From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Beirut in my soul

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There have been enough words.  What happened in Beirut was like the full force of a nightmare we had only glimpsed in flashes through all the decades of violence, instability and loss suddenly shaking itself fully to life and sheering up phantasmagorically above the sea to wreak its curse across the city.   Out of such horror it can only be hoped that something positive can emerge.  Long odds on that I know but what else can you do – and the one thing I am holding to is how so many have come together to clear up the mess on the ground and perhaps the mess that lay behind it in the mindset that allowed it to happen.  And one of the things that has heartened me is that so many young people with Lebanese connections outside the country have rallied to its side in this latest calamity.  My daughter Isabel is one of them.  She has gone to Beirut to see what help she can give as an extra pair of hands.  Just before she left, she explained why she was going and I think it’s worth posting here –

“Last week I booked a ticket to Beirut. A now fading news story. I booked a ticket in the midst of a pandemic, an economic breakdown, a revolution and deep grief for an ashen city. I booked this ticket because being in England felt disjointed for so long. Half of me here and half there, my soul being ripped in two.

My friends are predominately British, they care a huge amount and each one is a jewel in my life. Yet, something always feels missing. The voice of the other. The other that I am a half of.

The feelings of guilt and imposter syndrome hit me in huge waves. I almost don’t have time to find my footing in between each one. So many questions of identity swim uncomfortably around my mind nearly all the time.
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And I don’t have the answers, I’m not looking for them so much. I’m looking for more questions. To stay in touch with the darker side of my soul.

What I do know, is the last time I was there I was going through emotional burnout from working in a refugee camp in Calais over the winter. I arrived in Lebanon believing that the exhaustion and trauma would melt away in the warmer weather. It didn’t and I left after two months. I was overwhelmed by the seeming apathy, all my stories were of refugees and I brought the mood down in a place that doesn’t have space for feeling sorry for itself. I know that it wasn’t the time to be there. IMG_5961

But Beirut and the mountains of Lebanon did soothe me in some way. I’d walk Ashrafiyeh, Gemmayze, go down to Raouche, to my mother’s home in Ain el Marasie- take photos, listen to wisps of conversation from living people and watch the waxy magnolia trees. On leaving, I promised myself when I was stable again I’d return to set up some kind of life there. Get my residency. Try to understand what the place means for me.

When the explosion happened I dissociated. At first it just felt like another news story. How dehumanised we all are to things. Then, as I watched more footage I remembered that my family, my friends and those waxy magnolia trees that helped me- were there.

I messaged everyone I knew or thought might be there. My Beiruti mother told me my family was all fine. And the day went on. But in that moment my soul fractured in two. The one in England watching the news.  The other in Beirut wanting to go down to blood and glass filled streets and weep with my family. The pain was visceral.

I’ve been investigating inherited, genetic trauma and maybe it can happen geographically. I feel the pain of my family living through catastrophe after catastrophe just needing some time to regather before another hit. All I want to do is stand in solidarity. To show them all they’re not alone. This is my garden to tend to and I wish to be useful where I can and if not, I’ll return home.

The guilt I feel is just a voice I can befriend to make sure my time there is beneficial. I want to use my voice to amplify those caught between the rubble and a revolution.”

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