A Love Letter to Beirut

beirut explosion

A Lebanese grandmother reminds us how resilience is built into Beirut’s DNA.

By Abu Khalil

Photo by Marten Bjork

Storied tales of strength and perseverance are not some distant fable of generations past for the Lebanese. If you are over 40 years old in Beirut, you have survived a brutal civil war, 2 wars against Israel, and 4 decades of assassinations, instability, and political crisis. Now they have survived the largest non-military explosion. Yet Beirutis, home and abroad, are far more inexorable than 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate. Through all of the aforementioned catastrophes, they still celebrate their city as a cut above everyone else. They have gracefully honed their obstinance over many years. 

I wanted to write this love letter to my birthplace and second home yet it dawned on me that my Beiruti mother is a classic example of bull-headed resilience embodied by the Lebanese. My mother moved to the U.S. with my Iraqi born father in 1970 yet she never really left Lebanon. Beirut’s fate was always inextricably tied with my mother’s day to day. So when I texted late Friday night to write a few words for me about living as a Beiruti abroad, she texted me 1400 words by the morning. The Lebanese know not of brevity. I attempted to edit it yet realized the cadence of her individual texts was poetic. Here it is below in unedited form:

This is my story. 

bird's eye view photography of cityscape

It took seventeen days from the day I met my husband in Beirut to the day of marriage 

It was a very big wedding 

In a big hotel in the mountain of Bhamdoun in Hotel al Karma 

I had a dress designed by a couturier, my dress finished the last stitches the day of the wedding

When the wedding ceremony finished it was the election of a new president that day 

The supporters of the president that was elected fired in the air few shots from a revolver that scared the dodoo out of us 

We stayed in a small apartment 

Next to the best friend Elias 

Three months later I was in Houston homesick for Beirut

I use to cry daily alone no friends no telephone to call only with my thoughts all day long 

Sahban helped only at night but the days were long 

I had a friend only one Ms. Lager 

The best lady I met in my life she was a mother to me 

Oh I communicated with her by my hands I couldn’t speak a word of English 

I read every news paper and translated it 

I watched every episode of I love Lucy my favorite 

The Three Stooges were my teacher 

I remember the tears I will receive after reading the letters of my sister Lina 

Mama will write few words of I love you

In the first year we went two times to Beirut that first summer I was introduced to Iraq to my father in law we became friends 

white and brown painted building
Nuno Alberto

I stayed many afternoon talking to him he was better talker than my husband and he will sometimes joke 

Then it took me two more years  before going back in the summer to Beirut and to Iraq 

Sahban decided to finish his college in Baghdad 

He rented a house near his sister a very nice house he furnished it and Tina was few months old five I think 

George Ann was in Nasiriyah 

And she stayed with us a month I remember having Thanksgiving there 

Then Sam decided to go back 

To America 

Our belonging we always give it and we never sold anything 

We rated another two years before Sam graduated in 1975 

That same year in the summer in my eight month pregnancy with Kamel we came back 

I was so happy 

A gorgeous house my mother in law made for us 

It was empty 

We stayed first before the birth of Kamel in the mountain house 

And the civil war erupted 

We came to Beirut for the baby’s delivery we heard firearms all the way 

While I was in the waiting room in the hospital fire didn’t stop 

The baby was beautiful and Tina was a great sister 

She protected him 

We had a very young maid her name was Kamela very sweet 

brown and white concrete building
Clara Reyes.

The civil war in Beirut escalated Sahban didn’t have a job 

We were taking money from both parents 

We didn’t have a car or furniture 

One day there was an explosion near the house a very big one 

We hid in the shelter Sahban was not with me the kids and the maid he went to get cafe 

On the way after the explosion he heard a baby Kamel’s age got killed Sahban cried all the way till he saw us safe 

The. He decided to go to Iraq to his sister so the war will finish we stayed in the road to Syria thirteen hours 

No water on the road 

Tina Kamel my mother in law and Layla in the car 

Sahban was very nervous they were the Syrians in conflict with the Iraqis we had to be safe 

We stayed almost a year at Sumaya’s house 

We had a good time I cooked with them and did my share in cleaning the house 

Sam found a job in Saudi Arabia 

He stayed few months came back and got us 

We came back to Beirut the civil war was little better 

Sam found a job 

The house inside had a bomb 

I cleaned with my hands the phosphor with a maid and later we furnished a house after the furniture was burned twice in it 

Life was good and suddenly Sam decided after visiting Houston for medical problem to go back to America 

We sold the house and gave everything else in less than a month we were in Houston with the help of his best friend Bashir 

We came on a student visa 

We had money Sahban for eight months didn’t have a job 

Then we bought a house 

The civil war came back to Beirut 

No telephone lines

Two hours to call and reach them 

Israel invaded Lebanon 

Sabra and Shatila the massacre 

Beirut without food 

My brother got injured 

Big bomb hit our building 

Mama and the family lived in the shelter 

But all the time my family are together 

Tears and tears were my friends 

My telephone bill was three hundred dollars 

I had to find a job

Our green card ordeal we have to go to Greece 

We left Tina for a month almost with my brother in law 

Tension tears Sahban the strongest man was very nervous that was 1986 

The civil was still it was the Syrian occupation of Beirut 

Thank God we got our green card

man in white shirt and blue denim jeans graffiti

I missed my mom I had to go to Beirut 

Sam and the boys went back to Houston 

I went to Beirut for two weeks 

It was dark no electricity 

The Syrians army greeted us with their arms pointed at us 

It was humiliated 

Another three years before I came again always by myself 

Sahban didn’t want the kids to be in the war 

I visited them at least three times in the war 

1991 the civil war stopped 

Hariri Rafik had a plan to rebuild the downtown 

Mama was so happy Rafik Hariri is cleaning Beirut 

He gave many children’s scholarship for education 

To go abroad 

He is the hero of the Middle East strong man reliable 

He stood for Lebanon

In the war if 2006 Israel bombed beirut Hizbollah fought and Israel retreated after the world told her so but they destroyed a lot and Iran rebuild the south and gave more power to Hizbollah 

In Houston I prayed and cried and begged God for the victory for the Hezbollah

And now 

I was in 2019 in Beirut 

I stayed in Montana’s building for the first time in my house 

I stayed four months four beautiful months but in this period I noticed how bad the situation in Lebanon

I am use to eat the best fruits in my country 

I saw fruits that didn’t belong to lebanon sold in the supermarket 

The Lebanese produce were shipped were to ?

Nobody knows

Nothing was right 

two playing board game at street

The streets to the beach, Corniche dirty 

I witnessed chaos on the streets people without jobs 

Young poeople finishing from the best universities and nothing available for them 

Came back to Houston 

In September 

In February the world biggest virus 

Quarantine all over the world 

In November 17 the starting of the Lebanese revolution 

All of them all of them in the government should leave 

Hariri stepping down 

Later they put Hassan Diab they made him so clever and they tried to select a technocrat government mostly women’s for the first time 

But Hizbollah was there on top of them 

No decision positive was made 

People demanded the resignation of the new government 

The president is sleeping 

No electricity in Beirut 

Then no flour for few days 

I live here but my soul lives there 

And now the explosion 

They made the people of Lebanon endure in one night a whole war almost an atomic bomb 

No house was safe including my house but who cares my family was ok 

The fears anxiety that I endured from the separation from my family at a young age and the war in Lebanon created who I am now 

Hypochondriac anxious  and sad I didn’t stop crying for few days my stomach is hurting and my knees 

It’s sad to demolish a whole country and to demolish even the Lebanese outside Lebanon 

After 71 years I am still in love with Lebanon 

This love is in my blood 

And it’s inserted so deep with the greeting of my mama 

Iss3idd sabaho Ammoula 

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