One week ago today…
Today marks one week… one hideous week where it feels like we’re caught in a B-grade horror movie or a nightmare that won’t end. From a distance, I’m still glued to the screen, still sobbing, still sleepless, still sick to my stomach, still in a state of disbelief. And now the government has resigned, in a cute little comedy we call “Lebanese politics”. All while people on the streets mourn and rebuild what is left of their lives. I’ll never understand it.
Weeping and sweeping… that’s what we do, literally and figuratively. Sweeping up the crap is like the garbage crisis – it magically reappears every few months, just when we think we’ve cleaned it up for good.
Here’s what I’m thinking about today… the symbolic value of the destruction of Mar Mikhael, my old neighborhood. Other neighborhoods were damaged too, but I can only speak to where I lived, to the streets I walked, to the corners and details and cracks that I new intimately. Mar Mikhael… where I would buzz my hair at Georges Saloon (yes, saloon) for Men, where Zazoo would stand outside Baron waiting to be greeted by the staff, where we’d park on the curb for hours, watching Beirut go by. My little hood… where I’d cross the pedestrian bridge over the highway to go to my gym, filled with big smiles and old tiles and echoes of “Have you had breakfast? Yalla let’s order mana’eesh!” This neighborhood is where Zazoo had a designated seat at Food Dealer and a special greeting at Garage Bar. His head still turns when he hears the sound of a Harley.
To me, Mar Mikhael was the best of Beirut, because it wasn’t just a collection of charming and quirky streets, and not just a protected cultural heritage site, and more than its cafes and restaurants and independent boutiques. It wasn’t just about physical space.
This neighborhood was an intersectional activist hub where young people of all sects and backgrounds could safely convene – including movements of refugee populations and migrant workers and LGBTQ and feminist activists and any other groups. This is where it felt like change was possible in Lebanon. This is where change was happening in Lebanon.
When I moved to Beirut in 2015, Mar Mikhael was the only place I wanted to live. I used to call it the New York City of Beirut. It was ok to be weird there – in fact, it was expected. It was a tiny blip of a place, but just like New York, if you didn’t feel like you belonged anywhere, you were welcome there.
How strange, how uncomfortable, to refer to it in the past tense.