this day. And finally, the Beirut port explosion. Here, everything fell. Now, expectations have become open to scenarios of darkness, danger, and insecurity. Unfortunately, today this country is under an internal and external siege. The matter has exceeded having patience and fortitude. It has become a daily threat to our lives, us as human beings. With Hariri excusing himself from the formation of the government, I personally decided to laugh for a long time. The matter at hand, gentlemen, is so complex and so incomprehensible that it makes us all laugh. I am suffering from the disease of laughter due to the many calamities in our country, and as the saying goes, “the worst of calamities is the one that makes you laugh”.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22

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