by Halima Al Haj Ali, Beirut, Lebanon 10.09.2020
Cover photo by Faten Anbar

I am photographing and documenting what happened in Beirut so that the world sees the great destruction and suffering caused by the explosion. On the other hand I’m doing it so that the world knows the help and love that exists among all the people in Lebanon despite everything that the politicians do and despite everything that has happened here. There is still a beautiful thing here – caring for the others and helping them.

When the explosion happened, I was sitting with my family eating food. We felt a very strong vibration. We thought it was an earthquake and the building was going to collapse from the sway. My husband got up trying to protect our older child in the corner of the house. I took the little boy but I did not know where to go to protect him. Immediately after that we heard the sound of the explosion and it reminded me of when we were in Syria. I said “bombing, this is a bombing”. We were all screaming and afraid. My children were crying and looking at us and asking what will happen. Will we die? What will we do? Do we go? Then my husband said we should go to the street, maybe we will find a safe place for the children and for us. 

I approached the balcony of the house and saw people lying on the ground in fear. I thought that a building in Shatila had fallen to the ground from the intensity of the vibration that had occurred. It shook all of Beirut and shook our hearts with it, and brought us back to memories we thought we had forgotten about the war we fled from, and which still terrify us.

My oldest son was born in Syria, but I brought him here when he was just 6 months old. He always asked if we would go back to Syria and if the war will end there. And when the explosion happened here, he said, “Will it happen like in Syria? Will there be a war?” I told him, “No, this is just an explosion.”

My husband works near the area of the explosion and every day passes the front of the harbour around where the explosion happened. It was our good fortune that on the day of the explosion he arrived home at 5:50pm, that is, shortly before the explosion, because the explosion happened at 6:09pm. That is his usual time to get home unless there is a bad traffic jam. We thank God that he reached the house before the explosion.

An hour after the explosion, the employer called my husband and told him that he must come back to work because the place was damaged, and that he must sleep at work, my husband and all the workers. Our little boy heard this and was crying because he was scared. He was asking my husband to take him with or not to go and was screaming hysterically. I tried to calm him and sooth his fear, I told him “I am here, beside you, do not worry”, and finally after a long time he fell asleep. His older brother asked me whether there will be another explosion. Will something happen to us? Will it happen here like in Syria? Will something happen? My husband and I answered, trying to make them feel safe, which I also needed. My husband returned after two days.

On the morning after the explosion, an official from a local association came to ask who wants to volunteer at the scene of the explosion and I agreed to help without thinking. I told them, “I will go with you. Send us someone who takes us to the place and who brings us back at the end of the day.”

We are a group of Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese who work with love with each other and our goal is to help and relieve the affected people.

I felt that I had to go and do anything to help. I remembered when I was in Syria and I wanted someone to help and relieve us. We were all affected there and we needed someone to stand beside us. I felt that it was my duty to go to the streets, a duty towards the country that opened its doors to me when I was fleeing from war. It has given me safety and I consider it my second country, and now it needs someone to relieve it and its people. Even if I am tired from what has happened in Syria, doing this, helping out, makes me feel much better.

Lebanon Beirut after explosion volunteers giving away food and water