I am back in Beirut for a few days to move work forward on various issues, including HEKS’ efforts in Lebanon and Syria.
After the recent tight schedule in the office, I must now get used to a different world once again. At the airport, the cab I ordered (and which was confirmed) is missing; the other drivers here take turns trying to win over potential customers, sometimes in a rather clumsy way. They are always friendly and smiling, but also have their pride. The hotel staff on the phone claim to have picked me up yesterday; they promise to send a new cab within ten minutes. The driver then asks me half an hour later on the phone to send him my photo and to wait for him at a certain place in the arrival hall, which is empty – and I am really not hard to spot. The same driver then makes a small detour to order a coffee on the side of the road (it is 4 am). ‘Coffee sir?’ Although the receptionist speaks good English, he can hardly read it off a map. He gives me back my passport, Japanese style, complete with bow. The water tastes of chlorine. The Sudanese maid silently scurries down the hall with her head down. The power goes out as I write this blog. I can hear the hum of the generators in the courtyard starting up noisily….
Opposite my hotel is a building whose facade must have been blown off by the port explosion almost two years ago, or it was never completed. Only the concrete structure is still standing. However, a row of satellite antennas has already been installed on the top floors. Looking for an opening, a signal of hope, good news. Further up, someone seems to have planted a small garden. Children’s clothes are drying on wire ropes. One gets used to everything.
The country is collapsing. The dollar exchange rate is set anew every day. It is about 20 times lower than the official rate three years ago. The monthly salary of a teacher has dropped from 1000 to 40 dollars. The price of bread has increased tenfold. The NGO I am visiting has doubled the salaries of all its employees, but even that doesn’t help. Many stores and restaurants are closed. No wonder HEKS has decided to classify Lebanon as a country that is dependent on emergency humanitarian aid.
But in the shopping street, people seem to go about their business as usual: they are friendly, laughing and calling out to each other as before. But I have the feeling that I see more sadness and bitterness in their eyes. As if the last two years have made people think that there is no point in hoping any longer. Still, young couples stop in front of a jewelry store window, and the fast food stands in front of the university are packed. In the restaurant where I was invited, I see only young people who seem to belong to good society, elegant and trendy.
Almost two years after the explosion in the port, the scars in the immediate vicinity are still clearly visible. The modern buildings are being rebuilt, but the others are not. The government would like to demolish the rest of the silo, on the grounds that it is in danger of collapse. But the entire area around the silo is actually one pile of rubble. Some opponents, on the contrary, wish to preserve it as a reminder.
The parliamentary elections will be held in a week. Will there be change? ‘Yes, inevitably, after what happened two years ago,’ says my interlocutor. But actually…no, not really. ‘They’ will ‘come to an agreement again,’ he adds, trying to smile. There are eleven candidates on the ballot who describe themselves as ‘Protestant’, spread across the entire political spectrum. Just under half of them are known to the churches. However, in any case, the churches are wary of being seen with any of them. Others are even more pessimistic and predict further deterioration. The cedar of Lebanon seems to be drying up from the ground up.