BEIRUT: Many people in Lebanon are having a sad Ramadan, including 30-year-old Sherine, who works in a luxury boutique and used to be part of the middle class, which now barely exists.
“We began planning for Ramadan more than ten days in advance.” My sister, mother, and I would gather together to create fatayers, rakakats, and sambousseks, which we would freeze and then fry at the fast’s end to accompany other dishes. We’ll substitute them with chips this year, and I’m sure we won’t be able to eat desserts or invite family as much as we used to,” she explained.
According to the World Bank, the Cedar Land has been experiencing one of the world’s worst economic crises since the nineteenth century for more than three years. From a fixed rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds in 2019 to more than 140,000 LBP this year, the dollar has risen.
The country’s banking sector, known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” has utterly failed. Depositors have been unable to access their bank accounts for more than three years, and according to the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, more than 82 percent of Lebanese live in multidimensional poverty.
According to a UN assessment released earlier this week, Lebanon is the world’s second saddest country, trailing only Afghanistan.
“Things have been getting worse for the last three years, and we haven’t hit rock bottom yet.” With the current shortage of finances, we are even losing our customs,” remarked Sherine, who used to enjoy family meetings during the holy month, which are now no longer possible.
In Lebanon, a classic iftar spread includes jallab (raisin) syrup, Hindi tamer (tamarind) or amareddine (dried apricots), soup, salad, a meat and rice dish, appetizers such as rakakats, baba ghanoush, hummus, and stuffed vine leaves, and a dessert typically based on fior di latte. (a type of cheese).
“A proper Ramadan meal costs around 100,000 LBP per day at current prices.” We are a five-person family. “How can I invite friends or family?” Sherine weeps.
People in Nabaa, one of Beirut’s poorest districts, glance up to the sky as they plan their dinners. “We trust in providence,” they say.
“This week we didn’t offer any chicken or meat,” Noura, a cashier at a nearby store, explained. How can you expect our customers to buy meat when they can’t even afford a can of tuna? A bag of bread used to cost LBP 1,500 before the crisis; now it costs LBP 55,000. The dollar rate has been followed by all other products.”
Nazir, a father of five children aged 7 to 16, is pensive in a modest shop selling a range of products. “We no longer prioritize eating. The owner of the flat paid me a visit this morning. He issued me with an ultimatum: I must leave the house by the end of the month. I was paying $50 per month in rent, and now he wants $200. I don’t have that money and can’t get it. I work in this shop as an employee and get paid very little. My kids eat twice a day. We haven’t had meat in months. I try to buy vegetables every two weeks. When it comes to fruit, I buy bananas whenever I can. These are the least expensive fruits. And nothing will change for us during Ramadan,” he said.
Bilel, an employee at a fruit and vegetable shop in the same neighborhood, stated that “many customers buy on credit.” We have the cheapest business in the neighborhood, and our clients buy far less than they used to. They either buy fruit and vegetables one at a time or only a kilo.”
Tarek, who is in his forties, just married. He works as a welder and is struggling to make ends meet. “It’s horrible! I also buy individual horns of fresh chilies. But I don’t have a choice. I also shut off the generator since I couldn’t afford it.”
For more than two years, the Lebanese have been living with little or no electricity. They rely on district generators, whose subscriptions are linked to the price of crude oil, which has risen in tandem with the Ukraine conflict over the last year. According to a recent UN report, the surviving middle-class households spend 44 percent of their income on generator subscriptions. The less well-off prefer to cancel the subscription or share the equivalent of 2 or 3 amps with their neighbors, allowing them to light a lamp after dark.
Fadi Ghazzaoui is the founder of the Ras el-Nabeh Initiative, a collective that assists residents in Beirut’s historic district, which has always been home to an educated middle class living in dignity. However, this is no longer the case.
“Everything is lacking in people. We assist hundreds of people in the neighborhood. Some of them have cancelled their generator subscriptions. Others cannot afford to purchase gas cylinders for their cookers, thus they are unable to produce hot food. People are now dependent on charity food banks to survive, but “how will they cook their food if they don’t have gas?” he said.
According to Ghazzaoui, the people he works with can no longer afford to buy medicine or see a doctor. “They live in fear of becoming ill because they know they can’t afford to go to the hospital.” We make every effort to intervene.”
“Thousands of families in Beirut rely on charity food banks to survive.” Many NGOs and mosques would distribute hot food during Ramadan, no doubt with meat or chicken, fruit, or an eastern dessert,” he remarked.
The Ras el-Nabeh Initiative assisted Noha, 57, and her husband, both teachers, as well as their 19-year-old daughter. “We have a small house.” We lived with dignity prior to the crisis. We weren’t wealthy, but we didn’t need anyone. My husband and I were both at work. My husband has since retired, and I have been unemployed since the financial crisis. At the moment, I share 5 amps of generator power with three neighbors. To save petrol, I cook once every three days. “I mostly prepare lentils, rice, and pasta, which is what we get from food banks,” she explained.
Her daughter received great baccalaureate results and was offered a scholarship to one of Beirut’s top colleges. “She aspires to be a doctor, and I will go to any length to make her happy.” Everything is currently pricey, and I am in debt to purchase her sanitary towels. “I try to give her pocket money, but she frequently goes to university without enough money in her bag to buy a coffee,” said Noha, who had to stop driving her car because she couldn’t afford petrol.