Omar is among the survivors of Sunday’s explosion. Wearing bandages on his calves and forearms, he was among the rare casualties who were slightly burnt. He saw his brother and his cousin transformed before his eyes into living torches.
Still in shock, Omar talks about the explosion.
“The gasoline that came from the tank was strewn on the ground and the pipe that carried it was very large. By filling our gallons, we had our hands full of gasoline. And then when it all exploded, people turned into living torches, the burning gasoline trails followed those who wanted to flee. I am very lucky. My brother and cousin were standing next to me. In no time they were charred.”
“I was taken to a dispensary not far from the village. The nurses treated my burns. I have to go back in three days. The ointment tube costs 108,000 pounds, 5.5 USD. I don’t know how many I will need or how to pay for it. I earn 1, 2 million Liras (60 USD); and I already don’t know how I have to juggle so it lasts until the end of the month,” he says.
Omar is married and he is a father of two young children.
“In Akkar, we are born, we live and we die in poverty,” he says, his eyes filled with sadness.
Akkar is the poorest region in Lebanon and hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the country. It lacks hospitals, schools and work opportunities. And the multiple crises that have affected Lebanon for more than eighteen months have plunged the population deeper into poverty.
“We have electricity for half an hour a day. We have no generators and we cannot afford the black market’s fuel and gasoline. Now you know why around 100 people have flocked from many villages to fill up gasoline gallons”, he said.
“If we weren’t in need, if these few liters of gasoline weren’t crucial for us, we would have never been to Tleil (the village where the tanker of gasoline that was prepared to be smuggled had been seized) and my family members would have never died ”.
Dawsseh is a poor and remote village in Akkar, the poorest caza in Lebanon and the one with the largest number of Syrian refugees. In Dawsseh, four people were killed in Sunday explosion, two brothers in each family.
Mouein Chreiteh is receiving condolences in a tent erected at the entrance of his house as is the customs in this region for such circumstances. He has just lost his two children, Jalal 16 and Khaled 20. His third 28-year-old son was injured. It was him who broke the news to his father.
“My sons died for 50,000 liras (2.5 USD),” he says, his voice barely audible. This is in fact the price of 10 liters of gasoline that the two young men planned to take home.
“Here, we lack everything: water, electricity, fuel, generator… We are left behind and because we are destitute, we have been used like cannon fodder. We are begging for bread, milk, food. Even for DNA tests that would identify my children’s bodies; it takes twice as long as elsewhere in the country. Lebanon is on the brink, I know. But with the death of my two sons, I really have nothing to lose. “
Sitting in the living room, his daughter Fida, 24 years old, has an icy gaze. Fida, who has an eight-month-old child, has not only lost her two brothers, but her 28-year-old husband is seriously burned also. He was taken to the American University of Beirut hospital. “Sixty percent of his body is burned. I haven’t spoken to him yet. He doesn’t know my two brothers are dead. He was with them at the time of the explosion,” she said, staring into the void. Her silence contrasts with her mother’s long sobs coming from the next room.
“We, the people of Akkar, are the living dead. We have no resources, struggling with poverty for ages, and every month we are pulling the devil by the tail. My husband is a soldier, his salary is barely enough to buy diapers and milk for our daughter. Otherwise, over the past year we have sold everything to try and make ends meet… but in vain. We are so poor that my brothers died for a few drops of gasoline,” she adds.
Cela fait un an qu’une terrible déflagration ravageait le port de Beyrouth au Liban. C’est un stock de centaines de tonnes de nitrate d’ammonium qui a explosé, provoquant plus de 200 morts, des milliers de blessés et de sans-abri. Le pays vit depuis cette date fatidique une crise sans précédent, une crise à multiples facettes.
Si le traumatisme collectif qui a suivi l’explosion est encore présent aujourd’hui, un autre poids pèse sur les épaules des Libanais depuis des mois : celui de la crise économique et financière. La pauvreté atteint désormais 60% de la population ; la livre libanaise, dont le taux est lié au dollar, a dégringolé sur le marché noir. Désormais, un dollar s’échange contre 17 500 livres, il y a deux ans, c’était 10 fois moins. L’inflation a augmenté de 120% dans le même temps. Conséquences : pénuries de carburants, de médicaments, de produits manufacturés… Bref, tous les produits importés sont hors de prix, dans un marché importateur de quasi tous les biens de consommation. L’électricité est absente 22 heures par jour, les générateurs partagés ne peuvent plus pallier ces coupures, par manque d’essence.
Pour les salariés, la perte est immense : payés en livres libanaises, leur pouvoir d’achat a chuté.
Et de plus en plus de personnes ont faim. “Sur le terrain, on n’a jamais vu autant de personnes qui sont dans le besoin, on voit des familles qui mangent une fois par jour“, explique Patricia Khoder, responsable communication pour l’ONG CARE International. “La classe n’a plus les moyens parce que les gens n’ont plus accès à leur argent à la banque“. Les épargnes ont en effet été bloquées par la Banque centrale du Liban, absorbées par les dettes de l’Etat, qui est en défaut de paiement. “Tout le monde a besoin d’aide, je suis en train de voir des enfants qui n’ont pas de quoi se nourrir, je vois des enfants par exemple pour lesquels on trempe le pain dont dans de l’eau pour que cela puisse les caler, pour qu’ils n’aient plus faim“.
Désormais, 60% de la population se trouve sous le seuil de pauvreté, selon les chiffres internationaux. Depuis août dernier, l’ONG CARE a distribué des colis alimentaires de première nécessité à 43 000 familles à travers le Liban et ce chiffre est en constante augmentation.
CARE US décerne le prix de la résilience au directeur de son bureau au Liban pour le travail de Titan effectué suite à l’explosion qui a ravagé la capitale libanaise
Le 4 août dernier, au moment de l’explosion du port de Beyrouth, Bujar Hoxha chef du bureau du CARE International au Liban, avait terminé une journée ordinaire de travail et venait d’arriver chez le dentiste, à Gemmayzé dans le 1er périmètre de l’explosion. Au lieu de courir pour sa vie, il a aidé à l’évacuation des patients. Il est sorti pour découvrir l’ampleur des dégâts, a appelé sa famille, est rentré à pied chez lui et s’est attelé à la tâche, celle d’appeler les équipes de CARE au Liban et à l’étranger pour venir en aide à la population sinistrée. 48 heures plus tard, les équipes de l’ONG internationales étaient déployées sur le terrain.
Son appartement, situé à Achrafieh dans le troisième périmètre de l’explosion, a été saccagé et toutes ses vitres ont volé en éclats.
Bujar Hoxha a agi comme tous les Libanais touchés au cœur par la catastrophe ; il a ainsi continué à vivre des jours durant dans sa maison jusqu’à ce que l’équipe chargée de la sécurité au sein de l’ONGI l’oblige de quitter pour un hôtel.
« Je peux comprendre ce que les Libanais vivent, moi aussi avec ma famille quand j’étais plus jeune, j’ai souffert de guerre, de dévaluation monétaire, j’ai vu mes parents perdre leurs économies », souligne ce Kosovar de 41 ans.
The impact award, une distinction attribuée annuellement par CARE US à des nombreuses stars, vient de lui être décernée comme « héro de la vie ordinaire » pour sa résilience et son courage, notamment pour le travail de Titan qu’il a effectué à la suite de l’explosion du port de Beyrouth.
Né dans une famille albanaise du Kosovo, Bujar Hoxha a grandi à Pristina la capitale du Kosovo, gouverné depuis l’éclatement de la Yougoslavie en 1991 par Slobodan Milosevic mort en prison à La Haye en 2006 alors qu’il était accusé de génocide et de crime contre l’humanité inculpé par la justice international de crimes de guerre. Et c’est très jeune qu’il a découvert le goût de l’injustice.
«Comme il y avait des discriminations contre l’ethnie à laquelle j’appartenais, mon père qui était professeur d’université a été congédié de son emploi et nous nous sommes vus mes deux frères moi obligés de travailler pour assurer des revenus à la famille afin de survivre. Nous faisions de petits métiers, nous vendions de la glace, du jus, des cigarettes. Cela entre en fait dans la catégorie du travail des enfants. A l’époque je ne pensais pas que je pourrais un jour être libre et choisir ma vie», explique-t-il.
Cela ne l’a pas pourtant empêché de poursuivre ses études et d’entrer à l’université pour se spécialiser en physique alors que son pays est dévasté par la guerre.
Déporté en train vers la Macédoine
Au printemps 1999, il est obligé par les autorités serbes avec sa famille et des milliers d’autres Albanais du Kosovo de prendre le train pour être expulsés du pays. C’était la deuxième grande injustice dont il était témoin.
«J’avais 19 ans quand nous avons été déportés de Pristina vers un camp de réfugiés à l’Ouest de la Macédoine. Nous étions entassés comme des sardines et au cour du trajet le train s’est arrêté à plusieurs reprises, à chaque fois, on faisait descendre d’un wagon des hommes et des jeunes hommes. Certains étaient insultés d’autres battus, d’autre encore n’ont jamais été revus. Quand j’y pense maintenant, je me dis que c’était vraiment une question de chance de pas avoir été choisi par les soldats », dit-il.
C’est aussi cette même chance qui lui a sauvé la vie lors de l’explosion du port de Beyrouth en août dernier quand il a décidé, pour arriver à la clinique du dentiste, de ne pas prendre l’ascenseur, dont le souffle de l’explosion a entièrement détruit.
« Quand j’étais jeune, j’étais épris de théâtre et je lisais beaucoup les auteurs de l’Absurde. Dans le camp je passais mon temps à lire et relire ‘En attendant Godot’ de Samuel Beckett », raconte-t-il.
Et puis, tentant de trouver de l’espoir dans la pire misère, il participe à la fondation d’une école primaire dans le camp. « Nous étions 48.000 réfugiés, nous n’avions pas le droit de sortir et nous étions rejetés de partout. Dans le camp, il y avait des enfants de tous les âges et des profs d’école et d’université. En créant cette école j’ai pu apporter de l’espoir et de la joie », dit-il.
Encore aujourd’hui, Bujar Hoxha croit toujours dans l’espoir du changement même dans les situations les plus terribles.
Où avait-il puisé son courage à l’époque ? « C’est la solidarité et l’amour inconditionnel de ma famille et de mes proches et c’est encore le cas aujourd’hui », confie-t-il.
C’est dans ce camp de la Macédoine que Bujar Hoxha commence à travailler pour CARE International en tant qu’assistant de terrain.
Il passe six semaines dans ce camp avant de retourner à Pristina, continue de travailler pour CARE International et commence à s’intéresser au travail humanitaire, alors que le monde de l’humanitaire à l’époque était très différent de ce qu’il est devenu aujourd’hui.
Il poursuit ses études et choisit de se spécialiser dans les affaires internationales. Il gravit un à un les échelons de CARE International pour occuper de 2007 à 2010 le poste de directeur du bureau de l’ONGI pour le Kossovo, l’Albanie et la Macédoine.
A cette époque il prépare en parallèle un Master en Affaires Internationales à la Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, la plus vieille institution du genre aux Etats-Unis.
« Barrières invisibles entre les communautés »
C’est après avoir terminé son mandat de directeur de bureau dans son propre pays, que Bujar Hoxha décide de quitter CARE International pour aller ailleurs, travaillant notamment auprès de US AID et de Save the Children, dans plusieurs pays du Moyen-Orient. Cette région du monde le passionne.
« C’est une région riche en culture et civilisation, où chaque pays à ses particularités, son histoire, ses habitudes et ses coutumes propres», dit-il. « Le Liban le fascine depuis qu’il est tout jeune, depuis que la guerre a éclaté dans son pays et que la presse et les experts internationaux évoquaient la ‘libanisation des Balkans’ », précise-t-il.
«Je peux comprendre le Liban, parce que dans mon pays aussi tu apprends tout jeune qu’il existe des barrières invisibles qu’il ne faut pas franchir. Quand tu es né au Kossovo, tu sais qu’il existe des barrières invisibles entre les communautés et les gens, tu apprends ce que tu peux dire ou pas, tu t’habitues à voir au-delà de ce qui se passe sous tes yeux. Depuis mon enfance, même avant la guerre, au Kossovo il y avait des barrières entre les gens. Serbes et Albanais coexistaient sans jamais vivre ensemble. Ils fréquentaient des écoles différentes, des cafés et des restaurants différents. Ils parlaient deux langues différentes. Il y avait des non-dits et des interdictions ».
En 2019, Bujar Hoxha retourne à CARE International et reste au Moyen-Orient. Il est nommé directeur du bureau de l’ONGI au Liban.
Comme partout ailleurs, il met son cœur au travail et parvient à voir ce que beaucoup d’humanitaires n’arrivent pas à déceler. Alors que tout le monde planche sur un Liban pays d’accueil de réfugiés, Bujar Hoxha se penche de près sur la situation libanaise. Bien avant la dévaluation vertigineuse de la livre libanaise face au dollar américain et de la pandémie du Coronavirus qui a amplifié la crise économique libanaise, il tente de ramener des projets pour le Liban.
A travers lui, CARE International au Liban est l’une des première ONGI à tirer la sonnette d’alarme sur la crise humanitaire libanaise.
Ayant pris un charge un tout petit bureau de CARE International à Beyrouth en 2019, il a réussi en très peu de temps à l’agrandir et à former de nouvelles équipes.
Durant l’été 2020, suite à l’explosion du port de Beyrouth, le budget du bureau Liban a plus que quadruplé. CARE International est devenu l’une des plus importantes ONGI, en matière de projets exécutés, opérant au Liban.
Une vision et une stratégie ont été mises en place ; dans les mois et les années à venir CARE International oeuvrera dans quatre domaine au Liban, la sécurité alimentaire, les questions de genre et de l’autonomisation des femmes, la reconstruction et la réhabilitation des maisons détruites ainsi que l’innovation en matière d’environnement.
CARE US office grants its Lebanon Country Director the resilience award for the work of Titan he carried out after the blast
On August 4, when the explosion of the Beirut port occurred, BujarHoxha, Country Director of CARE International in Lebanon, had finished an ordinary day of work and had just arrived at the dentist’s in Gemmayzeh neighborhood, within the 1st perimeter of the explosion. Instead of running for his life, he helped evacuate patients. He went out of the building to find out the extent of the damage, called his family, walked home and started working, calling CARE teams in Lebanon and abroad to help organize the response for the affected population. 48 hours later, the CARE teams were deployed on the ground in Beirut.
His apartment, located in Achrafieh in the third perimeter of the blast, was ransacked and all its windows shattered.
Bujar Hoxha acted like all the Lebanese affected by the disaster; he continued to live in his house for days on end until the INGO security team forced him to leave for a hotel.
“I can understand what the Lebanese are going through, I too, with my family, when I was younger, I suffered from war, currency devaluation, I saw my parents lose their savings,” says this 41-year-old Kosovar.
The impact award, a distinction awarded by CARE US to numerous stars, has just been attributed to him as an “everyday hero”, for his resilience and courage in particular for the work of Titan he carried out following the Beirut port blast.
Born into a Kosovar Albanian family, Bujar Hoxha grew up in Pristina the capital of Kosovo, ruled since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 by Slobodan Milosevic who died in prison in The Hague in 2006 while indicted by international justice with war crimes. It was at a very young age when he discovered the first taste of injustice.
“As there was discrimination against the ethnic group to which I belonged, my father who was a university professor was fired from his job and my two brothers and I had to work to ensure an income for the family in order to survive. We did odd jobs, we sold ice cream, juice, cigarettes. Now when I think about it, I realize that it falls under child labor. At the time, I always thought that freedom is impossible to achieve,” he explains.
However, that didn’t stop him, even if his country was devastated by war, from pursuing his studies and attending university to major in physics.
Deported by train to Macedonia
In the spring of 1999, he,with his family and thousands of other Kosovar Albanians,was forced by the Serbian authorities to take a train that would expel them from the country. It was the second great injustice he witnessed.
“I was 19 when we were deported from Pristina to a refugee camp in Western Macedonia. We were piled up like sardines and during the journey the train stopped several times, each time men and young men were forced to get off a wagon. Some were insulted, others beaten, and others were never seen again. When I think about it now, I realize that it was really a matter of luck that I wasn’t chosen by the soldiers,”he says.
It is also this same luck that saved his life during the Beirut port blast last August when he decided not to take the elevator upon his arrival at the dentist’s clinic; the same elevator was completely destroyed by the blast.
“When I was young I loved the theater and read many Absurd writers. In the camp, I spent my time reading and rereading Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot”, he says.
And then, trying to find hope in the worst misery, he helped to put in place a primary school in the camp. “We were 48,000 refugees, we were locked in the camp, not feeling welcomed, rejected by everyone. In the camp, there were children of all ages and school and university teachers. By creating this school, I was able to bring hope and joy to the camp,” he says.
Today, BujarHoxha still believes in the hope of change even in the most dire of situations.
Where had he drawn his courage from back then? “It’s the solidarity and the unconditional love of my family and loved ones and it’s still the case today,” he said.
It was in this Macedonian camp that Bujar Hoxha began working for CARE International as a field assistant. He spent six weeks in the camp before returning to Pristina; he continued to work for CARE International and began to take an interest in humanitarian work, while the humanitarian world at the time was quite different from what it has become today.
He continued his studies and chose to specialize in international affairs. He climbed the ranks of CARE International one by one, and served from 2007 to 2010 as Country Director of the INGO in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.
At that time, he was also preparing a Masters Degree in International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the oldest institution for diplomacy in the United States.
“Invisible barriers between communities”
It was after completing his term as Country Director in his homeland that Bujar Hoxha decided to leave CARE International to go elsewhere, working notably with USAID and Save the Children, in several countries of the Middle East, a region he is fascinated by.
“It is a region rich in culture and civilization; it is a region where each country has its own particularities, history, habits and customs,” he says. Lebanon has fascinated him since his very young age, since war broke out in his country and the press and international experts spoke of the “libanization” of the Balkans.
“I can understand Lebanon, because in my country too you learn since you are young that there are invisible barriers that must not be crossed. When you are born in Kosovo, you know that there are invisible barriers between communities and people, you learn what you can and cannot say, you get used to seeing beyond what is happening in front of your eyes. Since my childhood, even before the war, in Kosovo, there were barriers between people. Serbs and Albanians coexisted without ever living together. They went to different schools, different cafés and restaurants. They spoke two different languages. There were things left unsaid and no-goes.”
In 2019, Bujar Hoxha returned to CARE International and remained in the Middle East. He was appointed Country Director of the INGO in Lebanon.
Like everywhere else, he puts his heart to work and manages to see what many humanitarians fail to detect. While everyone is working in Lebanon as just a country hosting refugees, Bujar Hoxha takes a closer look at the Lebanese situation. Long before the dizzying devaluation of the Lebanese Lira against the USD and the Coronavirus pandemic, which amplified the Lebanese economic crisis, he had been trying to bring projects for Lebanon.
Through him, CARE International in Lebanon was one of the first INGOs to sound the alarm on the Lebanese humanitarian crisis.
Having taken charge of a very small CARE International office in Beirut in 2019, he was able to expand and form new teams in a very short period of time.
During the summer of 2020, following the explosion of Beirut port, the budget of the Lebanon office has more than quadrupled. CARE International has become one of the largest INGOs operating in Lebanon, in terms of projects executed.
A vision and a strategy have been put in place; in the coming months and years, CARE International will work in four areas in Lebanon: food security, gender and women’s empowerment, shelter rehabilitation, and innovative trends in environment.
Sarine Eskibachian, 30, has hardly any scars on her face. “I have had five surgeries, mostly fat transplants and a lot of laser treatment to remove as much of the scars as I can. I still have to undergo a surgery for my right eyelid, because sometimes my eye doesn’t close anymore,” she says, delighted to see that people she meets barely notice the scars on her cheeks and forehead.
Sarine was injured while at a sports club in Mar Mikhaël on August 4, 2020.
“I went to therapy. I was followed very closely so that I could get back to life. I returned to my job at a mobile phone company. I worked a lot remotely, because of the Coronavirus confinements but also because of my fatigue. And one day I noticed that I was getting better, not just physically, and I decided to overcome everything, or at least not be haunted by the blast anymore. I decided to forget about it and move on. It’s true that I haven’t regained my zest for life, but I can say that I’m much better now,” she says.
Sarine Eskibachian is preparing herself to leave Lebanon and start a new life in the United States. “Life in Lebanon has become unbearable. It is not only the blast. It is everything, the lack of electricity, the lack of benzene, the shortage in medical supply. I want to leave and live a normal life,” she says.
Siham Tekian lives on Armenia Street in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood, which was badly affected by the explosion. She runs a grocery store in the same building where she resides. Everything Siham possesses was destroyed by the explosion on August 4, 2020, and she was injured.
“I came out of my house to call for help and once on the street, I saw the apocalypse. At the wheel of a car, a man whom I do not know stopped to help me and it is with him that I went to more than five hospitals that could not receive me because they were overwhelmed with work before we arrivedin an establishment in the suburbs that was not oversaturated with victims. The explosion happened at 6:07 pm, it was at 11:30 pm that I arrived at this hospital. I waited for my turn until 2:00 am sitting on the floor between the dead and injured. When my turn came, there was no more anesthesia and not enough thread for the stitches. I was treated without anesthesia and the doctor used staples to close the wounds on my face. I also had to go back the following day to continue the treatment,” she says.
Aged 65, married without children, Siham Tekianis known to everyone in the neighborhood for her kindness and good humor.
Upon returning from the hospital, Siham Tekian, who had nowhere to go, slept six nights on the street standing guarding her grocery store that lost its door and its windows and waiting for her house to be cleaned.
“I received help from former schoolmates living abroad as well as from many strangers. It was thanks to everyone’s support that I was able to go back home and reopen my grocery store,” she says.
Siham Tekian now lives with the after-effects of her injuries. Often, she no longer feels the skin on her face because of the staples used to close her wound and she has great difficulty standing, a severed tendon in her leg was not well treated on the spot. Suffering from chronic illnesses and barely making ends meet, she prefers not to undergo a surgery. “I have difficulty walking and I am tired all the time. Often in the afternoons, I go home to rest,” she says.
“Everything saddens me now, although I know that, despite my injuries, I was very lucky. I think of the people killed in the blast, of their families. I also constantly think of the deteriorating situation in Lebanon. I have never complained but life has become extremely difficult. Most of my clients have left and never come back. Very few of the residents of the neighborhood have returned to their homes though they have been rebuilt. They are traumatized. I don’t know how to pay the vendors who ask for money on the spot in cash anymore with the lira plunging downwards against the USD on the black market,” she says. “We hardly have any more electricity and we have to pay every month a very high price for the generator, which is also rationed,” she adds, speaking of the daily life of all the Lebanese.
In 18 months, the Lebanese Lira has lost 150% of its value against the US dollar and more than one in two Lebanese now live-in poverty. For more than two months, fuel has been rationed and medicines and hospital supplies are lacking.
“I was happy to find my daughter, but I had no idea she would be in the morgue”.
More than 50 foreign nationals, including migrant workers and Syrian refugees, were killed in the Beirut blast. Hundreds of them were injured. Five are still missing.
The names of some of the victims, possibly migrants, have never been released. Most of them were quickly buried in public graves.
Rawan Misto, a 20-year-old Syrian from Aleppo who was killed on August 4 in a restaurant in Gemmayze, was buried by her family in Lebanon.
The young woman was born in Beirut in 2000 from a family that had arrived to work in Lebanon in 1996.
Rawan Misto lived in Dekouané, in the northern suburbs of Beirut, and worked for two years at Cyrano, a trendy restaurant in the Gemmayzé district.
Rawan Misto was a tall and beautiful brunette. Two months before the tragedy, she wanted to quit her job as a waitress to dedicate her career to modeling. But the restaurant owner insisted that she stayed and modified the young woman’s schedule accordingly so that she could do two jobs. One year later, he still feels guilty.
At the time of the explosion, Rawan Misto’s colleagues saw her lying wounded on the terrace of the restaurant located about 100 meters from the silos of the port.
It took her family two days to find her in a mortuary at a Beirut hospital.
In Dekwané, a neighborhood in the northern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, Rawan’s family still mourns her. Mona Jawish, her mother, a cook in a restaurant in the city, is unable to talk about her daughter without sobbing.
Mona Jawish has been raising her children on her own for many years.
Thanks to her two jobs, Rawan was able to help her family. “There is nothing harder than losing a child. Since August 4, my life has been nothing but grief and sadness. Rawan was the joy of
the house, she was generous with everyone, her family, her neighbors and her friends. She took care of her sister and brother,”Mona Jawish says.
She remembers August 4, 2020. “Rawan had just arrived to work, we called her, but she wouldn’t answer. I went on the scene, walked in the rubble, went to the hospitals… Late at night her friends started to post notices on Facebook and Instagram. It wasn’t until the following day at noon that someone called me to tell me that my daughter had been found. I ran to Rizk Hospital, I was happy, I wanted to hug Rawan, to tell her that everything would be fine. I expected to walk into her room, to see her injured… I didn’t know I was going to see her in the morgue”.
“If only I could get my eye back”.
Not far from Beirut port, in the Rmeil neighborhood, Sama Hamad, who was three years old last year, was at the window of her house at the time of the blast. She suffered a facial injury and lost her right eye.
Sama’s father, Makhoul, has been working in Lebanon since the 1990s. With the start of the war in Syria, his wife and family joined him in Beirut.
“At the moment of the explosion, I ran to Sama to protect her and I hugged her in my arms with all my strength, her face was covered with blood,” says Faten, Sama’s mother, wiping her tears.
Sama, now four years old, is a playful and happy girl. When she is not telling stories of all kinds to her interlocutors, she is dancing.
She puts her hand on her left eye and explains. “When I put my hand here, I can’t see anything. I’m not in pain, but I can’t see. If only I could get my eye back!” she said simply, as if this were possible. “We were happy before the explosion, our life has changed since then,” she adds.
Sama spends her time playing with her brother, sister and neighbors. She will go to school next year.
Currently, it is physically impossible for Sama Hamad to undergo a transplant and even in adulthood, the results of such a procedure, in her case, are not guaranteed.
“In one year, Hayat Abou Chakra, took more than 20 years. In her 60s, this slender blonde woman lost her 38-year-old son Chady in the Beirut Blast. Deaf from birth, Chady did not hear the emergency services who failed to locate him under the rubble of a building. His body was still warm when he was found lifeless 36 hours after the explosion.
Sitting facing the portraits of her son, Hayat Abou Chakra is no longer the woman she once was. She no longer wants to talk and now prefers to stay alone.
Hayat Abou Chakra, who had been injured along with her daughter Nancy in the blast, had received various aids to rebuild her destroyed house, food parcels and for several months regular amounts of cash to be able to make ends meet.
Today, in a country sinking a little more every day into poverty – the Lebanese lira having lost more than 150% of its value against the USD in the space of 18 months – and where aid no longer arrives as in the aftermath of the blast, she has to face the economic crisis on her own.
The parking lot that she was in charge of and that allowed her to support her family is almost empty; between the economic crisis, the multiple confinements of the Coronavirus pandemic and the blast, activities have almost stopped in this destroyed neighborhood, located between the saint George hospital and the Maronite Archbishopric, two places still undergoing restoration.
Within a year, Hayat Abou Chakra also developed many illnesses, including shingles and rheumatism. Her osteoporosis has also become more acute: about ten days ago she broke her rib while she was closing a window.
Her gaze plunged into immense sadness, she says in an almost icy voice: “For me, it’s still August 4, 2020”.
“My car was parked here. It wasn’t broken as much as my body,” says Ritta Hanna as she walks down rue Pasteur, in the Gemmayzé district. Rita Hanna was seriously injured in Beirut in the August 4, 2020, blast. It is for the first time in a year that she comes back the scene. “The few times I have driven down the avenue that runs alongside the port, I had panic attacks. I have wanted to come back to this neighborhood where I was injured for several months because it is time for me to tame again the space, but I could not find the courage, “she adds.
Ritta Hanna was born and raised in Beirut. On the day of the explosion, she was having a drink after work and before going home, in one of Gemmayzé’s many restaurants.
She got up to go for a walk and that’s when her life changed.
Ritta Hanna, who suffered serious injuries to her arm and foot, has undergone six surgeries since August 4, including bone and fat transplants.
“I still have at least three surgeries left, for one of my toes, my arm, and my right hand. I can barely write,” she says, slowly moving the fingers of her injured hand.
For this first outing at the scene of the drama, Ritta put on a red dress and a matching bandage on her forearm, a bright color as if to ward off bad luck.
“People ask me if I have nightmares at night because of the explosion. Well, I don’t even have to close my eyes to see the images scrolling in front of me, all day long. That day the world turned gray, I saw the stones propelled by the blast fly towards me. I protected myself with my arms. I started screaming, but I thought I was dead. But I also told myself that when we die, we shouldn’t see so many dead surrounding us. I saw lifeless bodies in the street, when I was waiting for help, when men whom I did not know carried me from place to place to take me to the hospital and also on the floor of the hospital where I waited a long time before being rescued,” she said.
“I spent a year between surgeries and rehabilitation. I don’t know why I’m still alive. Every day I ask myself this question, “why I didn’t die?” but as long as I’m still standing, I decided to take charge of my life and to rebuild myself,” she says.
Ritta, who lost her job as marketing director in March 2020 following the economic crisis, started recently to look for work, she is considering setting up her own business. “I also made another decision. Between the port explosion and the economic crisis, many are considering leaving the country. I paid for the explosion in my flesh and blood and my whole life was turned upside down. I can leave but I decided to stay here, with what happened, I am even more anchored in my country,” she notes.