Staying sane in Beirut - with yoga and manicures

Residents and refugees try to maintain a sense of calm.

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July 26, 2006 22:53
4 minute read.
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Just a few weeks ago, Beirut's city hall was busy preparing for the city's annual kite festival - one of many summer events that usually take place in the Lebanese capital. But instead of kites filling the skies, there have been Israeli jets dropping bombs. The mayor of Beirut, Abd al-Munem al-Arisi, has been a very busy man. Each day he goes out to inspect the damage to the city and visit families of refugees that have flooded into the capital from the South. Rashid Jalah, the head of the city council, says that the situation in Beirut is deteriorating quickly. "There are more then 60,000 refugees in the city. And although we were promised humanitarian help, there are shortages of most basic food supplies and drinking water. The few recent days were relatively quiet, but we are not very optimistic - the fire can resume at any moment. It's the worst situation in Beirut in many, many years." Still, city hall continues to provide services to Beirut inhabitants, picking up the garbage and cleaning the streets. While the IDF has only struck the fashionable al-Ashrafiya district once, when a truck in the area was suspected of carrying military supplies for Hizbullah, Jonny Hannah, 27, a resident of Ashrafiya, says that each time the southern suburbs are hit, all the buildings in the city tremble. "I can feel the wave in my body. The kids are scared and crying. All our fears from the 1982 War came back to life again. I was just a child back then, but now I relive this war all over again, with each and every bombing." Jonny, who has a second, European nationality, says that in the beginning he was not going to leave the city, since many thought the hostilities were just temporary. But now he has decided to apply to his consulate for evacuation. For many Beirutis, though, leaving is not an option. Some do not have anywhere to go; others do not possess the financial means. Mainly, people stay at home and watch Al-Jazeera, says Nasreen, a 22-year-old art student and a part-time TV producer. There are no shelters or safe rooms in most Beirut buildings, so all people can do is stay in their rooms at home and pray for the best, she says. "We need to do something in order to stay sane," Nasreen says, explaining why the yoga class she takes is packed with people these days. And according to some accounts, people have started getting out-and-about the last few days, despite the shelling that occurs nearby. The author of a popular Lebanese blog, "Cedarseed," writes that she was astonished to see shops open this week. "The resilience of this people will always amaze me," she writes. "Even my hairdresser was open, so I went to have a manicure. (War is no excuse to be scruffy, as all hairdressers that worked during the war can attest.) It was more entertaining than usual as everyone had lots to tell. They're only open two hours a day, mainly to get away from home and TV, and to get a change of air. "While she attended to my hands, he had a lot to tell about: why post-war buildings are not equipped with shelters (basements are used as warehouses or for other commercial purpose instead), how the destruction of the phone transmitters the other day cost Alfa $100 million..." It is difficult to get by in Beirut these days as the prices are rising, especially for cellphone cards, drinking water and bread. But with the destruction just outside Beirut and further south, life has become nearly impossible. Tyre, the ancient Phoenician city, has been cut off from Sidon and Beirut after being heavily shelled early this week. The flow of refugees continues to grow but the food supplies in the city are quickly disappearing. Mahmoud Helawi, the vice-mayor of Tyre, says the city is hosting 20,000 refugees from neighboring villages, while there are another 40,000 displaced people from the city itself. "There is a huge shortage of food, water and medical supplies. The innocent citizens are dying and being wounded every single day. Still, our will and faith are very strong, but we ask the international community, and especially the Red Cross, to hurry up with the help, as we are quite desperate for it." People in Tyre say there have been a few power outages but generally find the municipality's services to be working. Helawi says the city hall is preparing for a long-term siege, accumulating water, power generators and food supplies. Tareq Radwan, who lives in Tyre, says his sister's house was destroyed in recent bombing. "We are Sunnis and not connected with Hizbullah, and [neither is anyone] in this neighborhood. I have heard that Hizbullah is firing rockets on Haifa from some place close to Tyre, but neither me nor my family know anything about it. We don't wanna die."

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