Washington DC after a Short Stay in Beirut

September 5th, 2020

Yesterday marked the first month since the day of the explosion in Beirut. It seems longer, not because the memories are starting to fade but because of all the things we’ve done, or had to do, since that day.  After Corsiga we “had to” spend a few more days in Paris to get PCR tests ; we learned last minute that this was a requirement to go back. We found a medical center very close to our hotel and in 24 hours got our results back.  The most efficient system so far and a much better experience compared to my first test in DC.

On Thursday 20th we flew back to Beirut and I had my 5th PCR test at the airport upon arrival. Early in the morning the next day we drove to our apartment to start recovering some our belongings.  Even if I had seen several pictures of the building and others showing the destruction around the neighborhood I was not prepared emotionally for what I saw inside and from the apartment (a few pictures attached). My body still releases cortisol as I write and remember.    

We walked up the stairs to the 19th floor through broken glass and rubble; the elevators were not working. I was despondent when I entered this place that until recently had been our household. Every piece of furniture, every painting and sculpture, carpets and vases had been carefully chosen. The decoration was minimalist and therefore every object had a special place and role.  Now everything was either gone or damaged, including a fantastic red devil’s face that my sister had painted for me in a large, squared canvas.  

Our personal belongings — clothes, documents, Natalia’s many shoes and bags, and others — had been moved to two of the bathrooms to protect them (the apartment has no windows).  We filled two big suitcases and two backpacks with some of the things that we wanted to keep with us, including wine and some spirits. Bringing those suitcases down the stairs was an ordeal.  I made two trips up and down that day and a few more over the following days.  The last time we went to the apartment, seven days after our first visit, one of the elevators was working,though in our floor there was no elevator door.  This was good news for the movers who that day moved whatever was salvageable to a storage facility.  The apartment is empty now.  

For the time being we have rented a small studio in Hamra, a neighborhood in the south of Beirut.  For the most part buildings there were not affected by the explosion.  In fact, one week after our arrival the government was forced to end the lock-down and life resumed as if nothing had happened.  Natalia and I discovered a few bars and restaurants as if we were still in Paris.  Surreal.  

The reality, nonetheless, is very different.  Some 40% of the population is now living in poverty, the unemployment rate hovers around 30%, thousands have lost their homes, there is no functioning government place and therefore no way to design and implement a package of emergency measures to deal with the reconstruction and the financial crisis.  It is just a question of time before we see large scale social unrest and conflict.  Some talk about a new civil war.  

We have decided to continue living and working in Lebanon, at least for as long as it is reasonably safe.   But for now we are spending a few weeks in Washington DC. One of the reasons to come was to bring the dog — who almost couldn’t travel, requiring us to use contacts and influence, a la Lebanese, to get a special authorization from the head of Qatar airways.  

We arrived this past Monday and the first few days went by very fast.  I had a deadline which is now behind me and thus can update this journal and relax a bit.  Today Natalia, Virgilio and I will go for a hike and then to Annapolis to eat crabs with my daughters.  

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