The Fade

Ahmad Al-Hafi

In my humble household, I was always known to have what one likes to call a photographic sort of memory. Whenever my siblings or parents need to remember a certain day’s events, mostly what we had to eat on that day or what we specifically did etc., I always remembered what was going on, not because of my “superior brain structure,” but simply because I live my life day by day; I almost ever forget any day that goes by me. There are a number of days that are permanently embedded into my memory banks, mostly celebrating achievements or they’re just reminders of really embarrassing moments I think of at 2 A.M. But…. none of those days was a large scale massacre that would go down in my memory forever…no. The Fourth of August, 2020, was a day where many memories were made, and many others have faded…living on forever in my head.

One would know immediately, from their first encounter of me, how sentimental I am for the many things I have in my life. I’m sentimental towards my Teddy Bear who helped me combat many of my insecurities by looking like me, towards my summer house where I made many colorful memories and lived the best parts of my childhood, and towards my comfort cartoon that I find myself laughing to even till this day. However, these sentiments don’t come close to the acquired taste that is the city of Beirut. Beirut was often compared to modern cities of Europe back in the day (until the war of 1975, but that’s not my point) as it was the one open to new ideas and new cultures the most. It was rebuilt from the ground up after the war and lived what one might call a neo-renaissance of its culture, its streets, and major areas, and of course, its people. You might be wondering though why I called it an acquired taste. Because that’s what it is. You grow to love Beirut the more you explore it and dig deeper into its streets. As a child and a teen, I was never allowed to be outside in Beirut as I had very overprotective parents, and they only knew how to go to work. As I eventually grew older, the places where I was allowed to go to and explore grew as well. One amazing place in my district was a local library/bookstore that had a wonderful homey feel, and an old man who had so many stories to share; I just had to stay and listen at any chance I got during my final year of High School. When I started college at the University of Balamand in Achrafieh, I had such a bad schedule that had a large five-hour long gap in it, and I used what precious time I had to explore the beautiful areas that were Achrafieh, Gemmayzeh, and Mar Mikhael. When I did, I found so many wonderful places worth checking out and many amazing people there who had the true Lebanese spirit of caring, sharing, and helpfulness. I made many breathtaking memories with these people at those places. I found one coffee shop that felt like a secret I should never let anyone know about, and whenever I wanted to invite anyone in to my comfort zone, we usually went there, and heck, even became a regular there. I never hung around campus that long, it was mostly because it is quite small and isn’t even considered a campus, only a small extension of a big university in all honesty. There was a day, though, where I was led to the terrace of the building and the sun was setting at that time. The building, conveniently, had a good view of the port; I still remember this breathtaking peaceful sight that represented the thriving economy, but never again…
On February 29, 2020, I was supposed to have a huge exam to complete, but I never ended up doing it no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic that had hit us all like a massive truck. The months passed by, and I was at home with my family, whose overprotectiveness had only grown larger. Eventually, though, they started adjusting to the setting they were living in, and so was my university, that I still visited when I had the chance to study at its library. During the Summer Semester, I had my finals assigned on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. I stayed behind at home, a day before my finals, to study, and my whole family were at their respective workplaces. On that day, I remember spoiling myself like any quarantined individual living the best life. I received a phone call from my mom at 5:55 P.M. telling me to come down and help her with the stuff she had brought over from our place in Beirut, so that I did. My brother and I picked up our massive desktop computer together and were hauling it home…until we heard a sound that was so loud it still bangs in my ears till this day. The women of the building all rushed with their veils off to secure their children who were playing outside, while shouting “Israel! Israel!” My brother and I almost dropped everything we had in our hands and rushed home to turn the TV on, and that’s when we found out about the grand blast that destroyed my city, my home, Beirut. I cannot forget the surge of feelings I experienced at hearing such news. The anxiety to ensure my sister and father’s safeties, who were impossible to reach at that time, as well as many of my friends who were crying hysterically on the phone for having just lost their only home, and their only shelter. The grief over the many lost souls who were just there to either work, return to their homes after a long day of work, or try to seek relief in the streets of Beirut. The realization that I have lost many of my most prized places that were the source of many fond memories, the realization that Beirut has been broken once again by careless individuals, but the worst one was the people who gave up on Lebanon and immediately lost faith. I was unable, for the most part, to comprehend my surroundings for a couple of days; my exams were delayed; I was not allowed to participate in the restoration efforts, and I was only capable of doing so much from the comfort of my home to support the Beirut I had loved. The aftermath of such a tragedy was, and still is, a painful one filled with nothing but sorrow and bitterness over what was lost.

Faith is a word that is very often difficult to put in one frame since most people associate it with religion, but the faith I mean and believe is the faith in the society, the faith in the nation. This tragedy catalyzed the loss of Faith among the Lebanese people, where each “Hello!” is met with a “Ya zalame bade ehrob men hal balad” (Man, I want to get out of this hellhole), each “How are you?” is met with a “Wlak ayya a5bar, lesh fi 5er bhal balad?!” (What news would I possibly have for you?! Nothing good can possibly happen in this place!). I’m struck with grief whenever I witness such a mindset among the Lebanese when I know there are others who have yet to lose hope, doing their best to restore Beirut to its former glory and advocate against the ones who have caused this tragedy to begin with.

The Lebanese Nation is always referred to as a Phoenix for their “Never Say Die!” spirit, but maybe… for this one time… I can forgive the many people who had decided to “say die,” and I applaud the ones who have kept that spirit. I hope we as a nation can all keep our faith with us and restore (and improve) what little piece of land we have to our name. Peace out, Lebanon!