Stories

Voices of Beirut

A month after the devastating explosion in Beirut port, people are still trying to find safety, processing the trauma, and asking questions.

In the days and weeks since the blast Medair provided psychological first aid and is conducting group and individual sessions to help people work through their experiences and begin to recover.

“Is there anything harder than losing purpose?” – Salma.

“I lost my mind. Can you believe it? When I heard the explosion, I felt that my eyes left my face to see what was happening outside. I hugged myself and turned my back to the raging wave of smoke, shattered glass, and dust, but I saw everything as if my eyes left me to go wander and cry over people dying in the streets and screaming their hearts out.

“I saw death before; I’m a cancer survivor. This was worse than cancer. Can you believe it? The wave pushed me metres away. My husband fell under the rubble that formed in fractions of a second. In seconds, we found ourselves in chaos. The pressure from the blast and my fall caused blood to pour out from my varicose veins; glass scratched my feet and back. I couldn’t walk. For 30 minutes I sat with my husband in the rubble. I tried to stop the bleeding of my veins, while my husband picked the glass particles out of our bodies – tiny pieces that stung harder than the chemicals that cure cancer.

“We eventually picked ourselves up. We couldn’t find our cell phone and we went out to the street. People were screaming, running, and searching for their loved ones. We left our house – it was open, ruined, and cold. My husband’s employer took us to a hospital to stitch our wounds and offered us a temporary house. Since then, we visit our house to clean and fix bits and pieces. Our building is being assessed and may be unstable. We don’t know if we will still have a house a month from now. We have no idea what will come next. I’m not sure if cancer or sorrow will kill me.

“On the day of the explosion, August 4, I had an appointment for an operation at San George Hospital [the hospital that was most affected]. They called me on Monday, informing me that my appointment will be postponed till Wednesday. Look at me now, I’m still alive. I was supposed to be in a bed in that hospital and may have died there. Look at me now, look, I’m still alive; I can’t believe it. I don’t know if I feel guilty that I’m still alive, I don’t know if I’m lucky, I don’t know what to feel or think.

“I know that I’m strong. I have been fighting cancer for two years and I’ve never given up. I’ve always asked God to help all patients and end their suffering. I ask God today to give us the strength to face this unbearable pain. At least I still have shelter. Many families with their children are traveling the streets, the unknown, to find food and shelter. Tell me, is there anything harder than losing a home? Is there anything harder than losing purpose?”

Salma during Beirut explosion

 

“What should I feel?” – Michael 

“I live with my daughter, her husband, and my grandchildren who are aged two, five, and seven  years. I have a café in the neighbourhood. Fifteen minutes before the explosion, my daughter and her family decided to go for a road trip. I stayed at my café; my livelihood. The port is less than 500 meters away.

“Around six in the evening, we started to hear strange sounds. Explosions? Fireworks? I couldn’t tell you. In seconds, the world blacked out. I flew with the wave of the explosion and landed under the rubble. In seconds, glass scratched my body. I protected my head with my arms. All I thought of was my family. ‘Where are they? Are they far enough that they are still alive?’, I asked myself.

Removing the debris off my body, I struggled to stand. I saw three of the men who, just moments ago, were drinking coffee. They were on the floor. I helped them to their feet and we got out of the shop.

“In the street, everything was upside down. People lying on the ground, screaming for help. Sirens almost deafened my ears. Over my shoulders, I carried my injured friend, whom I found lying few meters away from my café, and walked to the nearest hospital. We arrived after 15 minutes but the hospital couldn’t welcome us; it was so damaged. We walked all the way back until we found someone to drive him to another hospital.

When I arrived back in my neighbourhood I learned that my sister and her husband were stuck in their house. I couldn’t recognize the building; it lost its façade. Climbing the blood-stained staircase, I found my sister bleeding, and crying. ‘My husband is dying, please help him’, she screamed. With three other men, we were able to rescue the man. He was severely injured, and unfortunately, still in a coma until now.

“After finding a hospital to help my sister and her husband, I came back to rescue more people. Our neighbour, Claudet, didn’t survive. She died in front of our eyes; we couldn’t rescue her. We couldn’t.

“I stay with my family now at our relative’s house. I come back here [to his house, where we met him] to clean and pack our remaining belongings. My café is now a place for volunteers to gather, even if it’s without walls anymore. My grandchildren are safe. I would have killed myself if, God forbid, anything happened to them. My two-year-old grandchild visited the house yesterday for the first time after the blast. He was checking on his toys that usually lie on his bed. ‘Grandpa, who did that to my toys? The explosion?’ he asked. ‘You will not come back here anymore, that bomb will eat us at night.’

“I still don’t know what to feel. Grateful that my family and grandchildren are alive? Sad because my brother in law is still in a coma, or my sister has more than tens of stitches in her body? Guilty because I couldn’t rescue our neighbour? Hopeless because I lost my house? Tell me, what should I feel?”

“Can you help me? Can you help my students and help our future?” – Charbel.

“[When the explosion happened] I was at home with my father. I woke up amid the rubble of our house. I tried to get up and rescue my father who was lying across the room, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t feel my legs or my hand. I needed to rescue my dad; he’s already sick. I didn’t want him to die, I started crying and shouting. ‘Help me, help us!’ Still, I couldn’t move. He did it, he was able to stand up and came to help me. Blood all over his body, he couldn’t help me stand. My legs were seriously injured. He rushed to ask for help. I stayed under the rubble for one hour and a half.

“After a few hours I arrived at a hospital, where I had an operation to rescue my legs. It is day 14 after the blast and I still can’t walk. I’ve never sat for this long; this is killing me. I will start physiotherapy soon. I want to stand up again, and I want to use my hand to write again.

“We don’t have a house anymore; I don’t even want to see that place again. We also lost the minimarket, our livelihoods, and our car. I may lose my job as well. I’m a teacher. My college, where I teach, is partially collapsed in ruins. We’ve been planning to start the academic year in a month or so, even with COVID-19 protective measures. Now, hundreds of children will be left out of schools and tens of teachers will lose their jobs. It is overwhelming.

“I want to teach again; teaching brightens my life. I’m afraid that my hand won’t help me write again, what would I do then? I worked so hard in the past years to get a house, a car, a job, a decent life for my family. Five seconds took it all.

“When I sit alone, I remember the faces of my students, I connect with my purpose of being, again. I want to stand up again, write again, and teach again. Can you help me? Can you help my students and help our future?”

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