The August 4 explosion is the first that hit Beirut in years, it seems like it won’t be the last. The explosion that killed Rafiq Hariri in February 2005 is the closest to this explosion in intensity and impact that flipped our lives upside down. The biggest difference is that the August 2020 explosion have put us among the dead without us being counted in the hundreds of victims whose remains were carried in coffins. We are dead. It is no different to us to walk in the streets to do our daily rituals or be carried in coffins and buried somewhere on this earth.
We, in Lebanon, are accompanied by death in every step or action we take. It is no stranger to us and news of someone’s death is no longer surprising. We are capable of death. A citizen decides his own traffic law, he decides to shoot bullets in the air during a wedding or when his son graduates, he decides to cut electricity or hoard medicine… but to die on August 4, 2020 has a different dimension.
To die in the explosion of August 4, 2020 is to remain alive and awaken from the explosion to find yourself in your car not knowing where you are or what had happened, you try to open the door and find that a wall had taken rest on the hood of your car. You look in the mirror and you see your face covered in blood, so you exit the car with great effort to walk in the street, perhaps you would find someone who would drive you to the nearest hospital. But you see cars upside down and people running in every direction unaware of what had taken place, unaware of what to do or where to go. You continue to walk, perhaps you would find someone to talk to and ask about what had happened, you remain lost, not knowing how to wake up from this. Is this a nightmare? An annoying dream that you will wake up from? Is this death, is this judgement day?
To die in the explosion of August 4, 2020, is to remain alive waiting in your village for the arrival of your young son who drives a taxi. You had just spoken to him over the phone and he told you that he will make one more stop and come home. But he is still there in Gemmayze waiting for the cake he is supposed to deliver before coming home to you, it has mixed with his limbs and blood.
To die in the explosion of August 4, 2020, is to remain alive waiting for your 15 year-old son to open the door hurriedly to ask what’s for lunch today, and to ask for permission to hang out with his friends. Or to wait for your small three-year-old daughter to wake up from her afternoon nap so you could hear her laughter giving life to your home again, but you can only find silence.
To die in the explosion of August 4, 2020 is to remain alive to check on your home, damaged by the explosion. Time takes you to 1988 when you returned from your shelter outside of Lebanon after the bombing had stopped and you see the same scene: the roads are furnished with stones from destroyed homes, struck by 240mm shells, no glass, window, or door is in its place. It is the same today, the road is furnished with stone and glass while windows and doors hang from balconies.
To die in the explosion of August 4, 2020 is to remain alive and see the future you were trying to build in your imagination for your children in Beirut, making an effort to separate yourself from the sociopolitical reality, disappear and scatter like rocks and glass. All you are concerned with now is to gather what is left of hope and place it in a box for grand and “happy” occasions.
Those who died on August 4 and are counted alive are many.