It comes with great difficulty to sit down and write about you. In this moment, all I can think about is how I want to remember you the way I last left you, hopeful and vigorous. But you keep on changing, as change is what you do best, Beirut. It is that inconsistency with hints of hopefulness that make you simultaneously cherished and cursed. You have always been a broken city pretending to be flawless, a mass of reconstructions and re-adjustments, a multidimensional metropolis.
During my last visit in December 2019, I could already begin to see you grow into a different version of yourself. You were young, hopeful, and ready to alter your future. You were slowly detaching from historical prejudices and transforming into the salient image of prosperity. You were loud and ruthless, as the beeping automobiles and chanting protesters rushed through the realms of your city, fighting for your last breath. I recollect the feeling of everyone around me, myself included, being utterly inspired and frightfully motivated to fight for you. To strive for the long-lasting quest of justice. Never have fewer words felt more powerful than the resonating chants of “hela hela ho” and “thawra” that gave unconditional strength to the abandoned corners of your city.
Today, however, we are no longer the same people we were yesterday or the day before that. As you changed, so did we, and every inch of our emotional sanity. There is a thin line separating you and your people. The care we have for you and ourselves. Your well-being and ours. Following the apocalyptic explosion of August 4th,2020 parts of ourselves were lost, perhaps forever gone with the ashes of your burnt heart. You changed, again, but this time solely leaving us with the bitter aftertaste of tragedy.
My Beirut. My destroyed city. I still can’t find the right words. As I watched you vanish in a mere second through the TV-channels and social media platforms, I could not fathom what I was seeing. My skin turned greyish-white, my thoughts glitched and my existence fell into absolute numbness. I instantly despised the secure walls of my studio in Paris, which guaranteed me a sense of safety that my own country could not. An exhausting guilt sat in my chest for not being able to save you, like I thought I could in December 2019.
How do I begin to express my love and mourning to you يا Beirut? The streets in which we grew up in, carried us with all its pain and resilience, and embraced us with hope. The Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael musical and artistic district, a space of distraction and a hub for mobilization. All that strength and safety that lived in these, now destroyed and molded, spaces have been murdered by the rotten hands of our political leaders, who have shrugged at our pain. I feel furious and helpless. Many of us do.
There is a raw grief that has not sunk in, not just yet.
Tania Abou Ltaif is Lebanese-Venezuelan-Panamanian. She is a Master student in International Security at Sciences Po Paris, focusing on the security of women and migrants. Tania loves to write, read poetry, and have stimulating discussions on politics and feminism in her free time. She is also the co-founder of Hikayat Baladi and hopes to use this platform to share genuine stories and voices rising from the Middle East and North Africa.