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Between night and day on the fifth of August in Sydney, I called my mom in Beirut. Lhamdilla, kilna mneh (Thank god, we are all ok). 

The number of settings in which I and so many others who have lived in Beirut have heard these words is countless. One such time was when a ‘naughty’ bullet pierced my childhood home. My mom had to wake me up and carry me out of our home in her arms bumping into walls. That small apartment had so many walls. We slept at my grandparents’ and the next day we visited our burnt home and broken playroom and our map of heritage Lebanon laminated in grey smoke. My mom had to take me to an optometrist because there was that much smoke stuck in my eyes that I could not see. We moved to my uncle’s vacant apartment with soot covered belongings. Lhamdilla, kilna mneh.

The little girl with the burnt home and broken playroom and smoked map and soot covered belongings in the strange apartment was told that hers was not the worst suffering of all. She kept telling herself the same until she believed it. Lhamdilla, kilna mneh.

Between night and day on the fifth of August in Beirut, a little girl lost her home and playroom and map. I want to tell her that she will think that what happened to her home is okay until she realises that she will never feel at home again. I want to tell her that she will keep trying to recreate that playroom. I want to tell her that she used to look up at that map to dream and that her eyes will no longer know where to look. I want to tell her that she will think that what happened to her eyes was okay until thirty years later she visits an optometrist that tells her that she has a scar on her left eye. I want to tell her that the normalisation of her suffering has been a ritual and her coping has been a myth that she will feed her mind again and again until she must feed it to another girl and knows that she has forgotten some of the words because they have been too distant from her reality. More distant than the images of her burnt home and broken playroom, and the smell of soot. I want to tell her that the ritual of resilience must no longer be performed and must be replaced by a call to resistance. Lhmadilla, bas mish mneh, wala marra kina mneh (Thank god, but we are not ok, and we never were).

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Sherine Al Shallah is an economist and law student with an interest in human and language rights. Sherine volunteers with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Story Factory, and studies at UNSW. Sherine is a member of IPCS.

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