Beirut: Before, During, and After

Michaella Sabagh

From childhood’s hour, I’ve heard my parents talk about the beauty and glory of Beirut before the war, yet I still let out gasps of amazement even at the pictures of this magnificent city. I always favored Christmas time, with incandescent lights and Christmas trees every few blocks, the streets crowded with locals and tourists taking pictures and walking around. Beirut was truly a vision.

On a peaceful day at the beginning of August, when all seemed dull and repetitive, scarlet red flames engulfed my city. Texting your relatives and friends, “hey, are you okay?”, while anxiety took over your body every second the texts remained unanswered makes you forget that you have ever lived before this specific moment. You forget that an hour ago, you were lying peacefully on your bed. A day ago, you were visiting a friend you haven’t seen since the start of summer. Three months ago, you were a 15 year old student skipping your online class. This can be described as the exact opposite of your life flashing before your eyes, because at that moment, despite your accelerated heartbeat and shaking hands, your life pauses, and all your daily mundane tasks seem insignificant, almost non-existent, because right now, all you need to know is that your friends and family are alive and unharmed. Because right now, the only emotion you should be feeling is gratitude that you have survived long enough to be here , trying to make sense of what happened more than a year ago through this piece.

Blood splattered on the streets of Gemmayze; this gruesome scene will forever remain engraved in my brain. An area known for its exuberant nightlife now resembled a battlefield. I only witnessed this event from afar, yet I was white with terror and hit with sleepless nights for weeks after the incident. Watching the news for a while after that day was brutal. Families were pleading for any news of their missing kids, dozens of people in comas, and the others all dead. After repeatedly hearing the phrase “The August 4th explosion” followed with yet another detailed and horrid description of what had happened, your mind eventually starts muting out these words whenever uttered . You become an expert at mechanically explaining what went down to your friends and family abroad, who are concerned about your well-being and whereabouts, in very political and professional terms .

The streets started to be filled again after a few months. Gatherings and outings were being planned, and regular life seemed to have resumed. The explosion site seems to have become a touristic one. Why were people gathered taking selfies in front of the damaged port? Is it so very beautiful that people lost their lives just a few months ago at the same place these pictures are being taken?

The youth has been robbed from having a normal teenagehood. They’re angry and frustrated for even being born here. The young men and women are already fleeing the country, seeking a slightly better future to not waste years of hard work and thousands of dollars spent on education. Though a sense of nationalism still remains, buried deep in their hearts. While for the elders, this is simply just a déjà vu, something they’ve grown numb to, a very ordinary occurrence.

Today, after a year of healing and acceptance , nostalgia fills my body as I walk down the streets of my city still suffering the aftermath of a turbulence. The forever closed shops and the destroyed showcases are a burdensome reminder of what has happened, of a past that cannot be altered. Despite the evident damage Beirut suffered and is still suffering until today, it is still truly magnificent. It is one of the greatest cities indeed, still and will forever be a vision.