The awful tragedy that befell Beirut last week (Tuesday) was ever so poignant for me. My son lived there for four years with his family and had only recently returned. I’ve been there several times, finding the city charming, interesting, lively, optimistic, and full of generous and hospitable people. My son and his wife have many friends there. He was staying at our house when the devastating explosion occurred. Many inhabitants lost their lives; thousands have been injured, and 300,000 homes have been destroyed. Lebanon was in a crisis before the explosion: the economy in free fall downwards, and Corona Virus taking a heavy toll with hospitals overflowing and unable to cope. Now it’s a catastrophe. Victims of the explosion are being treated in hospital car parks.
For my son and his family, this is a very personal tragedy, and the same goes for me.
Beirut has been through a great deal: a 15-year civil war, a war with Israel, and a weak and ineffective government whose inefficiencies and corruption are widely believed to have caused the explosion. However, my visits to the city, talking to my son and his wife, and reports I’ve read in the media have led me to believe the Lebanese, especially those living in Beirut, believed the worst was behind them. They wanted change, and yearned for a progressive, safe, and financially sound future. Now their hopes and aspirations have been dashed.
Media interviews with Beirut’s inhabitants tell of the sadness and catastrophe that’s hit them, but also their resilience. One woman was filmed in her wrecked apartment playing the piano. All around her windows had been smashed, furniture upended and destroyed, precious ornaments and framed photographs broken and scattered around in the debris. When asked if she was moving, she shook her head and said firmly, with her husband by her side, ‘No, we’ve lived here for 40 years and we will continue to live her. We’ll get through this.’
Her resilience and bravery is impressive, but it’ll take more to get Beirut and Lebanon through this appalling calamity.
Otto and Frankie, my latest book, is now available as a paperback. The e-book version, out on September 4, is available to pre order.