He shook his head. He didn’t want to decorate the tree we brought with other children.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Malihari“He replied—he didn’t have the energy to do it.
“He’s always like this,” his father explained, pulling him closer and giving him a light kiss on the forehead.
The child began to shed big, fat and silent tears.
I tried to associate with him again. “What can we do to make you smile?” I asked.
“there is nothing.”
“What do you like to do?”
“there is nothing.”
His father, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, scribbled his wishes on holiday decorations. “I want to be healthy,” he wrote on a piece of A-4 paper. “I want a sense of security.”
“Here you are. Take a pencil,” he said, putting a pencil in his son’s hand. The boy didn’t even wrap his fingers around it. It fell to the ground with a click.
He is INARA’s first child, and it helps war-wounded children. They cannot be coaxed and even refuse to eat the chocolate cake in front of him.
After a while, my father and I moved to another room. The father spoke out of breath for 45 minutes. Everything came to the surface: how he tried to keep his family healthy and eating. He can’t keep up. He can’t win. He just watched his child disappear before his eyes.
“They disappeared in front of me, I don’t know what to do.”
‘They have destroyed us’
I took a taxi to meet a friend for dinner. Beggars on the street seem to be more crowded than pedestrians.
“They ruined us. I swear people are considering suicide,” the taxi driver said. He was talking to me, but only talking to himself.
He was referring to the political elite of the country. Nowadays, they are called “thief”, “criminal” and “killer”. They have destroyed the wealth of this country, struggling with pain and shock, and almost unable to deal with the new reality.
“You know one day I bought labneh (a kind of Arabic cream cheese) and white cheese, it was not spicy, it was too expensive,” he said. “I bought a total of four things in the store, and the cost was the same as the cost of filling the entire refrigerator.”
“How do you explain this to your child,” I asked.
“It makes me sad. Ask your kids to ask you for things you can’t buy. Small things. Jam and peanut butter. I just told them to be patient. Dad is doing his best. I don’t lie to them.”
He had to pull his children from private schools and send them to public schools. But that school is now closed because the teachers went on strike.
“I swear to you that one day I was just sitting and I started crying,” he said.
He sent me to a lovely restaurant on the hill outside the city. It feels surreal there. The privilege of knowing I can eat is actually disgusting.
My close friend Reina Sarkis is a psychoanalyst, and she is already sitting at the table. She lost a lot of weight and her face was pale.
“Thank you for coming here all the way, I’m so tired,” she said as we hugged.
Reina has chronic health problems and just received treatment earlier in the day.
“Can you believe I’m still outside? You know I haven’t cried yet,” she said.
“Just because we breathe, it’s not a proof of life,” she told me.
I saw it on the faces of friends and strangers. One light went out. No real laughter, no self-deprecating comments typical of Lebanese.
A country that has been trying to mend its wounds has now been completely shattered and its soul hollowed out.
The country did not deteriorate overnight. It has been happening in slow motion for many years. But in the last two years it has been thrown into a full-speed collision.
Most people’s life savings evaporated, inflation soared, and the country’s currency depreciated by more than 95% in two years. The result is a massive impoverishment of the population.
“Understanding a crisis is different from living organically every day,” Reiner told me.
I sat and listened and couldn’t say anything. Not to her, nor to anyone else I have spoken to in the past few days.
I don’t have a frame of reference when parents have to explain to their children why they can’t eat meat anymore, let alone buy gifts for the holidays. Or worse, why they were expelled from school and sent to work. The latest report from UNICEF states that child labor in Lebanon has doubled in the past year.
Everyone has a kind of anger, accompanied by deep depression. The despair of adults has permeated the children.
The next day, my car drove slowly through a small playground. I looked at the children outside the window. They seem to move in slow motion, as if they were on the verge of childhood. The children don’t want to play anymore.
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