“I don’t have anyone…”
There was a time when Beirut was known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’, and the memory of those “glamorous” times is all the more painful today, given the profound crisis that Lebanon is currently experiencing. For the financial crisis, with the banks on the brink of bankruptcy, the devastatingly high level of unemployment and the sheer lack of hope for the future are bringing this once prosperous Middle Eastern country to the edge of the abyss. Nobody could have imagined that Lebanon, which with its renowned resilience was able to recover from the tragedy of the Civil War, would once again be plunged into such a crisis of poverty, destitution and despair. For many people the struggle for survival is a bitter one, especially for those with little children in their care – people like Georgette. She is a woman quite alone, and a living image of the tragic situation that is afflicting Lebanon.
“It sounded like an atomic bomb…”
The crisis – already grave – was brutally aggravated by the terrible explosion in the port of Beirut at the beginning of August. In a matter of seconds, the whole quarter was devastated, with much of it reduced to rubble. Entire suburbs were affected, houses destroyed, destruction everywhere… In an instant, the city was transformed into something like a war zone, reviving all the old memories of a time that people thought was behind them. In seconds, the air was filled with the roar of the explosion and the power of the blast swept everything before it. Soon the city was filled with tumult, the cries of the wounded, people rushing to and fro, people shouting for help. Suddenly, the crisis already afflicting the country had become a nightmare of unimaginable proportions. Father Raymond Abdo, who later spoke to the international Catholic pastoral and pontifical charity ACN International, described the explosion as “like an atomic bomb, with red smoke everywhere.” All he could see everywhere was people, confused, disoriented and weeping, in a scene of destruction and death. The explosion left over 180 people dead, over 6,500 wounded and almost 300,000 houses and homes destroyed or badly damaged.
“I live in a poor quarter…”
Life was already hard enough for Georgette, but the crisis that struck the city as a result of the explosion has made her life still more precarious. She described to ACN how much worse things have got in Beirut: “I live in a poor quarter of the city and our situation is very bad, especially after the explosion. I live there with my three grandchildren. We are all alone in that house. I am responsible for them and I don’t have anybody to help me, except for God, and the benefactors of ACN,” she told María Lozano, one of the visiting team from ACN International who had come to Beirut to evaluate the extent of the damage caused by the August explosion. Georgette is one of the recipients of the food parcels distributed from a local dispensary, thanks to the generosity of ACN and its benefactors. These contain basic daily necessities which Georgette has gratefully stacked in her almost empty kitchen cupboards. “I was so delighted to receive this help, because it means I can now feed my grandchildren for a month,” she explained.
What matters most for Georgette, however – even more than the food aid she was able to collect in a pram, along with Chárbel, one of her grandchildren, aged just 15 months – is knowing that she is not alone. However, behind her stoical silence there lurks a deep sorrow: the death of her husband seven years ago in a road accident. His photo above the sitting room door is all that she has left to remember him by. They had two children, a boy and a girl. At present her son cannot care for his children, because he is temporarily working in another city. So now her daughter-in-law and the three grandchildren are living with Georgette. Her own daughter has mental health problems and is living in an Institute. There are many other people like Georgette living in Beirut, as the city struggles to recover from the devastating explosion; people who are empty-handed and with few prospects, already defeated by the continuing economic crisis which has struck the country like a brutal and incurable disease. But she still hopes for better times, a hope constantly nourished by her strong faith. “I know that I am not alone, and this is more than important to me even than the food aid… just knowing that there are people thinking about us,” she explains to the cameras of ACN. “I give thanks to God every day. He has always guided me and my family and has sent us kind people to help us through these difficult times,” she adds.
Life is hard for Georgette, as it is for the great majority of the Lebanese people. Nonetheless, however difficult the trials may be their faith will always be a sure refuge. “The situation of the Christians in Lebanon is uncertain, but Jesus is always with us and nobody can throw us out from here,” she concludes.