December 04, 2013

From a Beirut Perspective

The rains have started, a little late. Huge traffic jams last night were the result. And we’re not in ‘massive downpour mode’ yet! Once that starts, total chaos will ensue.
 For people living outside Lebanon, things must appear pretty chaotic here anyway. It seems like we’re living under fire. A Hezbollah head assassinated last night, a bomb last week, constant fighting in Tripoli, and for every 4 Lebanese we now have 1 Syrian refugee. Who – for the most part – live in rather shoddy shelters, Bedouin type tents or shanty town-like structures, which are no match for the rain that is going to come down in the coming months. There are no roads in between these ‘houses’ and so they’re up to their necks in mud. They do not have washing machines, and so you can imagine the incredible mess they will be living in.
You may not realize the magnitude of the problem if you are Dutch, but imagine that Holland (some 16 million inhabitants) suddenly gets – in a matter of 2 years – an additional 4 million refugees.  And most of them have nothing, other than what they can carry with them. The country would be in chaos.
 Yet here in Beirut, you notice very little of the misery of the people in Tripoli and the Syrian refugees. It is life as usual. Shops are open, restaurants are full, dinner dates are made, banks are busy and traffic is tight.
Yet small changes indicate that not all is well. There are more beggars in Hamra, as the number of people that are left without any means – both Syrian and Lebanese – are on the rise. And in  the little park across my house now sleep 3 men every night, for the first time in years. I see them every morning, as I walk my dogs. At first I thought they must be refugees, but yesterday I noticed that one of them looked familiar. It just dawned on me; I used to buy my pet food from him. He had a store in our street, but it closed down some time ago and made place for a phone shop.
The old aunt in our house frequently goes to Tripoli to visit a friend, but last week, they did not go out as they usually do. “Town’s closed,” she said.
And although from a Beirut perspective, things seem normal, it does not sit right. A blogger wrote in a Tale of Two Cities how Tripoli and Beirut are these two cities that are only 80 kilometers, yet seem like they are a few decades apart. It is like a different world, from a Beirut perspective.  Another blogger wrote about how this picture haunted her, and I have to say, it is a disturbing one. Had it been in Iraq or Syria, it would have passed the venue without a second thought, but it’s in our own country now, at an hour drive from here.
If you read this paper, life seems okay. If you read this one, we’re falling to pieces. And so even from a Beirut perspective, things are changing.


Tanya Dernaika said...

You have articulated what people are feeling so well.
It is indeed very disturbing and the effect it is having on people is even more so. Skins are getting thicker, and people are beginning signs of wear and tear.

Tanya Dernaika said...

I missed "showing signs of" (wear and tear) but that goes to prove the point :) ...