*All proceeds from this post will go to support humanitarian efforts in Lebanon during this time.*
With the horrific images of the explosion and protests streaming over airwaves, I feel like I need to provide some context to the people who may know a Lebanese friend, but don't quite know the context or history of the beautiful country of our heritage. You will be told Lebanon is war torn, down trodden, struggling - and while that may be a page in our story, it is not even a chapter in our book. I know this is a long post, but I hope you can recognize some humanity within these words that will resonate and educate.
Lebanon is a treasure for the entire world. Its tiny size is vastly disproportionate to its wealth of culture and history. It is a country of immense physical beauty. Its people reflect that beauty with unshakable hospitality and a deep rooted love of people, sibling or stranger. We love sharing our country with others. Any Lebanese person's "Intro to Lebanon" lecture (which you will absolutely hear) starts with excitedly telling you that in Lebanon you can go from skiing on our white tipped mountains to sun bathing on our Mediterranean beaches within an hour. And no, there's no desert there.
Our capital, Beirut, has shined as a cosmopolitan jewel of the Mediterranean with a liberal, welcoming social life and a beautiful collision of European and Eastern culture. The Brandos and Sinatras of the world frequented its beaches and nightlife as their favorite getaway. My parents speak three languages. It's a point of pride and comedy that we gossip using Arabic, English, and French within one sentence.
One look at a map is all it takes to understand that, at the crossroad of three continents, Lebanon is a breeding ground of culture. It sits smack dab at the center of the Eastern Hemisphere. The city of Byblos, only about 40 kilometres (25 mi) from yesterday's horrific explosion in Beirut, has been inhabited for 7,000 years and is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited spot on Earth. The alphabet created there replaced cuneiform in the ancient world and is the origin of most alphabets today. The word Bible comes from Byblos. Our ancestors, the Phoenicians, were the premier merchants of antiquity and sailed around the entire African continent 3,000 years ago. The world's trade routes have gone through our land and ended at our ports for millennia. That Lebanese, or "Mediterranean", food you all know and love, yes, including hummus, is the product of thousands of years of sharing culture and trading and tasting with the people from around the world traveling through those routes. Our entrepreneurs, our doctors, our artists, our scientists, and our writers have contributed to humanity for thousands of years. I mean, Jesus' first miracle was in Lebanon, and he came along pretty far into our story.
We've done stuff. Thousands of years of stuff.
Those people are still there. I'm one of them. And we're very proud of all of this. We're very excited about it. But we're MOST excited about sharing it with YOU. Sharing anything with you, really. Sharing is hard coded into our mercantile DNA.
With this long history has come immense hardship. The Lebanese are known as a "resilient" people for good reason. As a society with minimal focus on aggression, throughout history we've been conquered and occupied too many times to count. The Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans - you name 'em, they've taken us over. We've been slaughtered. We've been plundered. We've been sent into asylum. We've been forced to flee our homes. We've been at the whim of wars we want nothing to do with using our mountain ranges as shooting ranges. The term "diaspora" and Lebanon know each other very well. Today there are an estimated three times more Lebanese OUTSIDE of their country than in it. Most not by choice. But we ALWAYS rebuild. We always return. Because the land is too beautiful to abandon and the neighbors are too loving to forget.
The most recent of these tragedies was the Lebanese Civil War, a disaster for the country which lasted from 1975-1990. It stains the story of every Lebanese person you know today. I grew up hearing the stories. I've watched my parents' wedding tape as they pointed out friends - captured on tape who were later captured and killed. This war, fought in the name of blinding religion and prodded by hostile outside influence, left Lebanon a whisper of it's former self, with countless citizens fleeing, including my parents. The name "Lebanon" was left stained with a connotation we can't seem to wash off.
The bullet holes of this war paint the Lebanon most of you think you know and all of you see on the news. But that is not our Lebanon.
Our Lebanon begs you to take a closer look. Our Beirut never stopped being "The Paris of the East". Our Lebanon covers the table in our food and urges you to keep eating when you were full two plates ago. Our Lebanon just wants to sit with you on a patio in our mountains, share our view of the sun setting over the sea, and then spend the whole night drinking and singing and dancing and laughing with you. Our Lebanon is 7,000 years old, not 45.
Since the end of the war, Lebanon has been rebuilt, but hasn't quite reached the notoriety as a global culture capital that it once held. It has been held hostage by political corruption and stunted growth. Power vacuums made the way for outside influence, agendas, backroom deals, a political elite who have time and time again failed to provide for the Lebanese people as they line their pockets. Just your typical "shitty people running a country into the ground" sort of thing. The corruption over has amounted to nothing short of 30 years of criminal theft from the whole of the Lebanese people. And we reached a breaking point last year.
Since October 2019, Lebanon has been undergoing a revolution. The streets have been filled with young and old, demanding a rebirth to bring Lebanon back to the glory it deserves. It's time for us to rebuild once again. But time has run out. In recent months and as a direct result of political corruption, the country has dealt with nothing short of economic collapse. Hyperinflation has taken hold. Life savings have vanished. Banks have placed strict withdrawal limits. And COVID exacerbates everything. Only a few days ago I was reading stories of people holding up convenience stores for diapers, only to return in tears begging for forgiveness for what they have done.
Now, as you all see the insane explosion replay over and over again in the media, our precious and gorgeous capital is in rubble, and again because of political crimes, multiplying an already immensely troubled situation in an instant. To say this is devastating is an understatement.
It will be rebuilt and stand again, as it has since antiquity. But my heart is broken. 300,000 people are displaced. Our prized jewel of a city is destroyed. Half the citizens of the city lost their homes. In an instant.
Respect us and empathize with us - because we are you.
Respect our history - because it is yours.
As you watch and rewatch the horror of the explosion and the despair of it's destruction, keep the exhausted hearts of the Lebanese on yours.
Many thanks for reading.