The Swing of Collapse
Like a shadow, this feeling of impending doom accompanies us. As though everything is in this slow, incomprehensible process of collapse. But maybe it’s not so slow. It’s at a strange speed—somewhere between the steady crumbling of an old house over time, and the sudden destruction of a building because of an earthquake. Everything is falling apart, but not too fast that it takes us by surprise, and not slow enough that we can do anything about it.
- Muzna, November 16, 2020
There is a common phrase reiterated at the end of every conversation: “It will only get worse from here—بعد ما شفتوا شي”. This phrase seeps through the cracks. As though everyone, but me, has seen this horror movie before. They know how it ends while I scream, out loud, the moment someone tries to open the closed door.
Bottom line: You cannot hide from the crisis.
- Watfa, December 2, 2020
على شرفة مشمسة، هدوء جميل مصحوبٌ بزقزقة عصافير وهديل حمائم. أحاول التركيز لالتقاط كل الأصوات. أسمع هديرًا مستمرًّا يصل من بعيد. هيدا موتور أكيد! ثم فجأة يتناهى إلى مسمعي صياح ديك يتكرر عدّة مرات، وحديث رجلين يتبادلان النصائح لمواجهة المرض. سيارة وحيدة تقطع مسرعة. أنا ببيروت، مش بالضيعة! في أحد شوارع راس بيروت الأكثر زحمة عادةً. اليوم، يندر حضور المارة، ولكن تكثُرُ الأوساخ في الشارع. كلّ الأصوات التي رصدتها موقّتة، إلّا هدير الموتور وزقزقة العصافير؛ لا تزال مسموعة. بعد أيام من المرض، أقدّر أشياء بسيطة نتناساها عند انشغالنا بوظائفنا الحياتية اليومية، كالقدرة على الوقوف في الشرفة والاستمتاع بالشمس، أو الاستلقاء على فرشة ووسادة والحصول على الدواء للتخفيف من آلام جسدي ورأسي.
فكرت بالسجناء المرضى وبمن خسروا بيوتهم وبحاجتهم للراحة لو أصيبوا بالعدوى. أنا لم أصب بالكورونا بس العوارض يللي عشتها هيّي نفسها عوارض الكورونا. أما الوصول للدواء، فهيدا كمان مش شي سهل، حتى الأدوية البسيطة مقطوعة. الناس عم تخزّن الأدوية تخوّفًا من مستقبل خطر، والسلطات مش قادرة تطمّن الناس أو تعطي بديل، ما في أي نوع من حماية للإنسان ولا ثقة بأي جهة، كلّ واحد بيدبّر حاله، يعني شريعة الغاب، بلد فلتان إدارته مبنية على التخويف، التخويف الدائم من الآتي ومن الآخر.
- زينة، 10 كانون الثاني 2021
I was stress-shopping last night, minutes before the 5 p.m. lockdown curfew. Soon after I’d paid for my goods, my hands, in a swift and clumsy jolt, failed me. I heard a soft smash and looked down at the carton of eggs on the ground. I picked them up, one by one. They had all cracked. Their yolk spilled onto my fingers through the jagged cracks trailing the eggs’ circumference.
Since August, my brain has felt foggy. My reactions often feel suspended in slow motion. I looked around helplessly, and the young man who stocks the shelves at the grocery shop—the one who often greets my dog by name every time we walk by—was peering at me. “Quick, take it home," he said. “You can salvage the eggs if you cook them now, haram to throw them away.” I stood there with the yolks of six eggs dripping down my hand, an inner conversation simmering: Yes, it is haram to throw away food, but I cannot walk home like this. Is cooking it unhygienic? How will I even carry them home?
Amid the looping thoughts, I turned from him, opened the trash, threw the slimy package in, and walked away, ashamed to find his eyes again.
- Aida, November 16, 2020
Today I bumped into a friend. In previous years, I would see her exercising every single day at the AUB Greenfield, and always wondered how she had so much free time. While catching up, I asked how she was managing without exercise and she said she spent her time worrying. I told her I did quite a bit of that too. And from one thing to the next, we began to talk about access to money in the bank.
She said, “I had to go back to exercising. I couldn’t take it anymore. All I did before was think of my daughter. She was a mistake, you know. I had the first two and thought that was it but then the youngest came along and since then we have had surprise after surprise with her.” She no longer knew what to do. She worried because her daughter, who was graduating from AUB, was applying to universities abroad.
“What if she gets into an excellent university?” she asked me.
“What do I tell her? Sorry dear I can’t pay for that, I lost my life’s savings?” At this point in the conversation, Sana began to cry softly under her eyeglasses.
“What should I tell her? You can’t continue your studies? or Your dad and I are too old to emigrate and find a job? If my husband could work abroad, even part-time, then at least we would make some fresh dollars. What options do we have? Ask my sister for money? Ask my sister-in-law for money to pay for an MA program? Those are not good options. How would we ever be able to repay them? We keep saying hamdillah we are better off than others; but tell me Livia, how will I face my daughter if she gets those acceptance letters?”
- Livia, November 13, 2020
A Syrian camp in Tripoli has been burned down to ashes. What a tragedy. One that announces, loud and clear, that our lives in Lebanon—whether refugees or host communities—is cheap. More than 300 refugees were forced to flee because of a personal clash between a Syrian and a Lebanese. This is collective punishment; it is simply incomprehensible that the refugees, the victims, are being blamed.
- Zainab, December 27, 2020
I glimpse an odd familiarity through my neighbor’s door. Hints of daily life suddenly halted; a broken place where layers of dust and abandonment accumulate. There is at once a sudden interruption, and an ongoing sense of continuity. This is how the rest of the city feels. A cafe closes down on Hamra Street. The chairs and tables are neatly tidied up inside, as though it is closing for the night only. But it won’t reopen tomorrow. The dust will accumulate on the chairs. Passers-by will throw garbage on the terrace. Even garbage ages. Another shop that sells silver jewelry has now been closed for several weeks. But I am waiting for it to reopen to try the earrings in the left corner of the window display.
- Muzna, November 8, 2020
I read somewhere that the price of 20 liters of gasoline, which is currently around 25,000 LBP, will increase to 70,000 LBP. This means that if I want to go to the South to see my parents, as I usually do every weekend, I will have to pay around 300,000 LBP per month for gas, excluding my daily trips to work or anywhere else. The circulated numbers must be less than what the actual cost is going to be, no? This calls for a feasibility study—but I am going to put it off until the inevitable hits.
While writing this, I received a text message from Lebanon Taxi reassuring us, the customers, that “Despite what will happen, despite what has happened, we will not change our prices.” The message went on to say that they will be keeping the same fair prices in order to “meet our brothers and Lebanese sisters’ budget and satisfaction.”
This reminded me of the ads that stores used at the beginning of the financial crisis: “الدولار عنا ,ب 1500 ل.ل” “ليرتنا قوية” “The dollar is at 1,500 Lebanese Pound. The Lebanese Pound is strong!” Well, we all know how long that held up. Let us wait and see how long this one will last.
- Watfa, December 10, 2020
Our contracts will end at the end of the year. Till now, we have no idea what is next. Will they renew our contracts? If yes, whose will be renewed? What is certain is that not all of us will be retained. We are awaiting the funders. Although we had always been aware that our contracts were temporary, we had hopes of renewing them. Everyone in this room is concerned and stressed. Losing this contract is another crisis in the list of crises. Everyone in this room is struggling.
- Sherin, December 18, 2020
I work more than ten hours a day. I open my eyes in the morning to this fact; my anxious palpitations are a reminder that this is wrong, unhealthy, odd. Does our new economic reality justify such working conditions? Am I simply whining? I think I am; at least, this is how society might describe me. Who could complain about work in such a brutal economic system, in the middle of a global pandemic?
I love my job, but I despise the system. I’m not happy with the chronic body aches every time I move at the age of 26. It was never the norm to work from bed. But the system is pushing us to normalize what has never been normal.
- Zainab, November 25, 2020
Tripoli is in the headlines as protestors take the streets. The demonstrations turn violent, and the army interferes to brutally attack protesters under the pretext of protection from vandalism. Protestors are angry because of the socio-economic situation. Some TV stations insist and report that it is a politically driven show, that it is instigated by external parties. I talked to a friend from there; she maintains the protests are not “normal.” I was somewhat glad that, finally, anger and the refusal of injustice is manifesting. But now what?
- Zeina, January 26, 2021
In the spring of 2020, I started hearing about colleagues leaving too. With the devaluation of the Lebanese Lira, AUB employees, both faculty and staff, lost a significant amount of their purchasing power.
The upper administration received their large salaries (even in comparison to US standards) in US dollars and with the devaluation, they gained purchasing power. Faculty often talked about the widening inequality at the university. The gap between upper administration and faculty and staff was widening. Employee rumors had it that the upper administration made “fresh dollars” while other rumors had it that some upper administrators were paid in “fresh dollars” and others like the deans were paid in “lollars.” I don’t think we will know which of these is true. But in any case, the upper administration’s salaries were gaining value relative to what they were before the collapse and relative to faculty and staff and this was always in the background of any discussion at the university.
Over the summer, AUB fired 800 employees, mainly staff at the University Hospital. With every passing month, administrators presented the worsening financial situation of the university. “Maybe we will have to close programs,” they said. Those programs that faculty, staff and students had spent decades building, piece by piece. No wonder faculty were resigning or taking leaves without pay. In addition, with the university’s pandemic containment policies, including the shift to online teaching and meetings, AUB was losing its role as a dynamic institution that brought people together at conferences, lectures, exhibits and memorials. Then in the summer of 2020, AUB announced that it would pay full-time faculty $20,000 for the year 2020-2021 in a bank account abroad. And increased staff salaries by about 400,000 LBP. At the same time, they announced to faculty that this was a one-year plan and that in the future faculty needed to apply for grants and cover parts of their salaries. Those parts would be paid in fresh dollars. This was a reinvention of the role of faculty. This increased the pay gap between full-time faculty and part-timers and staff. And faculty worried about the wide range of reforms the university would implement during the crisis.
- Livia, January 7, 2021
My generation does not have the luxury of time. Today, I was struck by the notion of temporality: We are not at a critical juncture, this is not an interim. We are burdened with daily crisis management, figuring out how to respond to the different realities we are submerged in. The repercussions of Lebanon’s crises will last years, even if we start rebuilding the economy as of now. I know this, I have always known this, but when I read today’s article in the newspaper, I was startled, as though I were waking up to an unbearably loud alarm. The article noted that it would take thirty years to build an alternative economy. I will be my mother’s age, and my daughter will be my age. Thirty years. That is double the duration of Lebanon’s Civil War.
- Zeina, January 7, 2021
Two days ago, I was calculating the end-of-year building expenses with my elderly neighbor. She is seventy-seven, and still the person in charge of managing the finances. She writes everything in two tiny little copy books. Those two books carry over ten years worth of data on our eight-story building.
The concierge’s salary is a recurring expense; the water and municipal tax are yearly; and the contract for the elevator maintenance is paid bi-annually (up from 250,000 to 600,000 LBP every six months). We should have regular electricity bills, but the electricity company has not been collecting. We used to pay 400,000 LBP for a generator subscription for the building—it would have been over a million per month now, one that operates the elevator and the water pump when there are electricity cuts, but we did not have the budget for that and stopped early in 2020. In total, our budget is between 15 and 18 million LBP a year. In dollars, a little over a year ago this was something between 10,000 and 12,000 USD. Today it is no more than 200 USD. Same happens with the salary of the concierge; it used to be equal to 400 USD a month, now it is about 70 USD.
- Muzna, January 7, 2021
I have been trying to distract myself all day. I play solitaire. My nerves are stretched. I am scared. I don’t know if crying helps. I feel lonely, numb. Today, after arriving home, I ate and tried to sleep. I could not because of the sound of airplanes. I haven’t slept well in the past two days.
Rumors say there will be another lockdown. We should buy food before that. I cannot adapt to this. How are people adapting? I feel too soft, almost like snow. I feel weak, I feel resistant to any coping mechanism for this economic collapse.
And what scares me most is the fact that I will look back on this day, months from now, and think of how lucky I was back then (now) because things have gotten much, much worse.
- Pascale, January 10, 2021
The World Bank is lending Lebanon almost $250 million to be used as cash assistance for the poor. But the poor will get the money in Lebanese Pounds at an exchange rate below the market rate by at least 40%. The dollars will be kept with the Central Bank, and the Central Bank will use them to subsidize basic goods (which will not necessarily benefit the poor). This will last a few months, no more.
The cash assistance in Lebanese Pounds to the poor will contribute to weakening the pound; the subsidies will ultimately be removed, and the World Bank assistance will be another debt to pay off. This is Lebanon’s social protection system. And we are not even really sure what exactly the central bank is doing with the dollars, as it continues to do accounting tricks to cover its losses. The commercial banks are doing the same. The result: the poor are getting poorer with no resistance and the rich are prevailing and escaping the situation!
- Zeina, January 25, 2021
Authors of the Ethnographic Diaries | كتاب وكاتبات المدونات الاثنوغرافية
The Authors of the Ethnographic Diaries comprise ten women and two men including Lebanese, Syrian, and Egyptian nationals. The writers range in age between their early 20s and late 40s and were residents of various cities in Lebanon between November 2020 and February 2021, the time period of the project Ethnographic Diaries: Capturing the Everyday in Crisis. Members of the group wrote in their language of choice, whether in English or standard or colloquial Arabic. The task of the writers was to observe and document everyday life around them. For individual author bios, click above on the "Ethnographic Diaries - Main Page" button.
كتاب وكاتبات المدونات الاثنوغرافية مجموعة من عشر نساء ورجلين من الجنسيّات اللبنانيّة والسوريّة والمصريّة وتتراوح أعمارهم بين أوائل العشرينات وأواخر الأربعينات، ويسكنون مدناً لبنانية مختلفة خلال فترة مشروع "مدونات اثنوغرافية: عن حصار الحياة اليومية" بين تشرين الثاني 2020 وشباط 2021. كتب أعضاء وعضوات المجموعة باللغتين العربية (الفصحى أو العاميّة) أو الإنجليزية محاولين رصد الحياة اليومية من حولهم وتوثيقها. لسيرة لسيرة المؤلف/ة الفردية ، اضغط على الزر "مدونات إثنوغرافية - الصفحة الرئيسية" الموجود أعلاه.