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‘Nothing but a pot of locusts’: Trauma, insanity in Lebanon | The story of the Beirut eruption

Beirut, Lebanon – It was a hot September day when Jinane went to look for an international exchange office near his home in Beirut in Ain el Remmaneh.

Jinane, 32, had visited at least four offices, but none of them were in the ministry because of illness power outages which has plagued Lebanon for months.

The weekend was drawing to a close, and the young translator had run out of money. With just a few miles left in her purse, she had been frustrated that she had not been able to accept a job offer that she had just completed.

Since the collapse of Lebanese banks in 2019, many people have relied on international money transfer agencies, such as Western Union, to receive foreign currency.

In doing so, they avoid spending large sums of money in banks and avoid the disruption of local currency exchanges while the gap between government rates and the black market to the dollar continues to fluctuate.

The Lebanese pound lost more than 90% of its value to the black dollar compared to the US dollar on the black market in two years, reaching more than 20,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar in the summer. However, the largest bank, the Banque du Liban, retains the money launched in 1997, which netted £ 1,500 pounds.

As Jinane led his driver to the office near Jnah south of Beirut, a black man sitting in the back of a nearby car was singing incessantly.

All roads were closed as cars were lined up at half a mile (0.3 miles) at the gas station. Due to the severe shortage of oil in Lebanon, people are being forced to wait for hours at gas stations to refill their tanks.

After the driver shot her, Jinane started to worry about the noise. He turned in his chair to join the hand through the taxi window. “Why are you crying? You don’t see the roads closed, ”he shouted.

But the dark man continued to shoot and then began to insult, cursing at Jinane.

Soon, he hailed a taxi and stood in the middle of the road shouting.

What started as a conflict quickly escalated into a full-scale controversy.

As the man ran into his luxury car, Jinane was so angry that he almost panicked.

Traffic lanes adjacent to the oil refinery line up for fuel shortages [File: Joseph Eid/AFP]

Loud noise

A few hours later, Jinane kept quiet. He sat down and explained what had happened.

“Since the explosion, I can’t hear a loud bang,” he said of the devastating events of August 4, 2020 – the day the largest non-nuclear explosion occurred in the city.

An explosion of about 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in the Beirut harbor killed more than 200 people, injured 6,000 others, and destroyed entire areas.

The explosion occurred at 6:08 pm (03:08 GMT) at the same time, Jinane was in his kitchen making a “locker” – a spicy Middle East dish made of jute and chicken leaf – to eat.

“Before I knew it, I was on the floor, my windows and doors were broken,” Jinane said. “Then everyone ran into the streets. People were bleeding, screaming, and being rude.

“But most of all, I remember the sound of sirens coming from car alarms and crying,” he said slowly, raising his hands to his ears and dropping his head between them.

“I’m crying a lot,” she repeated slowly. He rolled his eyes as if in pain.

Then, as if a bulb had been lit on his head, he realized why he had acted so aggressive that day. The crying was the cause, and it brought him back to face the pain of the explosion.

On a scary day, Jinane boarded a trip to the northern city of Tripoli, where he lives. Before he got into the car, he went back to his house, looking at it one last time.

“Did we go to war with Israel? Did the world come to an end? ”He asked. I don’t know what happens or when I come back. ”

But he didn’t take anything. “Not family photos, not money,” Jinane said. “Nothing.”

“The only pot of locksmiths,” he said, recalling the way he carried it in his car as the car traveled 80km (35 miles) north of the capital.

Local investigations have so far failed to identify the cause of the catastrophic explosion or massive arrests. Relatives of survivors and their relatives repeatedly sought independent research delegating responsibilities to individuals.

A relative of a Beirut family exploded last year during a protest rally near the Justice Palace in Beirut [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Disorders of the spine

Like many Lebanese people who have experienced the blast, Jinane complains of anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, and the constant fear of dying – a sign that she has not received treatment, according to Beirut psychiatrist Yara Chamoun.

Jinane seemed to be “upset” when he picked up the brother, Chamoun said, unnoticed. “When you have a problem, you start to feel numb. He did not know what he was doing.

“With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other things can trigger or remind the problem,” she explained, referring to what Jinane did crying, adding that PTSD patients avoid this.

Two days earlier, an incident had caused her to become insane.

Israel Fighter jets are attacking the area in Syria used the Lebanese airspace again for less than two weeks. Lebanese residents heard the sound of Israeli planes flying in low-lying areas early on September 3.

Although this was events all the time in a small Mediterranean country, most recently, Jinane was not in Beirut, where it is sometimes heard.

Instead, he slept all night on the mountain where “planes were above us”, he said. “I ran around crying in desperation. I started to think that I was dying. ”

For the past 40 years, the 15-year civil war, the Israeli occupation of the south, the July 2006 war with Israel, and several bombings and killings – including the recent Beirut explosion and economic crisis – put millions of Lebanese at high risk of PTSD, according to a recent report. learning.

At least 200 people have been killed, and more than 6,000 injured in the Beirut blast [Wael El Hamzeh/EPA]

More and more things

Last year, about 74% of the population fell into poverty, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Major foods, electricity, fuel, and medicine have been scarce or unavailable for months.

About 82 percent of the population is now living in extreme poverty, according to the ESCWA. This means that they will not be able to afford anything they need such as electricity or health care. That figure was 42% in 2019.

While there are no official statistics showing the unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon, Chamoun said it was “like a swim against technology”.

“People were already suffering from the economic downturn, epidemics, and outbreaks, but now there are economic and financial crises that are increasing mental health on a daily basis,” he told Al Jazeera.

Like many other Lebanese people, Jinane has struggled to cope.

Every day, she receives heartbreaking responses from relatives and friends in need of help: a mother who cannot afford to give cancer treatment to her son, an elderly woman who has been without electricity in her home for days; or a person with a disability who is unable to access any treatment.

“Every call makes sense,” said Jinane, whose mother died of cancer last year. “But I can’t but I’m not trying to help.”

Children search in garbage cans in Beirut as power shortages and economic downturns intensify [File: Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg]

Great growth in cases

The crisis in many parts of the country has led to a “rise” in the number of people with dementia, says Hiba Dandachli, director of communications at Embrace, the National Lifeline-based organization, to encourage and prevent suicide from the hotline.

“It’s even worse,” Dandachli said, referring to his support number, 1564, as he saw the number of calls over the past two years.

“We have received more than 6,000 calls so far this year. In 2019, we received 2,000, ”he said.

A major increase is the increase in cases of PTSD, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, insomnia, and substance abuse, says Chamoun, which also supports Embrace’s health care facilities.

Drug and alcohol abuse as “solutions” have increased as people try to escape their problems, Chamoun told Al Jazeera.

A recent study by the Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care (Idraac), a body that specializes in health in Lebanon and the Arab world, states that 1 in 20 Lebanese has committed suicide. One in 50 tried.

“The whole of Lebanon is facing challenges and pressures,” Chamoun said. “Do we really want to do it for everyone?”

Volunteer at Embrace’s hotline 1564, a national charity that provides encouragement and helps to avoid suicide in Lebanon, calls from time to time [Courtesy of Embrace/Al Jazeera]

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