A year later, the shock, the pain, the images, the sounds, the smells, the slightest memories and each stage of their resurrection is still engraved in them. On the 4th of August 2020, after the double explosion of the Port of Beirut, they all lost a part of their heart, but also everything for which they had relentlessly worked for years.
A year later, Hussein Bazaza, Roni Helou, Krikor Jabotian, Amine Jreissati, Jessica K., Sandra Mansour, Maya, Meena and Zeenat Mukhi (Mukhi Sisters), Eric-Mathieu Ritter (Emergency Room) and Elias Samia (Local Vice) know that they will never forget nor forgive but most of all, they know they will never give up. Their rage is beautiful, creative, and a weapon of mass (re)construction.
Read their answers, their stories are a lesson of hope.
1. August 4, 2020, 6:08 pm: what is this one image that is imprinted in your mind forever?
2. Who is the first person you hugged, and reached out to? What did you tell her/him?
3. The reconstruction (the resurrection): what was the hardest part?
4. What did you feel/say/do when you entered your newly rebuilt work space for the first time?
5. How did the 4th of August impact your creativity, your vision, your understanding and your philosophy of fashion?
6. “I am Lebanese, therefore cursed.” How many times did you think that, or did you say those words out loud?
7. “I am Lebanese and I am proud.” Is it still the case? Why or why not? Can it be so again?
8. Will you ever forget? Forgive? Did the 4th of August push you into getting more involved as a Lebanese citizen?
9. Was giving up (on fashion, on Lebanon, etc.) ever an option? Why?
10. After the 4th of August, what are the lessons learned?
11. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. How accurate is that cliché?
“My Love/Hate Relationship with Lebanon Strengthened on Both Flanks”
1. The image of my friends’ horrified faces.
2. Don’t make me relive this trauma.
3. The hardest part was seeing the new showroom blasted less than a year after completion; it went from new and polished to shattered dusty and old in an instant. Some of the pieces we had were very dear to us, and we had to recreate the same identity after losing what we had just built a few months back.
4. I never left the space so there was no “before and after” for me. I refused to leave it. I stayed put the whole time, with the workers coming and going, day in day out. I wanted to make sure that everything would be put back to its rightful place, and back to normal.
5. People who know me are already aware of the fact that even before the 4th, I had my own personal philosophy regarding everything. But the blast affected me greatly for a while, because suddenly I felt I had no career, no vision and my priorities weren’t priorities anymore. Everything shifted and all we could do was survive.
6. I don’t believe anyone is cursed because of a specific nationality or any sort of label. I’m not cursed because I am Lebanese; it is the whole of Lebanon that is cursed because of politics and corruption.
7. I have never thought it nor have I ever voiced it, but maybe one day I will be able to say it with conviction.
8. No one will ever forget or forgive. It made me hopeless about being a Lebanese citizen.
9. Never an option. There was a moment when I had doubts about fashion in Lebanon, fashion post-COVID. I seriously had misgivings about whether the field we’re in is genuinely important and if I should keep at it, because I felt that I was doing something that was not productive to the community or the country. But, it was never really an option to seriously give up; my creativity peaked right after the blast, and my love/hate relationship with Lebanon strengthened on both flanks.
10. It taught me that there is still a lot of hatred between us. There is love, but there is still very obvious hate, because the only thing that I heard moments after of the explosion was Lebanese blaming one another. We are ruled by hate, not by love. We live just to prove that one segment is better than the other, whereas we should strive to be as one. Undivided.
11. To a certain extent, and depending on the murder weapon of choice. You can handle the pain of what doesn’t kill you, and it will make you stronger, but there is just so much one can handle.
“I am Proud of What Being Lebanese Forces You to Become”
1. My mom, sister, cousin and myself in the corridor. My cousin tripping from fear and falling down.
2. No one. I was very rational and focused on getting everyone to safety.
3. After the explosion, I left Beirut and moved back to my village to be closer to my family and to nature. The first 6 months slipped by faster than expected because of my being in denial regarding what had happened. I was also keeping myself busy with the fundraiser and with my move to Doha. The last month before the move was the hardest: we closed the fund and ceased activities. That was when it hit me all at once and I realized the ramifications of everything I had lost and how much I was missing my home and workplace.
4. I still haven’t set foot inside. I moved to Doha after the explosion. The team and I continue to work remotely. My work space here is almost ready and I cannot wait to step into my personal creative sanctuary.
5. It has been very difficult to tap into my creative side this past year as I am still getting over the physical loss and dealing with the responsibilities that came along as a result of the explosion. In terms of my philosophy towards fashion, it made me realize that being overly concerned with the rules of the industry can make you forget how much more pleasant it is to break them and implement things in the way and pace you desire. One of the things the explosion taught me is that we cannot foretell the future, and that should push us to live more freely.
6. Many times. But truthfully, the curse is not about being Lebanese; the curse is about the corrupt political parties that rule us and, the toxic foreign interests that control our fates. After an explosion of such a magnitude that drove so many of us away, you would think that these dinosaurs would try to change, but you’d be wrong! We are still dealing with the same people taking advantage of the situation in Lebanon and exploiting the country and all of its resources.
7. Yes, I am proud, not of being Lebanese, but of what being Lebanese forces you to become. I am proud of myself for still standing on my own two feet after everything I have been through these past two years. As Lebanese people, we unfortunately got extremely accustomed to fixing things on our own and tending our own wounds, time after time after time. We are forced to be independent as we cannot count on our government. As sad and unfair of a reality this is, it really makes us thick skinned. We are resilient, though some might reject the idea – rightfully so – because our government should take responsibility for its citizens., I think we are resilient because it takes a lot of strength to deal with what we deal with on a daily basis.
8. We will never forget and we will never forgive; justice must be served and our politicians must get sacked. The 4th of August unquestionably got me more involved as a Lebanese citizen. We were all on the streets cleaning up and helping in the field as much as we could. My team and I also launched a fund to support fellow creatives who were affected by the explosion. Even after expanding to Doha, our entire production and sourcing processes remain in Lebanon. However, 7 months after the explosion, I realized that there is only so much I can do for a place that is constantly rejecting me.
9. Giving up my brand was never an option, which is why I left. The situation cornered me and forced me to decide: should I should stay and watch my brand/baby die slowly, my family sink into depression, my team lose their jobs? Or should I relocate abroad and try to stay afloat while helping as much as possible from there.
10. It taught me that the system our entire planet runs on is a complete embarrassment and failure. All the problems in the world, no matter where they are happening, are interconnected, spoken about or swept under the rug depending on mutual global interests. We need to start looking at each other as living beings sharing one giant yet limited space, not as collateral damage occurring far away from us.
11. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… if you manage to survive the consequences. This saying should not be generalized as not everyone has the same strength to overcome adversity.
“Choosing to Stay in Lebanon and Remaining Active is a Form of Resistance”
1. On August 4, 2020, at the time of the blast, I was in a coastal village not far from Beirut where I had a clear view of the port. The image that is forever imprinted in my mind is that of the enormous mushroom cloud that filled up the sky. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, accompanied by shock waves and a loud blast. It instantly prompted images of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No one had any idea what had actually happened. It was pure chaos and confusion.
2. I don’t recall the first person I hugged or spoke to as I was overwhelmed and shaken, but to this day I’m extremely moved by the influx of text messages and phone calls from people in Lebanon and abroad. In hindsight, I see it as an outpour of support and love but at the time it was essentially a matter of safety: people calling to make sure the person on the other end of the line had made it out alive.
3. Picking up the pieces of the blast both literally and figuratively. Our homes, workplaces and beloved city were in ruins. Where do you even begin when the scale of the damage is so massive? It was hard to see one’s personal belongings gone in the blink of an eye, albeit material things. Finding the strength to make rational and quick decisions in the midst of such chaos, bloodshed and death was extremely nerve-wracking. Those of us who were lucky enough to be able to salvage their property were shattered to the core; we had no mental clarity for weeks and yet we were forced to start rebuilding right away, yet many were rendered displaced.
4. I was the one seeing the reconstruction process through from beginning to end, although enraged and totally consumed by feelings of disgust and despondency. I was involuntary propelled into acting and acting fast. That is the worst part of it all; we didn’t even get the chance to mourn the dead or our city.
5. Apart from the fact that it took weeks to be able to step foot back in the workshop, my creativity was completely stifled. Business as usual was not an option when bodies were being pulled out from underneath the rubble and people were still missing. Today, much later down the line, I can say that I’m finally able to weaponize and transfer the anger and emotions that are still in me into producing work and pushing myself forward. Choosing to stay in Lebanon and remaining active is a form of resistance.
6. Such thoughts are definitely common when it comes to a Lebanese person or anyone from the Middle East; it’s more of a regional curse. In Lebanon, we are well aware of how hard we have to work in order to get by, let alone thrive. The precariousness of our lives has become a way of life and navigating conflict is a big part of what it means to be Lebanese.
7. Lebanon is defined by its people and I’m eternally proud of the inspiring individuals that put the country on the map. These people are constantly working against the iniquity of the political class, who have shaped the country – against all odds – through their own volition, vision, support systems and limitless energy.
8. We will never forgive nor forget and neither will history. The political class in its entirety is guilty of the demise of the country and the blood of innocent citizens is on their hands. A year after the calamitous day, the government — an abominable oligarchy of war criminals —, continues to obstruct a just investigation and fair trial, while they uphold the financial, economic and social warfare they have waged against the people. As a Lebanese citizen, being apolitical is not a choice.
9. I was born and raised in Lebanon and I set up my business here while being well aware of the challenges and obstacles I was to face. Our lives have never reached this level of unstableness, yet many people including myself remain invested in the country. Relocating was never an option; the model I created —starting with the space and finishing with the incredible team that took years to establish — can simply not be shifted elsewhere.
10. August 4th taught me that life is incredibly precious and to never take a single day for granted. I also further understood the extent to which life can be unfair and the degree to which corruption can be lethal.
11. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not a way to live, especially when the killing is very real. For the longest time, Lebanese people have built their existence around conflict but today the line between surviving in times of crises and total collapse is no longer thin. The constant burnout is inhibiting the growth of an incredibly skilled, intelligent and talented group of people, not to mention draining the country of its brightest. You get to a point where you are unable to battle decades of systemic corruption.
“Giving Up on Lebanon or On Fashion is Never an Option”
1. It’s more of a “sound” that I will never forget. Apart from the sound, when I opened my eyes, my vision was in black and white and it stayed that way for a few minutes.
2. Lord, my dog, that I was already holding after the first explosion. I hugged him, kissed him and told him that everything was going to be ok.
3. Everything is still hard. Emotionally, psychologically, morally, physically, professionally, all of it… But the human mind and body develop a certain power that gives you the strength to get up and walk again.
4. It was, and still is a jumble of feelings. Happy that it looks the same, but sad that it is soulless. Grateful that I got the help needed to rebuild it, but broken hearted to know that my creations will not be sold here.
5. I would say it impacted “me” as a person in so many ways that my vision of things changed, evolved, developed. This resulted in a collection called “Sajeen” inspired by all the suffering that we encountered in 2020, and imprinted with the palette of the blast .
6. This is something I would never say.
7. “Of course I am proud, and always will be. It’s assuredly not because we are ruled by criminals that I will loose pride in being Lebanese. I hold my citizenship very close to my heart and it’s unquestionably not something I reject.
8. How can one possibly forgive? Or forget? It’s humanly impossible. The revolution pushed me to get more involved for sure. The blast developed anger and hatred that I didn’t know I had in me.
9. On Lebanon, or on fashion, or on anything, giving up is never an option.
10. That life can change at any minute, for better or worse, and to never take anything for granted, and certainly not life.
11. I firmly believe that every great moment of sadness or big catastrophe that a person goes through teaches a lesson. And a lesson, whether good or bad, makes you stronger.
“First and Foremost, Lebanese People Need to Obtain Justice”
1. I wasn’t physically present in Beirut at the time of the explosion, but those images of the aftermath will never leave my mind.
2. I hugged my children and my husband. Although we were not in Beirut, we felt the shock waves. I cannot describe the feeling we had when we realized what had happened nor can we do justice to the turmoil inside.
3. The hardest part was coming to terms with the human loss and the damage to our home and our offices. We rebuilt the mortar and despite all the difficulties worked on rebuilding our mental health. That was the most difficult of all, to uplift our spirits and properly grieve for that which we had lost at that moment: hope.
4. I felt hope being rekindled in my heart again. Being back in my workspace, which is my second home after all, gave me the required motivation to continue working and boost my team’s morale.
5. In the beginning, it was as if my creativity and willingness to produce had dried out. I was concentrating on the mental health of my family and my own. We were very much aware of the fact that we were alive, which might not have been the case had we been home at the time of the explosion. This had consequences on my vision of the fashion industry; I decided to be in the moment, and cut down on unnecessary expenses such as creating full collections as per the fashion schedule. My new philosophy is to fervently create small capsule collections every few weeks.
6. None. I believe in positive energy and circumstances that are out of our control. I cannot change where I was born. What I have control over however, is where I steer myself, my family and more specifically my brand by engaging in a positive outlook on life.
7. I am Lebanese. I am proud. I built my brand from scratch here in Beirut. And although I am proud of my roots, I am heartbroken by the state our governing body has left our country in. Working in this current environment is hard and challenging. We have to constantly be self aware and exert our efforts to not lose sight of hope and belief in this country.
8. I won’t ever forget, that’s for sure. Even now, we live through the trauma every day. Forgiveness is something else, and still undetermined. First and foremost, Lebanese people need to obtain justice; hopefully forgiveness will come after that.
9. Deep down, it was never an option. Creating and designing at every turn is deeply imbedded into my identity as a person, as a woman, and as a mother. Giving it up would be like giving up a limb.
10. To live in the moment because life can change at any time, and most importantly to love to the fullest.
11. Despite the cards being stacked against us, we have come out – on the other side of the 4th of August – stronger and more committed to succeed. So, in my case, the cliché is pretty accurate.
“The 4th of August Shaped the Person I am Today in Every Way”
1. The one image I will never forget, is probably that of myself falling on the sidewalk in Geneva, completely disoriented upon speaking to my family in Beirut. I felt helpless and paralyzed. Every inch of me was overcome with grief.
2. I was talking to my mother when the explosion occurred. I was with her on the phone when we heard the blast, followed by shattering glass and screaming. A moment that will forever be embedded in my heart.
3. The reconstruction process truly moved me. It was a collective effort topped with solidarity from the young generation, neighbors and staff members who were there day and night to pick up the pieces and rebuild our atelier and showroom but most especially our home, Beirut.
4. When I stepped into my rebuilt workspace, my heart was still shattered. How can I be happy when everything around me is falling apart? When it hurts so much? For a second there, I felt blessed for only enduring material damage but on the other hand, my heart went out to all the innocent victims of the blast.
5. The 4th of August shaped the person I am today in every way. Sometimes, we just reflect our own question marks. I guess only the future will be able to answer that.
6. The curse of Lebanon is above all man-made, which means it is subject to change. I have faith in our future generation to help turn things around.
7. Of course I am proud to be Lebanese!
8. Time will not heal the wounds at present; I’ll never forgive and never forget.
9. I never give up. If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit.
10. The 4th of August reminded me of how fragile life is. Now, more than ever, I look for moments of peace, tranquility and beauty in everything I see, read or experience.
11. ‘As long as I’m dreaming, I’m alive. The dead don’t dream.’ Mahmoud Darwish.
Maya, Meema and Zeenat Mukhi:
“We Are Cursed with Deeply Rooted Corruption”
1. Meena: I was at the Mukhi Sisters shop, alone, about to close and I will never forget seeing the entrance door flying towards me.
Maya: I was at home and the electricity was off; I didn’t really know what had happened, I went running down the street to meet Meena at the shop and I will never forget the image of broken glass all over the streets and people, hurt, on the ground.
2. Maya: The first persons I hugged were Meena and our colleague.
3. We didn’t rebuild the shop because until today, the insurance company has not been forthright about it, even though they had promised us that they would handle it. It is not about the reconstruction or resurrection of physical things; I see it as the reconstruction of our mental abilities and how as a whole, whatever happens, we keep moving forward even in the cruelest circumstances.
5. Fashion, trends, etc., it all seemed trivial for a moment. But we just launched our new collection and we are really excited about it! It’s called Better Than Yesterday
6. Meena:I believe in positive affirmations, believing I am cursed will lead nowhere.
Maya: I am half Lebanese, half Indian- I am not cursed because I am Lebanese. I see how the country has been poorly “managed”; we are cursed with deeply rooted corruption and it is unacceptable, to say the least.
7. Maya: I am Lebanese and I am deeply hurt and ashamed of what is happening to our country that we were once so proud of. I am proud because I am Lebanese, because governments do not represent me, what represents me is the Lebanese part of me that keeps on waking up in the morning and trying to make a change, even if on a small level, the Lebanese part of me that continues to plan for the future and to find hope is what makes me Lebanese.
8. Zeenat: We will definitely not forget and we will definitely not forgive. And yes, August 4th made us more involved as Lebanese citizens. On a professional level, we created a collection called “There’s no place like home”; a percentage of the proceeds will be going to Beb w Shebeek, a Lebanese NGO.
Maya: On a personal level, I also allocate a budget for myself every month to buy from small local businesses or locally made products.
Meena : I was always involved in helping my community, paying it forward is something I have always done and will keep on doing.
9. Maya: Never. Giving up is never an option. We must remember that what we are going through will end one day. We can’t give up on our dreams and on our plans because of “someone or something”. Yes, our path is much more challenging than that of others, however, we are strong and determined, and we can always find alternative ways to achieve our goals.
Zeenat: I would like to share this with whoever is reading this article and remind him or her that it is ok to go through stages of confusion, of lesser motivation, of ups and downs. This comes from the environment we live in, but we should always look for that glimmer of hope that is inside us and follow it, take whatever comes from it and build on from there.
Meena: We are definitely not giving up, I have taken some time to face my experience and reflect on it, and at the end of the day, I strongly believe that obstacles should be taken as new opportunities going forward.
10. Maya: This might sound cliché, but it has taught me to be less harsh on myself, that life is short and that I must live it to the fullest.
Meena: This near-death experience has taught me to never take anything for granted and to do things with more love and compassion.
11. Maya: Even though it is true, I wish we didn’t have to experience this. If anything it should be: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and more determined.
Zeenat: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger because giving up is not an option.
Meena: I am honestly taking my daily life one step at a time, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger but stronger day by day.
Eric-Mathieu Ritter (Emergency Room) :
“The Lebanese People are Controlled by Murderers”
1. The mother whose car stopped in front of the shop and who started screaming that her kids were home alone.
2. It’s all still very blurry.
3. Getting out of bed and functioning.
4. Grateful to be back in between the walls that protected me.
5. It convinced me even more that a handful of people are responsible for the decline of humanity and the environment and we should fight them.
6. Never, I am not cursed; the world is a total mess.
7. Always has been and always will.
8. It’s important to mention, especially to people not living in Lebanon, that quite frankly the blast – however horrific it was – is just the tip of the iceberg. As human beings we are programmed to cope with traumatic events; however, the things we’ve endured and are still experiencing in our daily lives in Lebanon a year after the blast are affecting and damaging our mental health in ways we are still not totally aware of. The coping mechanisms we are developing are unnatural and truly worrying.
9. Never. If you’re going to give up, why start something in the first place?
10. That the Lebanese people are conditioned and controlled by murderers.
11. We should change it to ‘’what doesn’t kill you, you should kill.”
Elias Samia (Local Vice):
“Always Bring Hope to the Youth and Build Bridges in the Community”
1. A canvas of emptiness, a void of smoke and dust – thinking is this the afterlife?
2. My girlfriend who is also my business partner. We were both in Gemmayzeh during the blast. During the first few seconds, I couldn’t say a word. After assessing our injuries, the one thing I said was “Don’t worry, we’ll go to a hospital and everything will be all right.”
3. I sustained many injuries which prevented me from walking or moving for 3 weeks. Given that my apartment was destroyed, I stayed out of Beirut for some time. The hardest part was the anxiety that kept building up every day. I couldn’t be near my family and friends nor help out during the rebuilding and clean up in the field.
Once I was more fit and back to my neighborhood, (but still on crutches) the recurring flashbacks of what was once our beloved space felt more painful. Everything seemed different, empty, destroyed. The notion that for the past few years we were all at risk of losing our lives so easily due to our corrupt government was recurrent in my thoughts. I kept thinking “will things ever be the same again, or have we entered a new era?”
4. Our initial working space in Gemmayzeh was completely destroyed and deemed unsafe. We had to move to a nearby location in Rmeil which also wasn’t in the best condition after the explosion. But we rebuilt and restored it and made it feel like home with the help of a team of volunteers.
5. We started out with a feeling of numbness after this life changing experience. We couldn’t think of anything beyond the violent flashbacks. But we couldn’t dwell in such darkness, so we had to reignite our spark. Despite this anguish and pain and by dealing with our mental a physical health we were able to push forward.
Our vision was always to bring hope to the youth and to build bridges in the community. The explosion made this bond stronger and we felt the urge to join forces with others, collaborate and support each other to keep the industry going.
6. It’s our daily mantra! However, all joking aside, being established in this part of the world is both a blessing and a curse. We’re resilient, yet oppressed. We suffer, yet grow stronger. We are doubtful, yet hopeful. The challenging part is to take this curse, water it and bathe it in sunlight until it blooms and blossoms into a fruitful opportunity.
7. Lebanon is rich in arts, culture, customs and traditions, hospitality, designers, artists, and creative people. So, yes, we’re proud to say that we’re Lebanese. All the same, the current situation is casting a shadow on our past. We are not proud of what’s happening right now, but we do believe in change. We feel something positive will come out of all of this.
8. October 17th made us realize that we had a voice and that it mattered. But after the blast on Aug 4th, our anger reached new heights.
Our city was destroyed; we lost our loved ones; we were injured mentally and physically; we lost our homes & businesses etc. There’s no one to blame except the corrupt government and the political elite who knew about it, and didn’t do anything about it over the years. And I believe everyone shares my views; we’ll never forget and we won’t forgive every single person who knew and did not do anything about it.
9. I played competitive sports at a young age, and this instilled certain values in me. One of them being: If you fall, pick yourself up and try again. This is a code that I use in my everyday life. With the help of friends and family, I was able to abide by it even at the darkest of times.
With Local Vice, it would have been easy to let go on occasion. We stumbled , got right back up, and found the strength to continue our journey.
10. Be grateful for whatever life gives you. Cherish and enjoy every moment. Always be ready and adapt to any kind of situation. Stay tough and have a positive mindset by transforming anything negative into creative work.
11. Although it is a cliche, it’s a very accurate representation of the August 4th survivor. The explosion not only made us stronger, it also made us angrier and more unified.