Shaken Up By Yesterday's Bombing
It was around 9.40 am. I was sitting at my desk, sifting through the morning news online, replying to a few stray emails, and chatting with my mom back in California on Google Talk. I had been trying to schedule an after-work rendezvous at Uruguay Street downtown with a friend visiting from Paris. Suddenly, the building shook fiercely, as if writhing from an earthquake. It lasted several moments before a big boom was heard. I was certain a plane had plummeted into Beirut Souks, just a few hundred meters north of my office. The explosion felt so close by. And in fact, it was.
Minet el Hosn, across from where the new Hyatt Hotel is being erected, next to the fountains of the Starco Plaza, a few meters past the Balthus and Park Avenue restaurants. 650 meters away by foot, Google Maps confirmed. A bomb had taken the life of Mohammad Chattah, former senior adviser to Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri, along with several others and tens of casualties.
For an hour, my body shivered, numbed by goose bumps. This was the closest I’d ever been to hearing, feeling, even grasping an explosion in Lebanon. Over the course of my three years of living in Lebanon, there have been numerous bombs, but they have always been relatively distant. The latest string of blasts has been in the southern suburbs of Beirut and in Tripoli, both areas sufficiently far away that I’ve never had to recoil in terror or start calculating where to run and hide. But yesterday was different.
Yesterday, for the first time, I felt a surge of panic overcome me. I scanned the faces of my colleagues for their reactions, dazed as to what was happening, and I quickly fell back into my seat when I realized it was a detonation. It would be best to stay put.
We quickly loaded the LBC website to watch the news as it developed. Images started pouring in of the blast, and the location was all too familiar. I trembled. The site of the bombing is my walk path every morning, five days a week, en route to the office. I usually pull in to the Biel parking lot around 7.30am, and with half an hour to spare, I make a brisk morning walk of it. I head west from Biel, walk along the wooden seaboard of Zaitunay Bay, loop in front of Phoenicia Hotel, cross over to the Monroe and Platinum Tower, and nimbly amble down the straightaway that is Ahmad Chawki Street, the street that became an assassin’s warpath yesterday morning.
On this street every morning, I pass many a security guard positioned at every corner. I smile at fellow pedestrians—mostly domestic servants out walking dogs—and acknowledge Syrian workers heading to their construction sites. Every morning I check on the progress of the many complexes slowly being transformed from the ground up, and the Hyatt Hotel is one of them. At the end of the street, I cross over into the Souks before making my way up to Riad el Solh—Bank Avenue—where I work. This has become my routine for exactly one year now. I intentionally leave home early to avoid the morning rush and squeeze in a stroll before work: it renders wonderful exercise and a daily mental catharsis.
After yesterday’s event, I’ll likely be curbing my promenade. It may sound frivolous, because in Lebanon we’re accustomed to these violent happenings, and we’ve learned to simply get on with it, to not let it affect our rhythm (sometimes insensitively so). But I don’t think I can bring myself to grapple with the nearness and intensity of this situation. If my grief from this vantage point is thus crushing, how would it be on the ground, quite literally, on the paved sidewalks of Ahmad Chawki Street?
I’m rather nervous about my parents’ reaction to the bombing. In fact, I had been chatting with my mom when the detonation went off, and I didn’t dare let on about what had transpired, tucking her into bed and promising I’d call in the morning. My safety is my parents’ primary concern, and I’m certain they’re going to live on edge and imagine the worst, especially since the blast hit so close to home. Whether it’s time to reckon with reason, throw in the towel, and head back to the relatively safer Western world where I grew up are yet to be seen. But one thing’s certain: Beirut has a new face, and it ain’t lookin’ pretty.
(Photo credit: http://ginosblog.com)