When I survived the world’s third largest explosion, I lost everything but myself. Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, was a comforting memory I will always hold dearly and protect. Back when I was a little girl running through the colorful streets of Hamra or visiting my grandparents with a box of their favorite maamoul (lebanese date filled sweets), I was at my happiest. Hamra’s streets remain till this day, however have lost all their color, and due to Lebanon’s economic crisis, maamoul is double or even triple the price as it was back then. As a child I grew up in Sweden, I went to school there and lived with my mother, father and brother. I lived in Sweden for 16 years but I never felt like it was my real home. It always felt like a pit-stop, or a temporary home and I used to always look forward to the summers and winters when I got to travel to Lebanon and visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Lebanon was a completely different world than Sweden. Everything had color and life to it and it felt like every experience burst with flavors I can hardly describe. Lebanese people are the kind of people that call you habibi even if they have just met you, the kind of people that fight over paying the bill and who speak 3 languages in their homes. I was always thankful for my privileged life in Sweden, and embraced the Swedish culture as it was beautiful, it just never felt like it was mine to embrace. When I graduated from high-school, I decided to move to Lebanon and attend the American University of Beirut. It was my first time living in my home country and I was beyond excited, it felt like a never ending summer where I didn’t have to go back to the colder dystopia of my European lifestyle. I made new friends, spent my weekends in the mountains and the beach or in the comfort of my grandparent’s home until one blast swept it all away. On August 4th 2020 I was at the Four Seasons rooftop 27 stories high, with my friends. It was a sunny day and the rooftop was filled with the buzzing of people’s conversations and music in the background. Suddenly, a loud thunder-like sound silenced everything. I looked above me and the sky that was blue just seconds ago was now completely covered in a mushroom cloud of fiery red and orange. My ears were ringing as people scattered and ran in front of me in fear, but I could not hear them. I could see a wave of staff members, teenagers, and my friends scream and panic as the glass around us shattered and the buildings began to collapse. I was able to hear again as all of the people on the rooftop were evacuated on the staircase. The staircase was morbidly deafening with cries and screams as we all ran down 27 flights of stairs, fearing that another blast would hit again at any moment now, praying that we make it to the end of the stairs alive. I stood in the parking lot with all the evacuated people feeling my legs shake. I looked around and all I could see was people with blood all over their clothes, first aid kits and paramedics rushing to those who were injured, people searching frantically and screaming for their daughters, sons, and friends, and all I could think of was my own family and praying silently that they were okay. Pieces of glass and chunks from the buildings surrounding us dropped to the street below, as we all ran to avoid getting crushed underneath. Cars were wrecked and smashed, leaving people with no way to return to their broken homes. Thankfully, my mother drove through the city to come get me as we went to our home in the mountains, far enough to be safe from the explosion’s ruins. I was one of the lucky ones. No one describes the feeling of calling all your friends and family members, praying you hear their voice on the other end of the line, or the way your heart drops when they announce a new death on television, thinking about how that could have been one of your loved ones. 218 people were killed that day. My patriotic dream was crushed that day as a few months later, I left my university, my friends, my family, and my home, and moved to the Netherlands to start all over. When I first moved to the Netherlands, I would jump at the sound of a pen dropping in the middle of class. I used to feel the walls would collapse at any minute and despite the wreck that took over the Beirut I left behind, I constantly longed for the Beirut I used to know. I lived alone and studied in the Netherlands for around a year and a half. People kept telling me “you’re so strong,” but I didn’t want to be strong, I wanted to be home. I was always beyond grateful I had the opportunity to pack up and leave the country, an opportunity many in Lebanon only dreamed of. However after a year and a half of watching the economy of Lebanon crash, hearing the way my beautiful city was now destroyed and left to pieces, and finding all my friends had left the country and moved, I decided to leave behind the Netherlands and move back home. In spite of everything terrible, my broken home was still my home. I missed the comfort of having my mother by my side, and hearing Arabic in the streets, I missed the familiarity of the streets I used to love and the comfort of my favorite meals. I did not care for the isolation of living on my own in a world I do not know, in a world that does not belong to me. My broken home was still my home after all.
Hend Roubaiy: My nonfiction piece highlights my experience in the explosion that happened in Lebanon on August 4th 2020. The underrepresentation of the beauty of Lebanese culture before the explosion is described and how as a person who has lived in Europe most of my life, I long for my broken home in Lebanon and chose to leave the Netherlands and move to Lebanon after the explosion happened, regardless of the opportunities I have of a better life in Europe.