Lea Kodeih left Beirut at the age of 18 to go study and work abroad. In February, she joined Cordaid at the department of quality management and donor compliance. Like everyone who has seen the images, she was horrified by the devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital. Little over a week after the event, she shares her thoughts on the current situation in her native country. “This is the story of almost every Lebanese person living abroad.”
Lea Kodeih in the coastal area of Beirut.
“I lived in Beirut until I turned 18. I went to study abroad. In France, Thailand and the Netherlands. My family still lives in Lebanon, as well as many of my friends. My parents’ house is about 5 kilometres away from where the explosion occurred.
‘Don’t freak out.’
At the time of the blast, I was at home in Leiden. I was getting ready for a driving lesson. My teacher was already downstairs. I looked at my phone and I saw a text from my sister. It said: ‘Don’t freak out, but there was a very large explosion in Beirut’. I thought: ‘Oh my God’. I had flashbacks of all the explosions I had experienced before. Although this one is different. It is bigger than anything I have ever seen.
I called my parents. No connection. It is a weird feeling. It is exactly what happens after explosions. It would always be hard to reach out to your loved ones because the networks couldn’t handle the number of people trying to call each other.
I was very scared. Especially for my father, who usually spends time by the beach during summer, close to the port.
Luckily, they were outside of the city when it happened. Everyone was all right, although one of my sisters had a terrifying experience when the glass windows in her apartment broke.
I cancelled my driving lesson. I had to figure out what was really going on. Ever since that moment I have been watching the news non-stop.
It’s all kind of traumatising because of what I’ve experienced growing up. At first, there was a pseudo-peaceful situation, but in the mid-2000s, there were many assassinations and the political context became very unstable.
In 2006, there was a war between Lebanon and Israel. I was there. It was my first encounter with missiles and stuff like that. I still carry that trauma with me.
“What do you do when your government fails you time after time? People will start to get used to taking matters into their own hands.”
A simple masquerade
The government that resigned a few days ago did not have a real say. They were put in place to alleviate the tensions in the streets. Protesters were demanding economic and social changes and the last government was supposed to keep them quiet for a while. It was a simple masquerade for the real sectarian powers that have been in control of the country for over 30 years.
It’s good that they’re gone, but they were never really in control anyway.
The protesters are not just calling for resignation, they wanted a whole new government with a specific mandate: an emergency government with legislative powers to create a new electoral law, based on non-sectarian criteria.
Right now, we are in risk of a long period of negotiations while Lebanon will be in the hands of a caretaker cabinet whose hands are tied. We do not want that. We want a functional independent government to get the country out of this humanitarian crisis, as well as the crippling economic crisis.
Despite all these challenges, the Lebanese have done a lot for people in need from surrounding countries. Geographically and culturally we are very close to Syria. So when the war broke out, many Syrians were welcomed.
This does not mean that xenophobia, racism and discrimination against refugees and migrant workers do not exist in the country. It does, and it is even institutionalized.
“This image of Lebanese people as resilient and strong is starting to work against us. You know what? We don’t want to be strong anymore.”
But also then, it wasn’t necessarily the government who was supporting these people. It was the Lebanese people themselves and the NGOs on the ground who took care of all the refugees.
Let them take responsibility
And that’s how it went after the explosion as well. People immediately started helping each other and the government was nowhere to be found. For once, maybe, we should’ve let them take responsibility.
What do you do when your government fails you time after time? People will start to get used to taking matters into their own hands.
We have been through a lot and we always had to step in ourselves. The question shouldn’t be: ‘how come Lebanese people are so quick to help each other out?’ The question is: ‘why is the government not doing anything?’
The fight is real
People are cleaning the rubble all day long and then, after sunset, they still find the energy to protest. That’s because they are desperate. The fight is real. There’s nothing left to lose. It’s not only a political battle, it’s about human survival.
This image of Lebanese people as resilient and strong is starting to work against us. You know what? We don’t want to be strong anymore.
Lebanon has a lot of resources, we have smart, creative and educated people. An amazing human capital that can provide an alternative and is just seeking an opportunity to be heard and recognized.
Around 14 million Lebanese live outside of Lebanon. Many of them carry this transnational trauma. Right after the explosion, all I thought was, here we go again.”