Back to Sand


Emma Sleiman

The sand runs; it soars; it wants to reform its dunes, the dunes of a vanished city; it swallows up the houses it encounters; it regains territory; it was time for it to come back, finally, to haunt our memories, hide the view of a new generation to whom it has not yet been introduced.

The story of sand has always fascinated me; it is in the sand that God breathed to create Man on the 7th day; it is to it that we return after the farewells. I have always envied it for being so flexible, so modestly revealed to the world. It is from its storms that men have been punished for their misdeeds; it is from its dunes that civilizations have been able to survive. It so flawlessly forms a fluid solid that travels the world. Its seed in itself is nothing, with its counter fellows it forms everything we perceive, everything we know; it forms US. The sand fascinates me even more, because it impregnates, on a personal level, an undeniable part of the history of my ancestors, the Lebanese, whose beaches have seen the sand transformed into glass for the first time in history.
This glass, ironically enough, on that mundane August day, decided to regain its initial shape. Every balcony, in a second collapsed into ashes, ashes which in a second claimed the whole territory, remedied the memories of a sneaky, self-proclaimed war. Beirut, once again, turned into Sahara, the corpses broken under the glass formed one entity in this charming chaos.
From that moment, I began to hate sand, as it reminded me of death and life, of the Ying and the Yang without even warning me. It created such a vivid image of the end, reminded me of the spontaneity of things, reminded me that it’s everywhere, every second, even during one of these hot, mundane summer days. It threatened me by taking my parents to the head of the avalanche. They have survived it, yet it was enough to frighten my soul, asking for nothing it went out of the floor, as flawlessly as it entered my room, my cocoon. August 4th was for me a psychological explosion that mixed the lack of scrutiny of politicians with the withdrawal of what I thought to be an ever-ending anger. The sand that day redefined the standard of experiences I had of every corner and every moment I had lived in this country. It had redefined the value of a universe, reshaped my destiny. From that day, when watching the planes hover above the ledge, carrying the migrants to an unknown, so famous El Dorado, I always see the traces of sand emerging in the air, in the gray sky stinted of pollution as a hymn of distress and abandon.
Looking back at it, I come to realize that we destroyed ourselves, that we were the explosion, that what happened that day was only the fruit of the common unconscious, an unconscious bruised by repetitive catastrophes that waited for something powerful enough for it to emerge. We are the sand, whether we hate or love each other; we only become entangled in each other; we only withdraw into this sand, immerse ourselves in the earth, and join its deceased. Sand provides a tangible framework to help contextualize the enormity of the complex and intertwined social and environmental justice issues that our world is facing. Sand is inextricable from human development, civilization, and technological progress — understanding our relationships with sand can help us redefine the vision we hold of the blast, forgive ourselves from that guilt we have intrinsically defined as being ours. From that day on, I continuously ask myself and invite you to do so: are we alive or are we trying to join them every day?