At 3:05 p.m. Friday my roommate told me the pants I'd just put on to wear to work were too big for me, and I should change into jeans.
At about the same time, less than a kilometer away a bomb went off in the middle of the Acrafieh neighborhood in Beirut.
At 3:15, I scarfed down a Roadster quesadilla, and decided that tonight was going to be a cheerful day. I changed my pants, put on a bright yellow belt and slipped on my black Sketchers with the florescent yellow shoelaces. Tonight was definitely going to be cheerful. I got a snappy haircut yesterday, was wearing my favorite belt today, ready for whatever Friday brought. Just a short shift at the newspaper, then a wild night of drinking and partying.
At 3:45 I walked into newspaper's office building, listening to the Scissor Sister's "Don't feel like Dancing," an ironically danceable song, on my iPhone. Everyone was standing around the television smoking. I slipped the earbuds out, and gave my editor a quizzical look. She tells me that a bomb has gone off. I roll my eyes and shake my head. This is Beirut after all. Then she says it was at Sassine. My heart drops. My head races. At 3:00 p.m., Thursday, just 24 hours before, I was sitting in a salon, one block off Sassine, getting that snappy haircut.
Once I get to my desk, I mindlessly scan the twitter feed and the early reports on the attack. It's impossible for me to recognize the TV footage, and it's all in Arabic, so I'm not sure exactly where the blast was yet. Finally it shows up, on our own website. Outside the BEMO bank building at Sassine. I know the building. I ate a Krispy Kreme doughnut yesterday, after my haircut, as I walked past the BEMO building. There's a small green space out front, something you notice in Beirut, which is so lacking in greenery.
I lived in Cairo during the revolution, and watched the battles in Tahrir from the safety of my apartment in Heliopolis, only venturing down to the midan on days when there was a lull in activity. I dutifully documented the burnt out buses with my cheap canon, the rocks stock-piled for the next battle, the artist/medical station in front of the KFC.
I landed once in Istanbul a day after a bombing near Taksim, and of course stopped to view the carnage that night.
Since moving to Beirut a year and a half ago, I've toured bombed out historical sites, seen the camps and bullet-ridden testaments to the endless wars that have devastated this city. Last summer I sat on my balcony listening for machine gun fire and watching army jeeps fly up the coastal highway towards a gunfight, safe in the knowledge that it wasn't in Acrafieh, it was somewhere I'd never been – that even if that was only a few kilometers from my house it wasn't in my neighborhood. Every time I've had something I could tell myself, why I shouldn't be scared.
This was in my neighborhood. This happened where I go, on a regular basis. Two blocks from the movie theater I go to. A block from the veterinarian who treats my cat. I was there. Yesterday. Why did it happen today, and not yesterday? How can I go back there next week? Why did it happen there, and not on my street? They say the Kataeb party headquarters was 200 meters away. Kataeb has "headquarters" all throughout the city, including an office one street over from me. If it was targeting them, why that office and not the one that would have torn my street apart?
I have to finish my shift at work. People here are taking it pretty well. The Lebanese have seen much worse. I've checked with everyone I can think of. Everyone is okay. Except Bob. He works at ABC mall, a few blocks from the blast site. He's not answered my SMS yet. He's a young Lebanese guy (Bob is what Ibrahims almost always go by among westerners), and has his phone glued to his face most of the time. I'm sure he's fine. I hope he's fine. I keep glancing at my feet and wishing I hadn't worn yellow shoe laces today. After two years living in the Middle East, today the violence hit a little too close to home. And I'm worried that my trademark yellow accessories will forever remind me of how scared I was today. Don't feel like dancing now.
I wrote this yesterday, around 4:30 or 5 o'clock. It was written before the death of General Hasan came to light, and while details were pretty sketchy. I didn't want to go back and change it this morning with what I know now, because the details aren't the point, the state of mind is what I was trying to convey. I've since talked to my friend Bob, he's fine, though was only 100 meters away when it happened. Another friend's manager was caught in the blast, but survived. A friend of a friend use to work on the street, and he former co-workers are injured. But I don't know any of the 8 who died. The city is eerily quiet, last night and this morning. My dreams weren't quiet. But this is Beirut, the shock will wear off in a day or two, and we'll all go back about our business, or so they tell me.
Give your father/mother/child/brother/sister/husband/wife/partner a hug and a kiss today, and be thankful for life. I know I am.