• Writer Zena Chamas in central Beirut, 2019. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
In a matter of minutes, the lives of thousands of people in Lebanon’s once vibrant capital city were changed forever – and with them, the lives of thousands of the Lebanese Diaspora.
By
Zena Chamas

31 Aug 2020 - 9:29 AM  UPDATED 31 Aug 2020 - 4:00 PM

All that had consumed my thoughts the day of the Beirut blast was the tone of my dad’s voice when he heard what happened. “Goodbye Lebanon,” he said. His words rang through my mind over and over again. 

Since hearing the news that rocked Beirut forever, I had not been able to stop thinking about it, nor the smell of the rubble on the streets of war-torn Beirut, or the sound of the dreadful blast ripping through the once vibrant city.

A sound that hundreds might have heard moments before they died, a sound I still remember hearing many years ago, and a smell I’ll never forget.

My last visit to Lebanon was seven years ago, but the impact of the country’s conflict still haunts me. I can still remember how beautiful it was. But now, some of the most beautiful parts of the city have been destroyed and drowned by rubble. All that remains are photos and recycled stories from my parents’ memories.

I can still remember how beautiful it was. But now, some of the most beautiful parts of the city have been destroyed and drowned by rubble.

In a matter of minutes, the lives of thousands of people in Lebanon’s once vibrant capital city were changed forever – and with them, the lives of thousands of the Lebanese Diaspora, mourning from behind a computer screen.

It’s hard to articulate the kind of anguish that’s felt when the country you were born in is in turmoil and you’re stuck watching it unfold thousands of miles away. It’s unlike anything I’ve felt in my adult years and unlike anything I can express without breaking into tears.

But, one of the worst things about mourning for my country from a distance is that it was a feeling that was familiar to me. I was born in Lebanon in the late 1980s in the middle of unrest and war.

My parents had struggled to make sure I was safe as a newborn baby, fleeing to safety any chance they could get.  They like thousands of other Lebanese people, fled the war and migrated to Australia, and with them, and me, remain the emotional marks of war.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, whether suffered directly or second hand is a reality for many of Lebanon’s displaced. The country has been in disarray for some time and its people have suffered the consequences.

Whether it’s been from endless governmental negligence, a lack of reliable healthcare or job losses from an economy in crisis. Each time, the people have had been left to endure its scars.

Whether it’s been from endless governmental negligence, a lack of reliable healthcare or job losses from an economy in crisis. Each time, the people have had been left to endure its scars.

For the youth of Lebanon, Fear, depression, anxiety, grief are common feelings that are often spoken about. Just like in many middle-eastern countries, unrest has become the people’s “new normal” and many are looking for ways to leave.

For my parents, seeing their once beloved home in disarray has produced a sense of anxiety. Having to constantly check on family and loved ones thousands of miles away, and anxiously switching between news channels to get the latest updates, are things I’ve grown up watching them do.

After hearing the news of the blast on the morning of August 4th, I was not able to sleep. While insomnia was a regular part of my life, this time my lack of sleep was different. This time I knew it couldn’t be cured with a pill or a program; this time it was coming from my broken heart.

I had originally woken up at 4.30 am to messages from overseas friends asking if my family was safe. “I’m so sorry” one of the messages read, and that was when I knew something big had happened.

I had originally woken up at 4.30 am to messages from overseas friends asking if my family was safe.  “I’m so sorry” one of the messages read, and that was when I knew something big had happened.

As soon as I Googled “Lebanon”, I saw photos come up of the explosion and I felt my stomach turn upside down.  Anxiety is one of those uninvited feelings that you know really well. It’s akin to a friend that won’t take the hint and overstays their welcome; it’s familiar, but exhausting until it’s gone.

As the death toll numbers began climbing, I couldn’t sit still. I was anxious to know my family and friends were okay. Then finally, that annoying WhatsApp message tone that I’ve become accustomed to ignoring went off and I felt a sense of relief. My family was fine; my friends were fine… But I knew deep down my country was not.

Flashbacks of the 2006 Israel and Lebanon conflict began rushing through my mind. I remembered the sleepless nights that came with being far away while a war was happening. I remembered hearing my mum and dad on the phone to relatives hoping they were okay. Seeing my parents’ cry when watching the news was one of the saddest memories I had growing up. While I didn’t understand their pain at that young age, I could see how powerless they felt for their country.

Flashbacks of the 2006 Israel and Lebanon conflict began rushing through my mind. I remembered the sleepless nights that came with being far away while a war was happening.

This time, being under Stage Four restrictions meant seeing my mum and dad’s reaction to the news via a Zoom call.  I could see the pain they were hiding from me even from behind a screen. They just kept saying, “oh my God”, over and over again.  They had feared what everybody had been thinking for so many years - Lebanon was in chaos; we knew it had been for some time.

The Lebanon that my family knew is gone and no longer the same. But from speaking to friends and family who survived the blast, it’s somewhat comforting to know that their resilience is keeping their spirits alive. 

They tell me they will eventually begin again, the tears of families who lost their homes will dry, the dead will be mourned and they believe the people will rebuild.

But I can’t help thinking, what comes next? That’s something that remains uncertain. But what I do know is the thousands of Lebanese people living in all parts of the world, regardless of faith and politics are like one giant beating heart. It beats for its country and it weeps for its loss, and while it may be broken, it keeps on beating.

Zena Chamas is a freelance writer.

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