In Beirut, Paul Fouad El Zouki, 42 years old, lives on the corner of one of the alleys that are the charm of the Geitawi district. With a touch of bitterness, he tells me about his Lebanon, his neighborhood and his life today.
Paul was born at the start of the war in Beirut. His parents, originally from Bekaa, had settled there to start a family. Today, despite the turmoil, his whole family still lives in Lebanon. An increasingly exceptional case for this country which is emptying of its inhabitants. The youth, carried by the hope of a better life in the diaspora, reluctantly left the country. Many of his friends have gone abroad to work because, he says, “they'd rather be bartenders in Europe than engineers in Lebanon."
Paul is a Lebanese, like so many others, who suffers to see his country gradually fall into chaos. Hairdresser, he studied as an apprentice and has been practicing his profession with passion for twenty-five years. A smile illuminate his lips when he talks about it. "I love my job. When I wake up in the morning I'm happy. "
This posture, this smile and this serenity in his speech so aptly represent the unwavering optimism of the Lebanese people. But unfortunately this year is the last straw that break the camel back. Daily life is harsh, full of uncertainty and in the eyes of many, the flame of hope is extinguished. Over the past two years, the people have had to face an unprecedented political, health and economic crisis. It all came up: the revolution, the coronavirus, the inflation of the Lebanese pound and the explosion in Beirut, whipping the inhabitants without respite. “The government is killing us,” he told me sadly. “The inhabitants are struggling to pay their rent. They no longer live, they survive. "
He also tells me about his neighborhood. “We are very close with my neighbors. It's the only thing that still holds us up." At the end of each month, anxiety rises. He knows he won't have enough money to pay his rent to his landlord, who fortunately often "cut the prizes" for him so he can continue to eat. “Without this gesture, I will already be on the streets for a long time." But for his hairdressing salon, no privilege. The owner wants the cash payment, every month, without rebate.
"The tragedy is also this generalized confinement! I pay the rent for my hair salon but cannot continue to go there to work. It's absurd !" Since January 14, 2021, the date on which the Lebanese authorities put in place a total confinement, no travel has been authorized except in exceptional cases and shops, bars, restaurants, hairdressing salons remain closed. "A catastrophe for the economy of our country" complains Paul. “All we needed was that. What can we do? We don't want to be assisted but we want work."
Problems pile up with no hope of respite. Rents and electricity bills weigh heavily on families' budgets - remember that in Lebanon, there are always two bills: public electricity but also the generator which takes over each time it cracked - food costs explode because of inflation and the debts contracted are quickly insolvent ... As soon as the enumeration of all these sufferings is done, the electricity goes off as if to prove to us that the situation is critical.
With protests exploding and a noxious atmosphere developing, insecurity is a serious problem in Cedar Country. A year ago, Paul left his home at night, unafraid of his shadow. Now because of the resurgence of kidnappings, settling of scores or even racketeering, he hides when night comes. Poverty and the total blockage of the country push the Lebanese to go for it, and often, unfortunately, some choose violence.
It has become practically impossible to travel in complete serenity in several regions of the country. Fifty years ago, war ruined the country, “but the enemy was visible and combatable! Today, the virus of chaos is infiltrating people's consciousness insidiously and without warning. How do you want to fight it?"
Are the Lebanese disillusioned? Yes, without doubt and for good reason ... The economic and political crises have sowed discord, the health crisis has sounded the death knell. Aid has been put in place to assist the populations but the situation remains critical. "In case of contamination, to have a hospital bed and an oxygen cylinder, you have to pay around € 1,000. Welcome to the jungle!" So the Lebanese stay at home, watch time goes by through the window as their savings dwindle, and hope to wake up the next morning.
In these troubled times, SOS Chrétiens d'Orient stands by the Lebanese and intensifies its actions. Support our emergency and development projects. Help the Lebanese regain hope and live on their land.