We are Ibrahim and Annelie Ajami. At the time of the explosion, 4 August 2020, we had only been married for 2 weeks. A certain amalgamation of events led to us not being present in our, port-facing, hotel room when disaster struck. A stroke of luck and God’s hand.
At first, the hotel started shaking and seconds later, at 6.07pm, the explosion hit. The hallways filled with dust and in one part of the hall we could see the ceiling had come down and the windows had completely shattered. Fussy vision, combined with the shock and loud alarm bells immediately caused a sense of disorientation. When we finally found a fire exit, we ran down the stairs and fled onto a nearby parking lot. As we scrambled for information and tried to get in touch with loved ones, we didn’t know that just a few blocks down, in an area closer to the port, the situation was much worse. It still haunts us that we didn’t do more to help in the first hours following the explosion. We simply didn’t know. Days after, families recounted to us the sheer panic, the fear and the destruction. Fathers carrying their bleeding daughters, mothers trying to protect their children, and elderly trying to get away from splintering glass. Scenes and sounds that are now printed onto the Lebanese collective consciousness. People lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods.
Ibrahim & Annelie
As the magnitude of the explosion became clear, Ibrahim and I took to the streets to lend a helping hand to families and persons affected. The explosion didn’t discriminate. Every single house and building block in a 2 km radius was blasted into nothingness. Destruction was recorded as far out as 9 kilometres. The stories we heard, the damage we saw, the suffering we observed were incredibly painful and distressing. Overall, the Lebanese have suffered immensely in recent times – political upheaval, governmental incompetence, economic collapse and now this. How can we recover from this? During our time in badly hit areas, however, we have also seen the ways in which people have unified to help rebuild our, now mangled, but once beautiful city. Pelotons of youths and other volunteers, armed with brooms, shovels and binbags, started flooding areas in need to offer assistance. It was them and the people who have shared their stories with us that have inspired us to set up the Ajami Foundation.
Our love for Lebanon runs deep. The country has given us so much. We’ve grown accustomed to its chaos, marvelled at its sights, taken in its sounds. The current devastation is immense. It is material, yes of course, but it is also psychological, social and spiritual. We have lost so much, so many. We have lived here, loved here, and lost here. It is a country that is part of us, part of who we are and who we are becoming. To see our beloved Beirut so desperate, in so much pain and so incredibly fragile is heart breaking. Today we can only make out the outlines of the Beirut we once knew – a warm summer night in Gemmayze, dancing the night away in an apartment in Geitawi, a walk around Saifi, meeting a friend for coffee in a downtown restaurant. Beirut has been the setting of countless of our stories, the backdrop for so many of our cherished memories. Its buildings have homed us, its streets have carried us and its people have welcomed us. Looking back on what is now gone hurts. We want to look forward and rebuild. While on the outside Beirut has changed, we know that on the inside lies a glimmer of hope – the unwavering spirit of the Lebanese and the love that outsiders have for our Lebanon.
We are thankful that we are safe but we are also thankful that we were there so that we were able to help and support our loved ones and people in need. Our marriage started with a life changing experience that has had a profound impact on who we are as people and how we think of our place in this world. It has taught us that providing aid and relief for people in need is what we were intended to do. A friend of ours once told us that the beginning of our story as husband and wife reminded him of, ‘the proverbial baptism in fire- something special forged at a time of strife- and it’s remarkable ability to transform, not consume’. We hope to put this experience to good use and hope you will join us in our mission.