Hope refuses to die in Beirut: stories from a wounded city
Ali Msheik's wife has been waiting for three days in front of the place where he worked as a longshoreman to have news about his fate. Eliane, an artist, asks Christians and Muslims to pray for her son, a dentist, who is in intensive care. Young Christians and Muslims clean up streets and churches, “places of God”. In Beirut, death dis not discriminated. Everything at Holy Rosary Hospital, 300 metres from the site of the blasts, has been destroyed. Patients have been saved and now there is hope to rebuild the hospital. But “we need everything. We have to start from scratch; we need help and the government is unable to help us.”
Beirut (AsiaNews) – After three days, the search continues for possible survivors lying under tonnes of rubble caused by the terrible explosions that hit Beirut. Relatives are waiting anxiously for someone to pull out their loved one, dead or alive.
Ali Msheik, a longshoreman, is one of the many people missing; his wife said that after his regular shift, his employer had called him back to work at the grain elevator in the Port of Beirut. His hourly wage is 3,000 Lebanese pounds (about US$ 0.50).
With two children to feed, Ali couldn’t afford the luxury of saying no, in a country where hunger is looming, where working is hard and earning money is almost impossible. Ali went back to work at 4.30 pm. At 6.15 pm the two explosions took place, exactly where Ali was working; since then, no news.
It is not known whether he is alive or dead, buried under tonnes of debris. His wife continues to cry. She has not gone home, but has remained near the blast site. She is hoping and praying that she might still hug her husband, alive. Despite the clock ticking, she hasn’t lost hope.
Eliane is a Lebanese artist who has painted the grim walls of some of Beirut’s poorest neighbourhoods, trying to beautify them and bring a little joy. At present, she is in a hospital waiting room. Her only son is in intensive care. A dentist, he was working at a clinic when the explosions occurred.
Despite being operated, there is little hope for him: his body was torn apart by broken glass, which penetrated deep and struck vital organs. In addition, part of the ceiling fell on top of him, crushing his chest.
"Pray for my son," she says, "everyone, at least for a minute, Muslims or Christians; it doesn't matter, implore God! He is all I have left in this life. Our home has been destroyed, but it doesn't matter. My son however . . . Please . . .”. Eliane begs everyone she sees, is still hoping in anyone.
Amid the mourning, the uncertainty and the sense of total loneliness, hope is the feeling that prevails.
After decades of war and destruction, people know that life includes hard moments; but they also know that they must hang in there, be strong, face evil with goodness, despair with a desire to overcome it, in order to get back on their feet.
In Gemmayzeh, tiles were blown off the roof on St Anthony of Padua Church, which is located a few hundred metres from the port. The church courtyard, which was full of debris only yesterday morning, has been cleared, and is somewhat presentable.
The clean-up was done by a small army of young people who came from everywhere to help. Two veiled Muslim women are still standing outside. “This is a place of God,” said one of them. “It is everyone's home. For the Creator, we are all equal, death has affected us all without discrimination.”
Two of the ten nuns who ran the Holy Rosary hospital in Wardīyah stand at its entrance, its doors blown out. This and two other hospitals, the Geitawi Hospital and the St George Hospital, stand empty because they are unsafe.
The nuns tell everyone that three nuns were injured and one nurse killed. The other nuns have refused to leave the building. They sleep on mattresses on the floor, hoping to get the hospital up and running soon.
Here too, groups of young people, strangers but willing, came from various places to clean up the building’s 15 floors, removing rubble, glass, blood, filling bags of debris.
“We are 300 metres from the port,” said Sister Clotilde Agemian, her face covered by a mask. “It felt like the explosions happened right here. Everything came down: ceiling, windows; doors flying in the air. I don't know where we found the strength, I don't know how we managed to remain calm whilst taking about 300 patients to hospitals outside Beirut.”
“Now the hospital is gone,” she bemoans. “Everything has been destroyed: gear, beds, equipment. The building itself has serious cracks and it is likely to collapse. One of our nurses died under a wall that fell on her. The lifts are out of order, and nurses had to carry patients on their shoulders, down the stairs. It was like a war zone.”
Some patients were injured from the blasts and suffered bleeding wounds. “The absurd thing is that they were in a hospital and we could do nothing to help them,” explained Sister Clotilde. “We sent them to other hospitals.”
Despite the toil, "God has been close to us and we did it. But now we are on our knees. Let us pray and hope. At present, we need everything. We have to start from scratch; we need help and the government is unable to help us.”
What is left is hope. The people of Lebanon are the heirs to the Phoenicians. Like the Phoenix, which rises from its ashes, they never give up. Today however, they have hit rock bottom.
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