Bronislava Barošová comes from Bohemia but Lebanon has become her second home. In the interview for Charita (Caritas Czech republic) she describes how the recent explosion has affected her family and friends, and she described the current situation in Beirut.
What were the first moments after the explosion like for you ?
At the moments of explosion we – myself, my children and Nabil, the father of my children, were in Prague and we were planning to have a short holiday. Then suddently Nabil received a call from his shocked brother saying that there was an explosion in the port. We unbelievably played the videos he then sent over and over again. It was unbelievable, we went totally numb. Only after a while we realized how strong the explosion and the pressure wave were and what it caused. From that moment the series of phone calls started. We spent several days and nights on the phone trying to find out information, comforting the family, friend, colleagues, following the news from different media and coordinating help in Beirut.
Has the explosion affected also your family and closest friends?
Thank God our family and closest friends are alive and didn´t suffer any injuries even though they all live or work in the radius of three kilometres from the port. Some friends have been injured, have suffered fractures and cutting wounds, mainly from shards of shattered glass. Most of our friends have damaged flats, and have lost all of their private belongings. For example my friend Shereen, which is a lady in years who has lost a job due to Coronavirus pandemic, has not only lost everything as her flat is totally damaged, but she is also badly injured. Now she is dependent on the help of her family abroad. People often have nothing left. At best, the houses have stood still, but everything is destroyed, so all that can be done is to vacate it and arrange it from the beginning.
How did the Lebanese rescue services work and how does the state react to the explosion?
Firefighters proved their heroism in extinguishing the initial fire in the port, which preceded the explosion. Unfortunately, many bodies have not yet been found in the explosion. Many rescuers and doctors were also directly affected by the explosion, yet they immediately began to help. For example, one of the crowded hospitals in the center was destroyed, several doctors and nurses were killed. The other doctors then worked day and night, treating in the parking lot and the streets. Other doctors, nurses and medics took to the streets to provide help and treat the wounded as volunteers. On the contrary, the help of the government, army and police cannot be seen. The damage is estimated at $ 25 billion, but the state has not yet responded responsibly. Shortly after the explosion, some members of the government cabinet resigned, and later Prime Minister Hassan Diab later resigned the entire government. People have not yet received help from the state and do not believe that it will come.
Lebanon was already in a deep economic crisis before the explosion. How will this affect the ability of ordinary people to cope with the consequences of the explosion?
The economic crisis began to deepen last autumn. Since then, banks have retained money in accounts, unreasonably low withdrawal limits have been set and electronic banking transactions have not been possible. Meanwhile, the Lebanese currency has depreciated, and because people have not been able to withdraw money in dollars, they have often lost their life savings. What cost one dollar, you can buy now for seven. The country is starving. We must not forget that, in addition to the Lebanese, there are several million refugees in the country, including some two million refugees from Syria. Due to the economic crisis and the subsequent coronavirus pandemic, many people lost their jobs, up to 50% of businesses closed and a large number of people found themselves on the edge of poverty. And on top there the explosion.
Do people help each other?
All the rubble and debris in the streets is cleared by volunteers, especially young people of high school age. Entrepreneurs from Beirut and other cities provided free cars to take away the rubble. At the same time, many volunteer initiatives are being set up to help clean streets, roads, houses and repair homes. However, there is often lack of material that was transported into the country by sea and unloaded in the port, which is now destroyed. My children's father Nabil recently fulfilled a long-held dream and together with his brother Dany they opened a shop and bistro Dry and Raw. Before they could become fully operational, there was the explosion. From the first phone calls with family and friends, we knew we had to do something for the people who stayed on the street and lost everything. In the morning after the explosion, all the staff and volunteers from friends and regular clients gathered at the restaurant to start cooking for free - both for people from the most affected areas around the port and for those who treated the wounded and removed debris. Gradually, more volunteers joined and people from the Czech Republic and Lebanon also began to contribute to the raw materials. Thanks to donors, a team of volunteers can now prepare and deliver more than 1,000 portions of food a day.
What does it look like in Beirut now and how do you think the situation will develop in the future?
Due to the political and economic situation, people are frustrated, sad, angry, often feel hopeless and do not see a positive solution. Many are considering emigrating because they no longer believe that the situation can change for the better. Yet there are still plenty of those who are still determined to strive for change, so they take to the streets and demonstrate. They have nothing to lose.I see Lebanon as my second home, and it is impossible not to fall in love with this colorful country. Lebanese know how to live and they cannot be beaten easily. Now they are tired and broken, but I believe that soon everything will turn for the better. It' s a proud nation, incredibly tenacious and creative. I wish our children to spend a lot of time there in the future. We will see, I pray and keep my fingers crossed for the Lebanese.
Photo by Nabil Khoury