A car bomb went off in Ashrafieh today. I wasn’t there, I haven’t been since May, but the bomb ripped through my heart with more power than I expected.
I’m literally convulsing with tears right now, more so than when Manchester was bombed (My family are from close to there but I knew they would be safe) More so than when I got caught up in innumerable bomb scares in London in the 1980’s, than on the army camp in which I attended school daily, where being scanned for bombs was a given, than on hearing the news of 9-11 whilst I was out shopping for my 21st birthday dress.
I can’t explain it to those of you who aren’t familiar with the situation, hell probably not even to those who are, but this could be a small ripple in a small pond, or its actions could be felt across my beloved second home and the region for years to come, I hope it’s the first of those truly.
I moved to Beirut in 2009, full of excitement and intrigue about this fascinating country. A country where I could happily walk from down town to Sassine (my home and the location of the bomb) at 4am with no concerns for my safety, yet where one little neighbourly dispute could see RPG’s engaged, cars burnt out, mosques/churches on fire and so I suppose I became a little blasé about potential risks.
My friends and work colleagues were mostly too young to remember the bulk of the civil war and the 2005 assassination and 2006 war had differing affects on different people. one friend drove through dahe at the height of the bombing, sending medication to the old and those incapable of leaving, others stayed at the 5 star hotel i worked in to look after guests caught in the crossfire, people didn’t really speak about it too much to be honest, I had to pry, read books and insert myself into the lifestyle they were trying to forget in order to learn anything about the past.
Yet what has Beirut achieved or learnt from this? Zaitouny Bay and The Phoenicia Hotel, one of the worlds true great hotels launched advertising campaigns of “a future built on memories of the past” (or words to that effect forgive me my mistakes – it is gone midnight in Singapore and I am in need of sleep which will not come easily tonight) and encouraged everyone to go “beiruting” again. Beirut needs to forget the past and move forward – the future is the only way through this, the only way for them to finally shake of the shackles of their past and rejoin the 21st century, regardless of what the last half of the 20th century had in store for them.
I really hope this post is an over reaction. I’m not Lebanese, I don’t want to claim to be anything other than who I am, a person who fell madly and inexplicably in love with my temporary home and one who cares greatly for those who are still there. When I did live in Beirut and these things occurred, I was quick to dismiss them as a flash in the pan and could never understand the panic of my Lebanese friends and what I perceived as their over reaction to the day to day events.
Now I sit here, thousands of miles away praying (which I don’t do – I’m not a religious person but maybe it will help those who are) this is a one off and life will return to “normal” and I will look back on this badly written, overly emotional post and blush at my naiveté and cringe at how stupid I must have seemed. I hope. I wish. I pray.
Lebanon deserves so much more than this, It’s people deserve so, so much more. I had been saying I wouldn’t visit again next year as It is too pricey and doesn’t fit in with my travel plans, that’s changed now – I’ll be there come April/May again to remind myself why I love this city, especially Ashrafieh so much. Beirut B7ebik. (with apologies to james joyce and virginia wolf for the stream of consciousness style in which this has been written)