COVID-19 diaries: What the pandemic means for people in Lebanon

A building in Lebanon which houses refugees (photo taken in 2016)

How is the global COVID-19 outbreak affecting families already struggling day-to-day? Alia and Ahmed share their thoughts with us.

Alia, age 55, is a married mother of three children aged between 12 and 17. Her husband works in car repair garage. The family live in south Lebanon.

29 February

Everything is so expensive for us, so expensive. Cooking has become like a Chinese puzzle. I go to the market, I don’t have enough money to buy food. I don’t have anything at home. Today I even went to my neighbour to see if she can give me something to cook, but I didn’t have the courage to ask her. I didn’t have the price for a bag of bread in my pocket. I ended up preparing fried potatoes for the kids.

2 March

I am late on all payments, all of them. We don’t have rent to pay, but I am late several months for the electricity bill, the Internet, the generator, everything. People have been kind. They are giving me time... Until now…

But for me all these things are not necessary, because I can’t even get the essentials, like food or going to the doctor.

3 March

All I want is my kids to be happy in life. The most important thing is to provide for them so they continue their studies. I didn’t study, I want them to have a better life than me and my husband.

5 March

It has been two days that I cannot go out of the house. I don’t have one penny. I didn’t even buy food or cook any food for the kids. I have a horrible toothache. I don’t know what to do. Tonight a friend sent me food that she cooked.

9 March

I am tired. I have a horrible pain because of my tooth. I was very sick. I cannot go to the dentist. I am taking some medicines that I brought from the pharmacy. Today, my friend who brought me food last week, gave me some meat. Her husband is a butcher. So I will cook some beans that I have. I will use some herbs that we collect in the fields.

10 March

I cook what I still have at home. And I don’t have much. I have no choice, I need to save money whatever it takes. Because we have to survive.

11 March

I try to survive day by day. I cannot go anymore to the grocery shop and ask to buy goods on credit and to be heavily indebted. So I try to reduce to the minimum the ingredients while I cook.

14 March

It is not easy with the coronavirus. We stay at home. God only will provide. It is so difficult. I hope that this will pass quickly. We don’t know what will happen. We cannot buy anything.

15 March

We are still home. Not getting out. We don’t have a penny to buy anything. I don’t know what to do. We are staying home, we are afraid to go out. We don’t know what will happen. If they stop people from working, what will we do? My husband cannot stay without work, he has to provide for the family. Today, some people came, they gave us a bit of food. In the evening I could cook for the kids.

18 March

I think I am a bit depressed. I don’t know how we will stand on our feet, how we will continue with all this lockdown. It is so difficult.

Some workers who are in the same garage as my husband were laid off today. I don’t know when the boss will tell my husband to leave.

Even if it happens, I am sure God will provide. For me now, the most important thing is to stay healthy with my family.

23 March

I am so stressed. I am fed up. Things are getting tougher and tougher. I am not going out of the house. I don’t know how this will end.

24 March

It is unbearable. I don’t know how this virus will disappear. I hope that everybody will be protected.

Some people have money, they can buy things if they are not working. Not us.

I know that we have to bear things as they come.  But it is so sad when you know that you cannot provide for your kids. You feel that you are completely useless, destroyed from the inside.

There are some days where I don’t cook anything, because we don’t have anything. Some days we eat only thyme sandwiches or labné (Lebanese white cheese) sandwiches. And sometimes we have nothing to eat.

28 March

It has never been that difficult for us. Today my husband lost his job. We have a family, we don’t know what we will do. I feel like I am suffocating.

Ahmed, a father of four children aged between 7 and 17, lives in North Lebanon. He was shot during a period of sectarian conflict in Tripoli six years ago. Formerly a painter and decorator, he now tries to earn a living as a street vendor.

27 February

It has been ages that I haven’t had a proper job. I sell kaak (a kind of Lebanese pancake) and coffee in the streets. Sometimes I only make 3000 liras per day.

What can I do with this small amount of money? Very often we don’t eat three meals per day. And when there is food, it is rice and bulgur. Sometimes we just eat bread dipped in oil.

I am not paying rent since several months.

28 February

I am a tired man. My injury was in the head, I have 30 stitches in my head and I cannot use my right hand properly any more. It is partially paralysed. I need treatment all the time, and I need scans of my head regularly but I don’t have the means to do it.

Today I fell unconscious in an-Nour Square, and the Red Cross came to the rescue. When I see doctors, they always say I should stay home, I shouldn’t work. But I cannot afford to do so. I have kids and I am responsible for them. So I am trying to work despite the fact that I shouldn’t. I don’t have a choice.

29 February

I used to live in Kobbe, I still do now, but I changed houses; the house I used to live in burnt down because of an electrical short circuit. I had to move to another apartment, now I don’t have furniture anymore. I sleep with the kids on mattresses on the floor.

1 March

Today I woke up very early, because I need to search for a new house, the owner wants me to leave. I am late five months on payment, so he won’t wait anymore. The house is unsanitary. It has cracks in the ceiling and lets in water when it rains. The walls have mould. I am searching for a house now. I don’t really know what to do, I don’t know what to do with my four kids.

4 March

During the past months I have been running around from one NGO to the other to get clothes and food boxes for my family and medicines for my kids who were getting sick. Then friends helped me buy a coffee cart where I sell coffee and Kaak. [But] I need to find a new house urgently. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to pay rent, food, clothes, medicines...

5 March

My phone and the things in the coffee cart were stolen yesterday evening. Some people just helped me with money, so I can buy some goods to continue working. I live a drama every day.

11 March

A few days ago, I was kicked out of the house. People in the neighbourhood helped and found me a new house, smaller. I shall pay 300.000 (200 old dollars) per month. They helped me to pay, giving the landlord the quarter of the price. I am running around to see who could help me with the rest of the rent. A person lent me money to pay for this first month. But now I don’t have food. I don’t have anything.

12 March

I go around pulling my coffee cart but there is no work at all, nothing. People are afraid of coronavirus. I go out, try to sell coffee and Kaak but there is nobody on the streets. I don’t know what to do whether with the rent or the food for the kids. It is getting worse, with the epidemic arriving on us.

13 March

They say that we should stay home. But how can I? I need to find food and bring money for the rent. I don’t know how to continue.

I went to see NGOs. They were closing down, because there was a decision of the government. If the NGOs close down, who would help us? How would we live? I don’t even have a piece of bread at home. They say that we should stay home. If we stay home, if we don’t die from coronavirus we will die of hunger.

15 March

My kids are barely eating since yesterday. I have no food to give them. I am thinking as well about the end of the month, when I will have to pay my rent. With this coronavirus, things will worsen and I am sure, by the end of the month I will end up with my family on the street. I can’t pay for food, how could I pay rent?

16 March

I walk around, I see people in supermarkets stocking up on food while I cannot buy a small bag of rice. We don’t have anything to eat and I don’t know what to feed the kids.

17 March

Even if the government imposes a curfew I will go out; I need to feed my kids and pay the rent. I am not the only one in this situation. How do they impose confinement, while we have to go out every day to find some money? There are plenty of people like me.

Today, a shopkeeper near my house gave me a few eggs so I could feed the kids. I don’t know what to do next.

20 March

An NGO gave me a food parcel. But I am going out every day, because I have to, because I need to bring money for rent, for a gas bottle (for cooking). I leave the house for one hour or two begging for bread. We are cooking from the parcel they gave us but the huge problem stays the rent.

22 March

I was out all day today, to see if I could find work or someone who could help me. I didn’t. When I went back home, I found out that the gas bottle ended. I just don’t know how to continue.

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