I will never forget the day of August 4th, 2020.
It was just after 11AM that I had wished one of my closest friends in Beirut a happy birthday before jumping into my third Zoom meeting of the day. It was only 15 minutes later, after logging onto Twitter, that I saw the hashtag, #BeirutExplosion trending on the right panel of my screen. My eyes jumped quickly from the trending section to my timeline, where I saw video after video of my hometown being demolished.
My heart dropped. “صار إنفجار” (An explosion happened), I told my brother. We both sat in front of the computer screen. Shocked, bewildered, and utterly speechless.
Explosions in Beirut typically do not surprise me. As a proud citizen of Lebanon, I can say that I am all too familiar with the dangers and unfortunate circumstances of living in a third-world country. But this was different.
After calling my mother and checking in with other family members, I sadly discovered that my childhood home was full of broken windows and cracks.
“I don’t want to die” a young girl screams as the blast hits. Those responsible for this must pay. pic.twitter.com/yTyCaoPtvc
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 4, 2020
The days that followed were uneasy, difficult, and challenging for me, as I had to virtually communicate with family and friends amidst the chaos. It’s an impossibly horrific feeling to have to call everyone you love just to make sure they’re alive.
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While relegated to my duties in DC (and the travel precautions instituted due to COVID-19) I was unable to travel home, and relied heavily on social media platforms to get a sense of how many people were still alive, which areas were in most need, and how rescue efforts were being executed.
In a country like Lebanon, you can’t always trust news outlets, as they are owned by incomparably corrupt mafias. So I, and many others in the States, searched frantically through the Twitter profiles of independent journalists on the ground. It allowed me to receive real-time updates, and unfiltered news that gave me some peace of mind that my family and friends were safe.
There were minimal signs that the government would provide any aid to the people. So, the people took it upon themselves to help each other, because that’s what happens when you know you have to rely on your neighbors more than you can rely on your government. Swarms of people went to the streets with broomsticks and started cleaning the rubble; many helped strangers clean their homes and rebuild whatever was left. NGOs had stations to spread food, send volunteers where needed and professional engineers to help in any way possible.
All this mobilization was possible because of Facebook groups, Instagram stories, the simplicity of communication on WhatsApp and the will of the people to help each other when no one else would.
The beautiful people pic.twitter.com/qSDpH1ds4W
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 7, 2020
A sea of people in #Beirut. Huge anger, largest participation in rioting that I’ve seen so far. pic.twitter.com/mJXUMgfiQX
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 8, 2020
Fast forward to present day, and the outpouring of love and support I’ve witnessed through social media continues to multiply. Donations flew in to aid Lebanon, and I cannot stress this enough, came for the Lebanese people and NGOs and not the government. Links for donations were being shared every few minutes for over a month and are still being shared. I can’t thank people enough for all the money and awareness they donated and are still donating.
Celebrities also took a stand and helped raise awareness and money for the people of Lebanon. A touching tribute to Anthony Bourdain from Russel Crowe warmed the internet, Lebanese born singer Mika staged a virtual concert with the popular band Mashrou’ Leila to raise donations, Zuhair Murad starting selling “Rise from the Ashes” t-shirts for famous celebrities to wear to raise awareness—everyone from Jennifer Lopez to the ever-loved Palestinian Mohamed Hadid snapped a photo wearing one.
On behalf of Anthony Bourdain.
I thought that he would have probably done so if he was still around. I wish you and LeChef the best and hope things can be put back together soon. https://t.co/VHYCJujJ6y
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) August 13, 2020
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We’re living in a time where social media is constantly being questioned and has taken over our lives. From alarming studies of the neurological effects it has on our brains, to the dangers of data privacy and rigging of presidential elections, there’s a lot to be worried about.
However, the ways in which communities have been able to band together in times of crisis has been astounding, and it gives me hope for our digital future.
For anyone who would like to donate to Lebanon, you can here:
The Lebanese Red Cross:
American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC):