The smell of dust is everywhere. Our streets, houses and skins are covered in dust. It has permeated our lives and our lungs. The blaring sirens of ambulances have become permanent amid the cacophony of chaos that has gripped my city.
A desolate symphony sets the scene. Sounds of shattered glass, metal and rubble are everywhere. A desperate resolve is etched on the faces of all the volunteers who have swarmed Beirut to help. We are heartbroken and fatigued. We sweep floors, and lift beams, and roam the streets looking for something to do to distract ourselves from the gaping wound that has been slashed in our souls. Quietly and diligently, we try to make ourselves useful. We create an illusion of control over a situation that is beyond our means, to trick ourselves into thinking we’re not so helpless after all.
We walk kilometers across the skeleton of the city that Beirut used to be. These streets have bore witness to so much life. We have spent days and nights in these streets, loving and relishing our carefree existence. Even when our country faced a constellation of problems, we adamantly gripped on to any semblance of our former, blissfully ignorant lives. We were unaware that we should treasure the state of economic and financial ruin, because what was to come is much worse. Our former worries seem absolutely banal to us now.
Now, we have all seen our mothers pale and paralyzed with fear. We have seen our friends injured and our houses, quite literally, blown apart. We have all escaped death by a matter of a few minutes or meters. We have been dealt a devastating hand and we are counting our losses. We have nothing but losses. Our plans and dreams have been buried under the debris. So we drag our feet through the dirt, looking around but not really seeing anything. If we saw, if we truly saw the wasteland around us, we, too, would crumble. Instead of tears, we shed sweat and try to rebuild our city from dust. What else can we do? Resuming our lives seems incomprehensible. 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate block our way back to our former selves.
I want nothing more than to say that we are hopeful, but I cannot string the words together. Our subdued hearts are heavy with so many emotions. We are enraged at the decades of corruption and mismanagement that sealed our fate. We are heartbroken for our victims and survivors alike, and hungry for justice. We are angry, outraged, and horrified, but I cannot say that we are hopeful. We will move on with our lives, and Beirut will rise again, but it will not be the Beirut that shaped us. It will not be the vibrant, chaotic, Beirut that made us fall in love with it over and over again despite all the pain it caused us. Beirut will rise but at least for now, we mourn the loss of our city. We mourn the loss of lives. We mourn the loss of heritage, beauty, and wealth. We do this wordlessly, with a broom in one hand, a shovel in the other, and a horizon of shattered glass and lives in front of us.
My yellow canary sits silently in his cage on my balcony. He has not sung since the 4th of August. Will he ever sing again?… Will we?