By Jenna Hage-Hassan
I will never forget my first night in Beirut. It was the night my mom dropped me off at my dorm at the American University there. My 18-year-old self could barely contain the excitement. I walked her down to the gate and gave her a giant hug goodbye, then I waved her off. I ran back up to my dorm room and closed the door, and as I looked around, the feeling of loneliness was so overwhelming, I can’t even begin to describe it.
Later that night, I pulled myself together and decided to go for a walk to get to know my new city. I got dressed and walked out of my room towards the Mediterranean. It was a beautiful night, filled with the sounds of the bustling, lively city I imagined. It was a windy night, and I thought it was raining. It was only after I crossed the main road on to the city’s corniche that I realized it wasn’t rain, but rather the light mist of the water hitting the rocks. I could taste the salt in the air, and as my hair blew wildly covering my face, I turned around so that I was facing a different direction. As I caught my first glimpse of the city and campus at night, I feel I don’t know the words to express how alive I felt. It’s a feeling I will never forget.
Those first few weeks at school, before I made friends and acclimated to college life, Beirut was my only friend. In all my years of traveling the world—all the people I’ve met and places I’ve seen—I’ll never have another friend like her. There are more beautiful cities in the world; cities more developed and some more “cultured,” but there is something so very special and uniquely charming—a certain je ne sais quoi—that Beirut has that you must experience to understand.
Lebanon is suffering, if you follow current events, you no doubt know that the past year has been incredibly difficult on the country and its people. Yesterday’s explosion has devastated the country even further, and the city itself is reeling while still recovering the dead and missing. The coming days and weeks will be some of the most difficult the country has ever faced, and international aid is now more important than ever.
I was listening to an episode of Latino USA (From Venezuela With Love, February 2019) on the economic crisis in Venezuela, a country that has suffered similar economic strife in recent years. One of the guests said something that resonates with me now more than ever. He was around my age and had watched his friends leave for better lives elsewhere. “So many people who I went to college with are gone,” he said, “I will never have that sense of ‘this is a place where people from my past live together.” As a woman who came of age in Beirut, I know this feeling all too well, and after yesterday, it is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge this once again.
To Beirut and its people—the most resilient city and people I know.