Lebanon News

'It's time to leave and not look back'

A view from a damaged building into the port of Beirut, Aug. 27, 2020. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The sheer shock and trauma induced by the Aug.4 explosion was for many Beirutis a point of no return.

"It was like a movie. Everyone was in slow motion, covered in blood, glass shattered everywhere," recalled Mira el-Hayek, 34, following her descent into the street from her Mar Mikhael apartment, the moments after the massive Aug. 4 explosion.

Mira's apartment faced directly on to the port and was rendered uninhabitable by the blast. "When it happened I could not see out of one eye. I remember hoping that the next bomb would just kill us. I didn't want to be stuck under some collapsed building for 10 hours," she recollected in conversation with The Daily Star.

Four days after the blast, Mira boarded a flight to Turkey. "I was born in a war, I don't want to die in one." For many fortunate enough like Mira, the devastation and trauma wrought by the blast has pushed them to seek a path out of Lebanon, as the country's grim future comes into even sharper relief.

"It's time to leave and not look back," declared Yara, a 28-year-old consultant, born and raised in Beirut who is heading to Berlin. Yara, had been planning to leave prior to the explosion, but says now it feels more decisive. "There was always this doubt in my mind. I used to romanticize Beirut and think about what I am leaving behind with nostalgia," she explained. "But this died with the explosion."

Like many, Yara's exit is dependent on her visa application. Some embassies have expressed willingness to facilitate an anticipated spike in applications. The French Embassy announced earlier this month that in the wake of the explosion, it would resume visa applications for Lebanese nationals, which had been suspended due to COVID-19.

The Canadian Embassy announced an immigration taskforce in support of Lebanon to expedite any queries about Canadian immigration.

Speaking on LBCI last week, former MP Elias Hankash claimed that 380,000 visa requests had been made to the US, Canada and Europe so far this year. He cited the Canadian Embassy as his source for these figures.

While Lebanon's recent struggles have been tough, the explosion feels like the end of the line for Yara. "The bar keeps getting lower," she remarked, citing Lebanon's recent difficulties. "Every time we adapt and say 'ok, this is what I need to get used to now.' But I can't get used to this explosion."

Although Yara, who lives in Geitawi, completed an MA abroad in the US for two years, she insists it felt different then. "I felt like I was part of Lebanon and this region, so I wanted to return and show that identity through my work," she explained. "Now I just want to live with peace and certainty. I want to know I can leave the house and not come back to find it completely destroyed."

Christina, 24, also leaving, echoes this sense of internal volatility. "There were wars, massacres in the past. But it's not the same as coming from within the country. This time its somehow our fault. Our choices."

Born and raised in Lebanon, living in Geitawi while her family is spread between Lebanon and abroad, the blast has prompted Christina and her family to relocate back to Russia where they hold a second-nationality.

"Having them faraway, listening to the news from abroad, was very unsettling for them," Christina explained to The Daily Star on the eve of her flight to Russia. "I hope to come back to Lebanon, but the chances are small. There is a lot we are giving up; our childhood home, my dad's whole family. In Russia we will have to start from scratch."

Catching onto this sense of mass exodus, a Beirut-based research firm recently released statistics last week asserting there has been a 36 per cent average increase in daily departures from Lebanon since the explosion.

Following in this vain, a Lebanese tourist agency, BlueWings, launched a NoOneWayTicket campaign, in response to a "very high demand on our one way tickets," to apparently encourage people not to break ties with Lebanon.

Yet for Mira, such efforts are futile. "I think about my decision to leave every day. But I don't think about going back," she insisted, from the safe confines of her friend's apartment in Istanbul. "When I remember the moment of the blast, I can feel it in my body; the pressure, from my stomach to my heart."

Despite her decisive decision to leave, she insists half her heart remains in Beirut. "It's like a being in a toxic relationship. You love them so much, but they have hurt you so bad. At one point you realize you can't do it anymore and you leave them."





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