What's Life in Lebanon Really Like At The Moment? Here's The Non-Media Version.

I'm certainly no famed columnist, but I'm framing this blog post as such. Lately, a number of my readers in the diaspora have been probing me in their attempt to make sense of the situation in Lebanon. It's no enigma that the media (and social media to boot) highlight a narrow view of present-day life in Lebanon, while the reality is often starkly different. Here I endeavor to illuminate how things are on the ground, and how our lives have genuinely been impacted by the various crises gripping the country.

Dear Beirutista,

I just want to understand how you -- and the folks living in Lebanon -- are coping during these austere times. Having lived there for years with my husband, we tried to hold out hope for months into the revolution, but after the August 4 [2020] explosions, we deemed the situation too dangerous and resettled in the United States.

I know it’s so stifling with the banks stealing everyone’s savings. I find it weird that no one seems to be mentioning the real tragedy: are a lot of people able to get their money out of the bank in dollars? I have some well-off friends in Beirut, and they seem to be enjoying the same life as before October 2019 [when the revolution commenced]. Is this the reality?

Any insight would be so appreciated.

Yours truly, 
Dazed & Confused

Dear Dazed & Confused:

So here is the no frills, unadulterated reality captured by a civilian (me). Lebanon has and always will be the country of contrasts, mysteries, and miracles. There is no doubt about that. Nothing is ever what it seems.

Let's first talk about banks and depositors. Nobody today is able to extract any of their deposits in US dollars (USD). Everyone has a monthly withdrawal cash limit in Lebanese pounds (LBP) and a separate daily limit for debit cards denominated in LBP. If your savings were strictly in a foreign currency, i.e., USD, you exchange at the unofficial rate of LBP 3,900 up to a certain threshold, after which the official rate of 1507.5 LBP/USD kicks in.

A man counting 100,000 LL notes at an exchange office in Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo credit: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir) 

For those who are affluent, hold a foreign passport, yet still call Lebanon home, as you mention, they either have bank accounts abroad and transfer money in as needed, in the form of "fresh funds," exchanging at the black market rate (which on 7 October 2021 was around 18,500 LBP/USD). Or they're exploiting their daily debit limits. Indeed, some people are totally unfazed by everything that's transpired. Those who are armed with dollars have more buying power today, as the lira continues to weaken.

So the short answer is sure, it is possible to resume life and carry on, though not entirely in the same manner as before. Take our family as an example. Our outings are limited to the near vicinity: I shuttle the kids to City Mall Dora, Le Mall Dbayeh, my in-laws' residence at Holiday Beach Nahr El Kalb... Essentially, we live in a sheltered bubble. Schools and universities have reopened for in-person instruction, after nearly two years of closure. The desperate hope is that they remain in session. Perhaps it is the one facet of life here that's taken on some semblance of normalcy (so far).
Other than that, lines at the pump have dissolved (well, they had until yesterday. Now with the expectation of rising fuel prices yet again, people may be resorting to stockpiling).

In terms of power outages, where we reside in Jal El Dib, they are no longer. I realize that's not the case everywhere, but I imagine things have begun to reflect even a sliver of improvement. Granted, consumers are certainly paying for it. Our generator "moteur" fees for the month of September amounted to nearly LBP 1,600,000 for 10 amperes of metered usage. At the official exchange rate, that's well over $1,000!

Finally, it's important to comprehend the sheer volume of Lebanese who rely on remittances from family abroad. That's the only reason they're able to weather these multidimensional crises and stay afloat. The media has been quoting around 75% of Lebanese families now live under the poverty line, which is absolutely true on paper, if you consider solely their salaries. But if a family member abroad sends them a couple hundred bucks every month, they could make ends meet -- perhaps not comfortably, but pragmatically so.

At length, it's crippling to see how the Lebanese have been forcibly relegated into an unmistakable silence. I often hear critics in the Lebanese diaspora deriding how quiet and submissive their compatriots are, that they should take up arms and fight off the injustices befalling them. But the reality is, even if they did, can they expect a different outcome than before? Civilians tried to revolt peacefully, and they were met with violence. The family members of the victims killed in the August 4 port explosions have been repeatedly attacked and curtailed by the security guards of politicians (and even army members) in front of whose homes they assembled to demonstrate. 

And those nightmarish fuel lines which saw civilians lining up overnight just to fill their tanks? Those queues were arguably a premeditated distraction to preoccupy people with the inane when they might have considered raising their heads and demanding justice. Folks at this point just want to move on. It's a hopeless and helpless situation.

For many Lebanese here and in the diaspora, being Lebanese occasionally feels like a curse. In spite of the gains we achieve abroad, academically and professionally, the losses we register within our borders on political and socioeconomic levels seem to perpetually outweigh them. Chronic discontent flows through our veins. And though we've been dubbed "resilient" to the point of disgust, we no longer derive flattery or pride from that term. We don't care to be resilient. We simply care to be. Will we ever be?

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following Beirutista here.


Popular posts from this blog

A Crowning Iftar Experience at the Crowne Plaza Beirut

6 Types of Patrons You’ll Encounter at a Coffee Shop in Lebanon

What’s New In & Around Beirut