Lebanon

‘Lebanon needs help’: an interview with filmmaker, Nada Raphael

INTERVIEW

Two weeks ago partial power was restored to Lebanese homes. It is a victory as anticlimactic as it sounds. A twenty four-hour nationwide blackout had brought a flurry of media attention to the situation on the ground. After the partial restoration of electricity, all has gone quiet again. Are we to assume life is back to normal for Lebanese civilians? On behalf of Politika News, I spoke with Lebanese filmmaker, journalist and author, Nada Raphael, to find out what reality looks like for the people of Lebanon.

Communicating with Nada meant navigating emails and WhatsApp conversations through the volatility of partial electricity. A couple of hours a day is sometimes all we had to work with. Even under these difficult circumstances, Nada’s charisma quickly shone through the hasty messages and stunted conversation. It can perhaps be best summed up by her response to a voice-note of concern that I had sent to her one afternoon: ‘on va y arriver :)’ – we’ll make it.

This is what Nada had to say to Politika News on life in Lebanon, and why more aid is needed:


Limited power has been restored in Lebanon. What does this mean for Lebanese civilians on a daily basis? 

With the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, what we used to call “order” (let’s call it the “before” time) became crazy : everything started “disappearing” from the market and the rest became unaffordable for everyone. Power relies on fuel or mazout or diesel which also was sold on black markets in Lebanon or Syria. Political parties would intercept the boats bringing fuel on their way. Everything comes with a price, so black market was our unique salvation. 


It’s been decades of electricity shortages. We got accustomed to it – even allowing a corrupt system of private generator owners to grow and gain power from our dependence on them. So things were ok – bearable, for most at least. Except those who didn’t have access to a generator.

And in the last few years, between fuel shortages and the devaluation of the Lebanese Pound (ل.ل), even those who had access to generators found themselves suddenly unable to afford it. With bills up to 2 500 000ل.ل a month (before the devaluation it was equivalent to $1666 at a rate of 1500ل.ل to $1, now it is $125 on the black market) and an average salary of 1 200 000ل.ل (this was once equivalent to $800 at a rate of 1500ل.ل to the dollar, now equivalent to just $60) it has become simply impossible for most to afford a generator.


Two Sundays ago, nothing was really restored. We got some fuel from Iran and private generators, who tripled their prices to give us electricity. This would give us 4 to 10 hours of electricity a day, depending on the region where we are living. So, imagine in those 4, 5 or 6 hours – that are not consecutive of course – you have to think of doing the laundry, charging your phones and laptops, doing whatever needs to be done. and then, blackout again. IT gets on your nerves, but also affects how you think. All your thoughts are consumed with electricity, and fuel…


What about places like hospitals – how are they functioning right now? 

Hospitals are unfortunately no exception, In some regions, gas stations are giving the priority to bakeries and hospitals – but then again hospitals also need to deal with the mafia in order to buy fuel on the black market. Some divisions just shut down because of the lack of electricity and because of shortage of medications. 


Some people in need of oxygen could not get any. Others in need of surgery could not find the proper equipment, etc. And soon, we are going to have a lack of doctors and nurses who are all leaving the country.


There is often talk of ‘resilience’ in such moments. What is the mood like in the community after years of shortages?

Lebanese people are known for being resilient, known to act and improvise in any situation. Some are staying in Lebanon because they think they can make a difference, others are just leaving because they see no light at the end of the tunnel. 


I guess every day is a new day; every hour and minute something can change. Living in Lebanon has always been hectic. Some people of our generation hoped we had learned from the past, but not at all. Everything depends on religion and politics. So, yes there are some changes in a couple of sectors. But, the system is still the same, based on the census of 1932!


Resilience! it is a widely used term. Some here have started to hate it and have started talking about being desensitised. Because maybe we need to stop being resilient for change to come sooner. 


Nada Raphael uses journalism, photography and film to raise awareness of sociopolitical difficulties in her homeland and the broader region

How is the political crisis in Lebanon linked to the recent power outage?

Everything in Lebanon is religious and political.

Even national reserves, restaurants, bars, hashish… everything is just political. Parties are mafia, all of them. Christians, Muslims, Druzes, all of them. Everyone thinks in terms of their own interest first. The political system is reinforced by the Taif agreement. So the current political crisis is what caused the power outrage, and vice versa as these two “problems” are two facets of the same coin. The system is based on religious communities and sectarianism.

It is because the system is corrupt that we have power outages; we have power outages because the political crisis stems from the system’s need to stay in place at any cost. 


How is the current situation affecting marginalised groups?

Marginalised groups and communities have no rights, both now and before. The current situation is making their lives just impossible as they have very little access to resources; they are targeted by authorities who doesn’t consider them a “priority”.


If nothing changes, if nothing improves, what happens next?

Nothing is really predictable. Even the best analysts have tried. Who would have thought we would start a revolution? Who would have thought we would experience a horrible, inhumane blast at the port of Beirut? Each time we sense or predict the future, something comes to unbalance everything. I wonder if all these events are simply crimes against humanity to hide something happening elsewhere; or maybe because we are doomed, I don’t know.


Sometimes, I surprise myself thinking that maybe if we had another civil war, some change would come because the uncertainty we are living in right now is just too much. Then again, do we need a civil war ? Do I want a civil war ?
One thing is sure, Lebanon needs help. I also work in tourism and I think that tourism would be the salvation of the economic crisis. That’s why we are trying to put Lebanon on the international map to create jobs and opportunities. But, will “they” let us do that ?


Some of Nada’s film work can be accessed here. A wide range of her photography can be viewed here.

A recent GoFundMe page for Beirut’s displaced queer population can be accessed here. Read more on this story here.


Politika News would like to thank Nada for her time.

Article Image Source: Flickr

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