This morning, just like every other, I started my day skimming through the latest news. As usual, there were completely useless uses of words and visual space, and like every day since the beginning of time, there were bad, sad and completely devastating news.
I had never heard of Madaya till today. Turns out it’s a currently besieged town in Syria, a country that has been suffering for more than two years from war and innumerable daily deaths. It feels as though all we talk about these days is death, it sneaks up in all conversations, even during parties, and there is no running away from it. Today, the remaining inhabitants of Madaya find themselves deprived of the most basic thing of all: food. They’re not the first, with people in Africa – and other regions we unfortunately do not take the time to read and learn about – dying of hunger as well, but pictures of their emactiated faces are all over the media, eyes desperately calling whoever is willing to answer. They need us, but who is this “us” and what can we do? We undervalue what we have, the 3 to 5 meals we swallow without the slightest afterthought, the heaters we turn on automatically, the taps always flowing with fresh water – well, as fresh as Lebanon can provide in our case. We live, comfortably in denial, as others die, unknown and forgotten.
I remember stumbling once upon old magazines my father had saved, magazines reporting the Lebanese civil war and its effects on the country; shockingly similar photographs to the ones I saw today in the news were spread all over the pages, the same heart-wrenching images of concave faces and protruding bones, bulging eyes filled with hopelessness and headlines reading humans like us had had to resort to eating grass, animals and, praying this hasn’t happened yet, each other. Typing these words, I can’t help but shed a few tears; the world is sick, the world is crumbling, and maybe we are all next. Everyone is sharing the images on Facebook and Twitter and whatever platforms I haven’t checked, but soon after they’re all having dinner, meeting up and laughing because this is only happening somewhere else. I’m writing about it but who am I? What help am I offering here, hiding behind my screen, definitely not as hungry but almost as helpless as those Syrians fighting to stay alive in a world that does not care if they do. The occidental definition of a Syrian today is an invader, a terrorist, a stranger, a danger, a menace to the western world. A Syrian in Lebanon used to be the guy you called to do the same job for half the price, the darker-skinned people who were hired to do the dirty work on construction sites. Today, they’re everywhere, in our streets, in our offices, invaders as well in a country not so different from theirs yet still not their own, in a country that has grown tired of being their crutch when it needs a crutch, and maybe even a wheelchair, of its own.
I always run away from the news, as if it will stop existing if I don’t look at it, but it always catches up, and my thoughts find themselves clouded with today’s darkness. People are dying, of hunger, of war wounds, of age, of despair, of fear…and I’m dying of shame, for I sometimes feel as useless as the “share” and “like” buttons.