An uncertain Ramadan in Beirut

The first day of school in Jabal al Batam village, Lebanon, 17 October 2006. The school, located 10 kilometers from the Israeli border, was bombed during the war but was repaired just before the opening. Though classes have resumed, parents and children alike are unsure whether the school year will be disrupted by another war. (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

“I told my wife, you just buy clothes for our son. I do not need any new clothes for myself and if you postpone getting a new outfit for yourself too, it will be good. Who knows what will happen in the next few months. Whatever we have saved, we spent during this summer, and now we need to save so we can eat during the next war.”

This is what the taxi driver tells me in response to my remarks that Beirut does not feel as it did during previous Ramadan seasons. He was trying to explain to me why there is no movement in the city, why the city is dead despite the holiday season. Simply put, the Lebanese are still terrified, still living the war, while it seems to those outside that things are settled here.

The lack of purchasing power among the Lebanese has reflected itself in the sellers who are scared to bring in new products and keep them in stock. “We can’t risk another loss,” the seller in the Red Shoe store tells me. “If we get the winter collection and people are not buying, we will add to the loss we lived in the summer.”

The fifty and seventy percent off sales on the summer collection of clothes and shoes are still being offered in Beirut. Stores are opened just to “keep opened and to fake an idea of work, to keep going till we see what the future holds. We know no one is going to buy any summer clothes now, but we also are scared of paying money to get winter clothes and keep them in display till the next summer.”

Shop owners are “waiting till next month to decide whether to get the new collection, and just keep coming to work to feel as though we are working,” says one shop owner in Hamra Street. Why wait till next month? The answer lies in the “White House, where the emperor decides our future and the future of generations to come. If he decides to hit Iran, then there is nothing on earth that can makes the situation return to normal in the region.” For another shop owner, the reason he waits till next month is related to the domestic situation in Lebanon. “Hizbullah has given the government a truce till the end of Ramadan. They may take drastic steps if the government does not resign and another unity government is formed.” He still thinks it is all related to “what will happen in the region and especially Iran.”

Besides Ramadan, it is the beginning of the school year and people usually buy clothes for their children for school. Not this year. Schools in Beirut are just starting the new academic year, and parents “are trying to get by with whatever they had from last year,” I am told. “If you want to get one piece for each child and you have two children, you will be broke. And what for? Who says that they are going to school all year? Who knows when another war will start?” a mom was telling a seller in one of the shops.

Besides the deteriorating economic situation, the ghost of war is still haunting Lebanon and affecting daily life. Besides the purchasing power, the sound of Israeli raids still instills terror, especially in children. “Whenever a plane passes, my kids and my niece and nephews ask is it a Safari or Harbi - the literal translation for traveling jet or fighting jet,” Zeina tells me. “It was a terrifying summer for them, well for all of us, may god punish them for the fear they instilled in us. Who was not scared in the summer? And who is not still scared?”

The tense conversation is broken by the latest joke in Lebanon. “Human Rights Watch just made a report claiming that Hizbullah used cluster bombs in northern occupied Palestine. The reason we are not hearing about the casualties of these bombs is due to the biased media reporting when it comes to Israel!”

Mayssoun Sukarieh is a native of Beirut and a frequent contributor to Electronic Lebanon

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