We all have this one friend who is addicted to complaining, but never wants to move to action. You listen to their struggles a few times and you offer your advice when they ask, but they never seem to move out of their misery and do something about it. It’s like you’re listening to the same broken record every time.
Well guess what, I am this friend. Every Lebanese person is this friend. The only difference is that we cannot do anything about it. We either have to leave or shut up and suck it up. But let me tell you, it took me 17 years abroad to understand the value of belonging to my nation, the value of returning to my country, the value of serving my people and I am not giving it up that easily. And until then, I will be this friend. Because we Lebanese people never tire of caring for our own, we never tire of listening to their struggles and we never tire of stories about the Lebanon we all remember, the Lebanon that’s currently scrambling on its deathbed.
I haven’t written in a while, because I didn’t want to keep writing about the woes of Lebanon. But as repetitive as I may risk sounding to you again, there’s an undeniable pain that grows insurmountable by the day.
Is this what rock bottom feels like?
I sit in my office at 10:30am on a hot and humid Tuesday with no electricity to turn my desktop on and I contemplate what our life has been reduced to. I can’t help but feel compelled to tell you, in detail, how untenable life has become. I am typing this on the 56% battery I have left on my laptop, hoping the government will be kind enough to give us a couple more hours of electricity so I can recharge to keep going.
My office building has not been able to secure fuel today to run the block’s private generator. We ran out this morning and suppliers claim they don’t have any fuel left. The building manager called at least 4 different suppliers, and none of them had any available for sale. So the whole office block, along with the 10 shops operating at street level and the doctor’s clinic on the first floor have had no power all day today. We are submerged in darkness and inertia.
The past few months have been a struggle. State power has been reduced to less than 3 hours a day, our private generators have been slaving away at the remaining 21, running on ever increasing fuel prices. They have been working until they can’t work anymore. Our residential building has been contemplating buying yet another generator because the existing one can no longer cope with the demand. These generators were built to only last a few hours a day, to cover the once bearable 3-hour gap that state power didn’t supply. During the past year, that 3-hour gap grew until it became this huge void, peppered with a few hours of supply here and there.
So as I sit in my office at 10:30am on a hot and humid Tuesday, a tepid cup of coffee in hand, staring at my now warm watermelon chunks, I look out of the window over Beirut’s once thriving area, Hamra, and I am seething with anger. Hamra bustled with merchants, students, tourists and life, but over half its shops are now closed. And today, just like many other days this year, the area is blocked full of cars queuing to fill up their tanks at the nearby gas station. You should see the solemn looks on people’s faces. Did I mention we also have a petrol crisis? Did I mention it could take us up to 5 hours to fill up our gas tanks with the small amount we’ve been rationed for the day?
You waste your day waiting in line to fill up your tank for a few litres of gas, only to return the following day because the wait alone has consumed the little drops you just filled up. We have been reduced to desperate beggars. I have friends who’ve had to cancel full days of income-generating work so they can queue at petrol stations and fill their tanks. What is this nightmare we’ve been living? How can we even think of being productive? How can we even have the space in our hearts to create?
It is no wonder that people are at the end of their tethers. There’s a general sense of apathy everywhere. You make a small misstep and you get insults hurled at you. People have no room for empathy anymore, and I get it. We have none left for ourselves.
It’s now early afternoon when the sun is strongest and it’s hitting my office window. Sweat is running down my forehead, my lower back is soaking wet and the cracks on the back of my knees are dripping in perspiration. My laptop battery is down to 23% and I can’t contact my colleagues because my cell phone is finally dead. I nibble at my lukewarm salad because the fridge has been switched off since 6pm the previous evening.
I wanted to spare you the heartache of telling you yet again, about how untenable life is. But I can’t continue to avoid my pain. That’s my people-pleaser coming out. I forfeit my truth so others can feel better. Because my truth is painful. Our Lebanese truth is excruciating.
Yes, I am the broken record of writing about our collective Lebanese agony. But I’ve also learnt that my voice is needed, that the world needs to understand what life feels like when you’re being crushed under the weight of an economic war. So here’s the umpteenth track from the Lebanese pain album, and it’s not the last one.