“I am ok if you hear about the explosion,” was the message I received from my father on Tuesday, August 4th at 8:31am PST. I was in the middle of a meeting and had no idea what had happened in Beirut. “False ceiling in balcony fell,” he continued. Little did I know that Beirut, the capital of my home country Lebanon, just experienced a massive explosion. One so big, it was marked the third most powerful explosion in world history after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To further understand this, 2,700 tons of Ammonium Nitrate led to the Beirut explosion, and the Oklahoma City bombers used about 2 tons that destroyed 1 building and shattered another 286.
The next day I watched as the Lebanese people came together as a community to help one another. My heart ached, I wanted to be there. Powerful images and memes flooded my Instagram feed. One post in particular from @minaonthemoon really stood out to me and a portion of it said: “…unlike what western media projects, the middle east is not a land of bombs and constant terror..” It stood out to me because it was true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people I’m Lebanese and either they had no idea where Lebanon was, and if they did, they asked me if it’s “safe.” And while we mourn and rebuild this beautiful country, I want to take a minute to share with you the Lebanon that I know and love.
My favorite childhood memories are from Lebanon. I’d spend all my days soaking up that mediterranean sun by the pool or the beach. I’d lay there until my cheeks were rosy red, and if I was still enough, I could hear both the waves of the mediterranean sea on one side of the pool, and the sound of the tennis court on the other. The smell of lunch coming from the balcony of the chalet would be our daily call to go upstairs and eat. A long table of food surrounded by family members grabbing plates and bumping elbows was what was waiting for me as I walked into the crowded chalet. Man, that was my favorite part of the day.
Then there were the days we would all caravan up the beautiful mountains to have lunch as a family. Those roads were so steep and narrow going up the mountains, that I still remember my sister closing her eyes in the back seat. But when we arrived, what a view. I’d open the car door and a gust of mountain air would hit my cheeks and I could smell the freshly baked bread that the woman at the entrance was making. I’d walk in to the most beautiful view, a view that now I think I took for granted. Trees sprouting in the middle of the restaurant with architecture that looked like it was out of a movie. I could talk your ear off about all the beautiful restaurants in the city, the mountains, or by the sea, but what I miss the most, is how long those tables were because of all the family sitting together laughing for hours enjoying a meal together. We had all our meals together.
My siblings and cousins and I would go out to nightclubs all night until 7am and then before going home we’d go out for breakfast before going home to sleep. And let me tell you, the restaurants were packed even at that time. Lebanese people really know how to have a good time. I can’t tell you how much I miss that warm manoushe come out of that brick oven.
So many places to see, whether it’s the beautiful city of Byblos (believed to be the oldest and first occupied in the world), or the caverns in Jeita Grotto (that was a finalist for the 7 wonders of the world), Lebanon is such a Gem. A place you can hang at the beach, and then drive less than an hour and ski in the mountains (yes, we have snow). A country so diverse that you walk down the streets of Beirut and see a Mosque and a Church alongside one another.
One of my favorite memories of my first concert I had ever gone to was in Baalbek. If you’re not familiar, it’s the most incredible place. It has two of the largest and grandest Roman temple ruins, and watching Sting play in the open air is something I will never forget. Ziad, if you’re reading this, do you remember we ran into Sting at a night club after? Do you remember that you kept telling me he was behind me but I couldn’t hear you and kept smiling and nodding until I finally FREAKED OUT?
I love walking the streets and grabbing a hot ka’ak wrapped in a newspaper. Grocery stores have the most generous people offering you samples and the best freshly squeezed juice you will ever have in your life. And the nut and sweet stores are the best, you walk in to a sea of endless trays of nuts and sweets that you spend way too much time sampling. It’s impossible to leave empty handed
Many of you may not know this, but I also went to college in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut. Probably one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, that now I realize I took for granted. Beautiful buildings lined with palm trees with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. I stayed in my home in Beirut while I went to college, my home that is still there and my father lives in. All my old yearbooks, photos, childhood belongings, are all there in Beirut. My city.
So many more memories I could share, but my hope is that if you were unfamiliar with Lebanon before reading this, I’ve painted somewhat of a picture for you that you may not see or hear about from mainstream media. While the entire country is smaller than the state of Connecticut, it is a magical place. Once called the Paris of the Middle East, it’s a country I’m proud to say is mine.
The Beirut explosion on August 4, 2020 left half the city destroyed, 300,000 families displaced, over 4,000 injured and hundreds dead. If you can help, I’ve listed a few links that would help families on the ground. And if you can’t, I’d love it if you could share the information. Thank you and God bless you.