“Did you just wake up?” was how Joelle greeted me as soon as she got out of the UNHCR headquarters’ in Jnah where I was meeting her. She looked just as tired, and we were both in a limbo state that’s become all-too-familiar in Lebanon. I was on my way to the site of the explosion, and Joelle was busy with the massive influx of refugees in Aarsal. It was everything but good news, and after a gloomy chat about the status of things and plans to make an excursion into the field, I hugged Joelle back to her work and made my way a few blocks away, where the army had cordoned off the blast site and hazmat-clad crime scene investigators combed the streets.
I’d like to sensationalize the scene, explain how it was surreal to walk into that, and that it’s something many of us have never seen, but I can’t. I can’t because it was all-too-familiar, even routine-like. This wasn’t my first blast scene, and I doubt it’ll be my last. I’ve gone to most blast sites in Lebanon since I was a clueless 16-year-old, and I still find it hard to stay away.
After parking and walking to the military cordon, the only sounds were those of glass shattering and journalists’ standard Arabic reports broadcast by the dozen or so satellite uplink cars lining the streets.
The smell is perhaps the only thing I never get used to. It’s literally, the stench of death; human remains. It’s quite pungent, and no matter how many cigarettes the journos, soldiers and curious bystanders smoke, the overlooked pieces of seared flesh and bone and blood reek, making even the delivery boys carrying chicken tawouk sandwiches with extra garlic paste to the news crews, cover their mouth and nose absentmindedly while navigating through the shrapnel and glass.
But, the residents looked mildly annoyed and inconvenienced. They weren’t hysterical. They were dutifully brooming up the glass and wood and hurling it off their balconies into large heaps to be hauled off tomorrow. Some even sat on their heavily damaged balconies with their flat-screen TVs, showing a close up view of the scene they’re witnessing live right under them, amused at the slight lag and waving hello to their neighbors shuttling away their stuff, moving elsewhere till things get back to normal in their neighborhood.
23 people were killed there today, and even though it might not be Lebanon’s highest death toll, it is the scariest in many respects. Lebanon’s bombings are usually rigged cars or packages, timed or remotely detonated. Today, it was a suicide attack carried out by at least two bombers. Responsibility was claimed too, via Twitter, by an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Lebanon, something that is also almost unheard of in our tiny, divided country.
What’s strange though, is despite the difference in style, target and timing, the aftermath was the same: Lebanese people, with their indomitable spirit, quietly cleaning up, secretly sobbing behind closed doors and overtly giving defiant speeches for TV cameras.
Today, no one was surprised, no one was outraged, no one was dismayed, no one was scared, no one was worried. The usual, stiff, face-saving reactions were recited, with the same phrases, same vocabulary and same unconvincing tone. Today, only the injured, their families and the families of the dead are truly affected, truly touched, truly hurting, truly outraged and truly hopeless. The rest of the Lebanese will continue life as usual, even in that neighborhood. There was a time where I felt that was something positive, which allowed the Lebanese people to continue and persevere despite all the daily horrors they face. Today though, I’m not so sure about that anymore. I don’t think it’s healthy for a society to remain so un-phased in the face of such horror…
Victims, not martyrs. Investigations, not conspiracies. Truth no matter what, not lies to for fear of reactions.