Beirut, Lebanon The 23-year-old Hadi Chalhoub emigrated from Lebanon to Atlanta, Georgia, a few days after the Beirut port blast last August.
Nearly one year later, the interior architect returned to the crisis-stricken country to see family and friends. His suitcase was full of painkillers, diabetes medicine, eye drops and other pills and tablets.
“I had to pour the medicine into small bottles to fit everyone,” Chalhoub told Al Jazeera. “It was a big bag of medicine.”
In less than two years, Lebanon’s economy has been brought to the brink of collapse. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound – which has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar since late 2019 – and a lack of foreign exchange have made it difficult for Lebanese importers to pay foreign suppliers, leading to severe shortages of medicines and other goods.
Upset by the news of the country’s severe economic crisis, exacerbated by fuel shortages and prolonged daily power outages, Lebanese expats visiting the home have filled their suitcases with life-saving medicines, hygiene products, baby formula, nappies and even power benches for their families. .
Many people also carry US dollars, a rare but still so valuable commodity in cash-strapped Lebanon, where half the population now lives in poverty.
In addition, Lebanon has been without a full-fledged government for more than 11 months.
The World Bank says the Lebanese economic crisis is among the three most serious the world has seen since the middle of the 19th century.
The 39-year-old doctor Philippe Aftimos, is trying to obtain an “annual” medication for his parents and younger sister before a visit to Lebanon. His suitcase is filled with a variety of medications, including for cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression.
‘I do not want to live in the fear of uncertainty [over my family’s health],“The doctor told Al Jazeera.
“It’s been two years since I last visited … I’m obviously very worried about the situation.”
Aftimos follows the deteriorating development from afar. “I’m sad every morning,” he said.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old programmer Mireille Raad, in addition to a few bags of medicine for her family, also brings home extra painkillers and multi-vitamin tablets to donate to families in need when she comes to her family soon.
She follows the news from Washington, DC anxiously, and hears moving stories from friends and family over WhatsApp.
“I’m still worried about the use at the airport stopping me because of how much medicine I’m carrying,” Council told Al Jazeera.
Lebanon relies heavily on overpayments of millions of its expats around the world to keep its economy going – from the highest level in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2018, these cash payments accounted for nearly 13 percent of the country’s total gross domestic product. Now the authorities hope that expats and tourists can provide a lifeline by spending money in the country’s crisis – stricken economy.
Political leaders have explicitly urged expatriates to visit money in Lebanon and spend money.
President Michel Aoun said in late June that the Lebanese diaspora had a ‘role in reviving the economy”.
The chairman, Prime Minister Hasan Diab, also stated this hope tourists and Lebanese expats would flock back to the cash-strapped country to stimulate its struggling hard currency market.
But some say it’s just a gimmick to buy more time, as Lebanon has been without a full-fledged government since August last year, and no major economic recovery plan has been put in place.
Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to implement a rescue plan it went through in July 2020, and the international community continues to withhold development aid unless Lebanon implements economic and structural reforms.
Post-doctoral researcher in finance at University College Dublin, Mohamad Faour, believes the authorities are using overpayments as ‘another morphine shot’ for Lebanon’s growing economic system.
‘[Prioritising remittances] ‘means concentrating on these short-term remedies at the expense of a credible financial plan and solution,’ Faour told Al Jazeera.
“It’s a quality of life on a system that needs to go.”
Anger and resentment
Many of Lebanon’s diaspora around the world have not been home since late 2019, when protests against the government rocked the country.
At the time, there was a brief period of hope and optimism that the Lebanese could overthrow their ruling political parties, which they said were corrupt and mismanaged public funds and resources at the expense of the people.
Ramsey Nasser, a 34-year-old software developer in Brooklyn, New York, says his only source of optimism right now is recent anti-establishment gains at engineering syndicate and university student elections.
But while Nasser packs cash and power banks for family, friends and charities, he admits he feels “powerless” as he sees things unfold from afar.
“It’s like watching a loved one slowly die from an incurable disease,” he said. “I am sad that the country is still bleeding people and spirit by making their lives unbearable.”
As the economy continues to deteriorate, many young professionals are choose to leave the country in what has been described as a “brain drain”.
Poorer families have decided to embark on a perilous voyage across the Mediterranean to Cyprus, hoping for an opportunity to settle in Europe.
If the Lebanese security agencies do not intercept these overcrowded rafts – or if they have not sunk along the way – the Cypriot authorities will forcibly return them.
Chalhoub feels happy that he was able to find an opportunity in the United States. He hopes his friends and family who are still in Lebanon can join him.
‘I do not see why or even how they could stay here. There is no reason, “he said angrily.
‘Even the basics – gas, water, electricity – are not available. I just do not get it! ”