Orange Cloud

Ma3azef 18 Aug 2020English
This article is part of the Beirut Diaries, the Post-Explosion Dossier commissioned in Arabic and first published by Ma3azef. Translated to English by HaRaKa Platform.

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Contextual note
This text is part of the bilingual (English/Arabic) collection and publication series 'Cairography', which was initiated by HaRaKa (Egypt) and supported by Sarma (Belgium). It features in Cairography #2, also referred to as the 'Emergency Edition' (January 2021), edited by Adham Hafez, Ismail Fayed, and Myriam Van Imschoot and supported by Moussem Nomadic Arts Center in response to a year of losses, between a deadly pandemic and a series of political catastrophes. This text is also available on Sarma in Arabic.

Orange cloud


I push the elevator button with strong knocks for the third time, then break through the waiting crowd to rush down the stairs to the sixth floor. I enter the long hall, heading to the DJ table, as the sound engineer tries to fix a malfunction, and the music is back seconds later. I put my back against the wall to gather myself, and I realize that there were more than three hundred people in the hall who suddenly started chanting: “Revolution! Revolution! Revolution!" 

This happened two hours after the beginning of the New Year, in a party that I co-organized for New Year’s Eve on Hamra Street. I went down to the ground floor quickly, and asked the event hostess to verify the ages of the attendees, because the last thing I wanted to see was the gray and black suits, the Kings of Chicken Tawook (1), after I had spent the last months of my twenties demonstrating in front of their harassing eyes. I called this night “Down With Anxiety”, a slogan raised in the November 17th demonstrations in the center of Beirut, and I decided for the New Year to drop the feelings of anxiety that always came in between me and my postponed projects.

The following week, I was meters away from the party’s venue, in front of the Central Bank, picking up a stone and throwing it as hard as I could. In my visual memory of Beirut, the omnipresent billboards on the roads, openly mocking the role of the state, are offering loans for everything: studies, health insurance, cars and homes.

Banks promoted themselves as the backbone of the Lebanese economy, and then they and the economy took a major fall at the beginning of the year. The exchange rate of the dollar changed for the first time in my life, and the Lebanese Lira lost its value. The price of my favorite tobacco has increased seven times, and sanitary pads as well. I kept my decision of ‘Down with Anxiety’ on. I closed my Facebook account and stopped going to demonstrations. I had to stay away this time.

The following month, I sat with my friends at a bar, and Corona made its way through our conversation. We made jokes about what we would do if this was the road to the end of the world, and then I went to my house where I stayed for many months. I did not leave except in case of necessity or to camp outside the city. I spent the months of quarantine in the empty room of my new home, working, writing and growing lots of plants. I took distance from the statistics of the numbers of infections around the world, and promised myself that I would not fall, that I would be stronger this year, and that I would not let an anxiety attack come near me. A lot of meditation and sports at home has helped me accomplish this.

I return to the scene from New Year's Eve, standing by the corner of the staircase trying to catch my breath, to find three faces that I know well, and love, come close to kiss me and wish me a happy New Year. I was calling them throughout the quarantine period, and whenever I heard their voices, the ghost of anxiety just disappeared.

Eight months after New Year's Day, at 6 p.m., I sat on the sofa, waiting for something I don’t remember what it was. Minutes later my feet led me to stand in the hallway. Raid? Not a raid. I know and recognize the sound of raids well. Explosion? Yes, it's a blast. I probably stayed in the hallway afterwards for hours. I don't know, I forgot the details of that day when I heard the sound of the explosion hitting my house and shattering its windows.

I was born on the first day of the nineties on New Year's Eve, and my mother was tormented during my birth because she was unable to reach the hospital because of the barricades of the civil and sectarian war that ended, formally, two years after my birth. At the age of six, I witnessed my first war with Israel. I woke up in horror that day when the bed fell to the ground in the wake of the Israeli raid, and I felt my mother's hand pulling me by my shoulder, so that she would get me into the long hallway where we sat for hours until the strikes ended. As for the bombings, I experienced them more than once. Perhaps the strongest was the bombing of the Iranian embassy in November 2013, which was only one street away from my workplace. I remember leaving that day with my eyes closed all the way, I did not want to see anything from the body parts or from the black smoke, I had not yet recovered from the pictures of the Ruwais Street bombing in August 2013, which was 500 meters away from my house.

This year, Beirut’s image collapsed in my head. It is not a city. It is a group of residential neighborhoods, inhabited by people of three different generations, whose memories are full of wars and bombings according to their ages. What brought us together this year is that we witnessed together the successive strikes across Beirut’s face, up until that fatal blow that brought it to the ground.

This time I also tried to close my eyes, not to care, but I rearranged the spice bags five times that night, and the anxiety attacks came back. The sound of the AC fan woke me up twice. Tick. This ‘tick’ was enough to detonate the bombs planted all around my head. I don't know if the survivor's complex was the reason why I surrendered to anxiety after the bombing. The next day, my close friend Ammar and I were near the Al-Roum Hospital in Ashrafieh, we picked up brooms and entered a building that was severely damaged. We asked a group of young men and women how to help and they answered: The sixth floor. 

The building is huge, and on each floor there are two large apartments. The doors are pulled out, stones are everywhere. If we carried a tape recorder that day, we would have just recorded the sound of sweeping glass away, a sound we could feel in our stomachs. We went up and down carrying pieces of furniture, as if we had done this hundreds of times before. We stand on the stairs to help each other with what we are carrying, and when we reach the ground floor we throw it in front of the entrance over a pile of things that lost their value, that have formed a small mound of glass and broken wood.

These six floors differed from the one I went up on New Year’s Eve. I stopped breathing on the first floor every time because I hate the smell of blood. On the second floor, I met a man who tried to take a plank of wood away from the door of his house, and he told me that his mother who lives in this house was committed to the Intensive Care Unit this morning. I helped him toss his broken television and a pile of patterned torn curtains, which had fallen to join the hill of debris.

Beirut fell on our heads this year, and my anxiety did not fall... It came in the form of an orange cloud covering the sky above my house, from which I hid in the hallway for hours.



 (1)  The author refers here to the state’s crackdown on parties and political gatherings, by sending their uniform or civilian clad personnel.


Nour Ezzedine is a writer, musician and DJ from Beirut, Lebanon.