August 4 was a truly monumental and heartbreaking day in the heart of Lebanon's capital. As the day was coming to an end, a devastating explosion occurred in Beirut's port, leaving behind pain, destruction, and anger.
The port is located extremely close to the hub of social life in Beirut, to the extent of finding pubs named after their proximity to it, such as Bar Du Port. The dock is hundreds of meters away from the popular areas of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh, both home to the most popular cafés, restaurants, and bars in the country.
Gemmayzeh's Gouraud and Mar Mikhael's Armenia streets held their fair share of the city's nightlife crowd. Tourists and locals have always turned to these areas for an escape from the hectic work life through some good cocktails and delicious food, both high-end and on-the-go. With the city's destruction came a cloud of doubt as to what the future of these places holds. Will it ever be the same? Can the Beirut we know be rebuilt?
In this day and age, especially with the growth of social media, it has become evident that when help is needed, it will be received. Many restaurants and bars used their online platforms to shed light on the destruction they experienced, asking people for help with full transparency. Several GoFundMe pages have been set up over the past two weeks in the hopes of finding support to restore some form of what was destroyed — a necessary light at the end of the tunnel for Beirut.
Well-known eateries like Loris, located in Gemmayzeh, plan on rebuilding their spaces stronger and better than before. According to an Instagram post, Loris will be restored to the one we all know and will re-open as soon as they can to bring their loyal customers back home.
Other places, however, believe the level of destruction is too grave to amend. Coop D'Etat, a buzzing rooftop lounge located just off Pasteur Street in Gemmayzeh, has connected with those they see as family to relay a rather peculiar, somber message. Due to the negligence of the Lebanese government, which has caused the Beirut blast, Coop D'Etat will not be rebuilding its outlet as it's a waste of time and energy. In a lengthy online post, the business explained how it does not want to return to the life of extortion imposed by the infamous Lebanese government.
"The thought of building again so they can extort us for bribes and taxes for which we get nothing in return, use the power of the government to support their friends and relatives at the expense of everyone else, take our money from the bank and then destroy and kill what is left makes us sick," the business wrote.
This statement encompasses Coop D'Etat, Café Em Nazih, and Saifi Urban Gardens, three adjacent subsidiaries that were completely destroyed by the explosion. Their Hamra counterparts, however, were "spared" and so will remain open with the same spirit of those lost.
Given all of this despair and destruction, places like Em Sherif Restaurant in Ashrafieh, despite having faced its own downfalls due to the blast, are looking to withhold all tax payments to the government, instead donating the 11 percent to local NGOs to help those affected rebuild their homes.
The blast has shaken the lives of those who reside near the site and those with deeply rooted businesses in the neighboring areas. Beirut is mourning and despite that, its people are still strong and resilient enough to stand up against the government and highlight its negligence, which caused this disaster.
No matter how weak or broken they may be, people from across the country have shown how far they're willing to go to help rebuild the capital. Donations from within Lebanon and all over the world have come through to solidify the future vision people still have for Lebanon.
A week shy of the blast, thousands of helping hands began collecting donations to help local businesses sustain throughout the tough phase. After a GoFundMe page was set up in the name of Saifi Urban Gardens, around $14,000 were raised to ensure the affected employees received their salaries for the month of August.
Sadly, the blast not only destroyed Lebanon's social hub and people's homes but also some of its cultural heritage buildings. Beirut's world-known Sursock Museum, built in 1860, was damaged along with its vast art collection. According to the owner of the museum, Roderick Sursock, "there is no point in restoring the house now — at least not until the country fixes its political problems."
Century-old buildings at risk of collapsing and those already on the ground have become a hot target for some government officials and politicians who discreetly wish to buy them for the sake of recreating another version of the failed Solidere plan. Fortunately, residents are holding their ground thus far and refusing to give up their properties.
Following the explosion, an organization called Save Beirut Heritage has once again resurfaced in the hopes of preserving the buildings.
"These buildings should be secured and supported with the appropriate salvage structures. To give time for the proper renovation to be assessed and implemented. We call upon the concerned authorities to halt any such hasty and savage move, in order to preserve the assests [sic] around which we will rebuild our city," the organization wrote in a Facebook post.
With Lebanon's unstable economy and currency, along with the ongoing pandemic crippling travels and tourism, a wave of uncertainty is taking over. Are locals willing to fight through and spend their money at restaurants and bars? Will investors and the Lebanese diaspora finance Lebanon back to its feet?
The streets that were once filled with joyous, carefree beings are now packed with the same people, but rather sees them picking up shards of glass, putting doors back on hinges, and consoling those who lost their homes and loved ones.
It's heartwarming to witness such international solidarity with Lebanon, with people from all over coming together to attempt to glue together whatever pieces remain. Whether or not areas like Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh will return to their true form is up to its people and what they make of it.
Beirut may be mourned by many but its people and those who call it their second home will rebuild it while holding onto their fond memories that will forever lie on its streets.