an ethnographic exploration of wounds in post-explosion Beirut
Student number: 13127276 Supervisor: Dr. Lieke Wissink, PhD 2nd reader: Dr. Kristine Krause, PhD
University of Amsterdam Graduate School of Social Sciences
Final Thesis for MSc Medical Anthropology and Sociology
August 6, 2021 Amsterdam, the Netherlands
In memory of the one-year anniversary of the Beirut explosion (August 4, 2020)
On August 4, 2020, an explosion with cataclysmic magnitude hit the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The blast took place at the port of Beirut due to the combustion of 2750 metric tons of Ammonium Nitrate that were unsafely stored. It killed more than 200, wounded around 7000, and displaced over 300.000 people. Following the explosion, many wounded and injured individuals took to digital spaces to show their wounds and injuries, document their recovery journey, and call out the state's negligence and corruption. By engaging in these spaces, I got interested in studying wounds and observing how they became different things for different people. My thesis project looks into what wounds are, what they become, what they do in post-explosion Beirut, and how they tie together relations that make a wounded city.
The project spans over a year of digital ethnography, literature review and theoretical conceptualization, and ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Beirut, where I conducted in-depth interviews with 11 wounded individuals.
I ask, how are wounds mobilized in daily wound-practices in post-explosion Beirut?
To study this and explore the “becomings” and “doings” of wounds, I ground my conceptual framework in material semiotics, taking inspiration from new materialist, post-humanist, and science and technology studies scholars. Then, I unpack the wounds and unbox the city from a material-political approach by employing conceptual tools such as relationality, materiality, and affective sociality.
My project contributes to the studies of wounds in anthropology, sociology, medical anthropology and sociology, and medical humanities by unpacking wounds from a material- semiotic perspective. Through my empirical analysis, I show how wounds become relational, affective, social, and political entities by interacting with materials, bodies, communities, ideas, movements, and the city.
A few years ago, in one of my undergrad courses, we learned about art worlds conceptualized by Howard Becker (1982). Art worlds consist of performers, dealers, suppliers, consumers, critics, and many others, that “produce” the artwork with the artist. Art is a collective action. My thesis is certainly not an artwork, but I want to acknowledge those who took part in its world and helped me produce it along the way.
First, I want to thank the graduate school of social sciences at the University of Amsterdam for granting me the Amsterdam Merit Scholarship, which fully covered my tuition and allowed me to pursue my degree in Medical Anthropology and Sociology. Second, I want to express my deep gratitude to an anonymous donor for covering my housing expenses.
A huge thank you to my supervisor, Dr. Lieke Wissink, for her utmost care and attention to my ideas and work. Thank you, Lieke, for brainstorming with me and grounding me academically and emotionally to produce my thesis. Your constructive feedback always helped me to improve my writing and theorizing.
Thank you, Dr. Kristine Krause, for being interested in my project and for your stimulating lectures and valuable feedback on my work.
To my wonderful parents, you are and have always been my backbone in my upbringing and academic endeavors. Thank you for pushing me to achieve my best despite being abroad and for your care and love at a distance and at home. Saro, you’re my younger brother though I look up to you. You helped me to stay “Zen” during my fieldwork. Medzmama (grandma), your existence adds nothing but warmth to this turbulent year. Finally, Marina horkour and Garine morkour, thank you for being such supportive aunties.
A warm thank you to Varo, Maaike, and Alek, for being my second family in Amsterdam and providing me with all the possible support and affection.
Thank you, Shaghig, for connecting me with informants and helping me in my fieldwork during a tough time.
Shoutout to my best friend Khalil, who never fails to give me immense support. Thank you for your help in editing and structuring the layout of the thesis.
To my fellow classmates, thank you for the deep conversations and the beer nights—
cheers to getting a master’s degree during a global pandemic.
Last but not least, to my informants, no words can describe how much your help and responsiveness mean to me. I admire your power, strength, and courage. Thank you for inspiring me and pushing me to do my absolute best in conveying your experiences and stories.
Table of Contents
Abstract ... 3
Section 1. Introduction: studying wounds in post-explosion Beirut ... 7
Background and problem statement ...7
Section 2. Literature review: how are wounds previously studied? ... 10
Majrouh, Dewachi’s wound ...10
On embodiment ...11
Phenomenological studies of wounds ...12
Section 3. Theoretical framework: theorizing wounds in post-explosion Beirut ... 14
Relationality, relational materiality ...14
Affectivity, relational affectivity, fluidity ...15
Material-political entities and wounded cities ...16
Research questions ...17
Section 4. Methods: how to study wounds in post-explosion Beirut? ... 18
Entering the field ...18
Key informants and recruitment ...18
In-depth interviews with key participants ...19
Digital observations ...20
Reflecting on Covid-19 restrictions ...21
Ethical questions ...21
Section 5. Living with wounds and wounds that are living ... 23
Introducing the chapter: wounds as relational entities ...23
Wounds and materials: the case of mirrors ...25
Wounds and materials: the case of clothes ...27
Cleaning wounds and wounded bodies ...29
Concluding remarks ...30
Section 6. Social lives of wounds ... 31
Introducing the chapter: wounds as social entities ...31
Mediating kinship ...33
Mediating community ...34
Community initiatives: wounds and laser treatments ...37
Concluding remarks ...38
Section 7. Wounds make the wounded city ... 39
Introducing the chapter ...39
Wounds in a chain of crises ...39
From less-than-private to public, political entities ...42
What makes a wounded city? ...43
Section 8. Conclusion(s) ... 45
Summary of main arguments ...45
Discussion: limitations and recommendations ...46
Academic relevance and contribution ...47
References ... 48
Annex 1. Map of Beirut: ... 51
Annex 2. Beirut explosion 4/8/2020 ... 52
Annex 3. Interview questions... 53
Annex 4. Information Sheet and Consent Form ... 54
Annex 5. Clouds of Ammonium Nitrate ... 56
Annex 6. Community Initiatives: Wound Treatments ... 57
Annex 7. Movements ... 59
Section 1. Introduction: studying wounds in post-explosion Beirut
…I was scrolling through my feed, staring at hundreds of pictures; cut skin, bruised flesh, injured individuals with blistered feet walking on shattered glass, blood seeping into their clothes, stitches, bandages, damaged buildings, cries, screams, statements, and so on. I kept looking, observing, tearing up or feeling numb. A week ago, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions of the century had destroyed half of the city I call home, Beirut. The blast had killed more than 200 people, injured and wounded thousands, and displaced tens of thousands from their homes. On-line and on the street, people were documenting the disastrous event, showing their wounds and injuries, the blood marks on the floors of their homes, their destroyed environment, the wounded city. I continued looking into those photos, the wounds, the injuries, the scars and how people displayed them and what they and their wounds were trying to unveil about their body, their mental in/stability, the situation and the city. And that is how I first entered into “the field” in order to study wounds and scars in post-explosion Beirut…
Background and problem statement
On August 4, 2020, at around 6:07pm, the building started to shake in my hometown Zalka, around eight kilometers away from the capital city of Beirut. A few minutes later, an explosion with cataclysmic magnitude hit Beirut and it felt as if it hit Zalka. The explosion came from the port of Beirut, where hangar no. 12 contained 2750 metric tons of Ammonium Nitrate, a highly explosive chemical that should not be placed in large quantities. These chemicals had been stored unsafely in dangerous climate conditions, “following decades of government mismanagement and corruption at Beirut’s port” (Fakih and Majzoub 2021) and it was a fire in the same warehouse that led to their combustion, which resulted into an enormous, “mushroom-shaped” explosion.
The Beirut port explosion killed 218 people (Fakih and Majzoub 2021) based on the latest Human Rights Watch report1. “The explosion wounded around 7,000 people, of whom at least 150 acquired a physical disability; caused untold psychological harm; and damaged 77,000 apartments, displacing over 300,000 people […]. According to the World Bank, the explosion caused an estimated $3.8-4.6 billion in material damage to the city” (Fakih and Majzoub 2021).
Following the explosion, I got engaged in the news and photograph circulation on social media, notably, on Instagram and Twitter. Local activists, photographers, medical experts, citizens wounded and non-wounded all shared photographs of wounds and wounded bodies, told stories of recovery and healing, described what it is like to be wounded in post-explosion
1 The death toll is not finalized as local authorities have not officially updated the official list of the dead since September 2020.
Beirut and called out the corruption and mismanagement. It was interesting to see how wounds were becoming different things for different people. My interest in studying the wounds in the wounded city soon grew and I decided to conduct an ethnographic research of wounds in post- explosion Beirut. My thesis project spans over a year of digital ethnography, literature review and theoretical conceptualization and an ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Beirut (from February till May 2021). I collected over a hundred posts by wounded individuals or others sharing pictures on Twitter and Instagram, gathered media reports and investigative information. I conducted a fieldwork on the ground in Beirut, Lebanon, interviewing 11 wounded individuals and family members, went on walks in the city, observed the damaged spaces, infrastructure, buildings and streets and engaged in conversations with fellow residents.
My thesis is about wounds, what they are, what they become, what they do in post- explosion Beirut and how they tie together relations that make a wounded city. I build on a literature review (see section 2) from previous social science studies on wounds and wounded bodies in Lebanon and beyond. My theoretical goal of looking into the “becomings” and
“doings” of wounds is grounded in a conceptual framework inspired by material semiotics and new materialist theory scholars. These schools of thought provide the necessary tools and concepts to study and unpack wounds and the city from a material-political perspective.
Concepts such as relationality, materiality and affectivity (described in the theoretical framework) allow me to examine how wounds are enacted in everyday wound-practices, meaning, practices in which they receive care, get attention, get nurtured or ignored, displayed or masked. I analyze how wounds mobilize different relations between entities, from materials to people, communities, ideas and movements, and how they are mobilized by different actors in different practices and situations to translate the political crises that the wounded city faces.
Therefore, I ask, how are wounds mobilized in daily wound-practices in post-explosion Beirut?
In the following, I first lay out previous literature on wounds, wounded bodies and woundedness, studied by scholars from disciplines of anthropology, sociology, medical anthropology and sociology, and medical humanities. This is to first inform the reader of how wounds could be studied from a socio-cultural and medical anthropological perspective, identify what research has been carried out in this domain, and draw contrasts later on showing how my study diverges and intersects with these reviews. I will then scheme my theoretical framework showing the three layers of my study on wounds as relational, affective social and material-political entities. Afterwards, I will describe in detail my methodology from accessing the field to key informants, observations, interviews, data analysis, covid-19 restrictions, ethical questions and positionality.
Following the introductory sections, I will next present my empirical data with excerpts, analysis and links to literature and theory. I have divided the empirical sections into three chapters: Living with wounds and wounds that are living shows how in daily wound-practices
wounds become relational entities, interacting with mirrors, clothes, antiseptics and other materials, and through these relations they become different things. In Social Lives of Wounds, I trace how wounds tie together wounded and non-wounded bodies, become affective social entities and mediate kinship and community. Finally, in Wounds make the wounded city, I explore how wounds are mobilized publicly and become material-political, creating actions movements and relations that make the wounded city.
In the last section of conclusions, I summarize and tie together all my findings, discuss limitations and potential other ways of studying wounds, and describe the academic relevance of my research and my modest contribution in the social sciences.
“Injured Man After Port Explosion in Beirut” by Lorenzo Tugnoli, August 4, 2020.
Photo nominated for World Press Photo of the Year 2021 and awarded 1st place in the Spot News Stories category of the World Press Photo 2021.
Section 2. Literature review: how are wounds previously studied?
Wounds are the object of study in medical and health sciences where the main concern of physicians has been to optimize their categorization and classification in order to improve their care and healing. Like in other areas of healthcare, there is much clinical uncertainty in wound care and wound studies (Christie et al 2018: 2). Moreover, wounds are “matters of concern” in dermatology and reconstructive surgery units where research has been developed towards the enhancement of their treatment. In this review, I will look at previous studies on wounds, wounded bodies and woundedness in Lebanon and beyond from the disciplines of medical anthropology and sociology. How could wounds be an object of interest in anthropological and sociological studies? What do the social sciences have to offer and what do they allow to see more?
Empirical research and conceptual exploration from an anthropological perspective, consists of actively gathering thick descriptions and accounts (Geertz 1973) of actual social worlds. Anthropology and sociology provide the tools to ask questions in the social worlds we live in, to be attentive and responsive to socio-material relations and critically examine issues on culture and society. Moreover, medical anthropological and sociological research allows to critically explore different topics and issues related to medicine, health, illness, the body2 from a social and cultural perspective.
Here, empirical, conceptual and ethnographic research on wounds provide the tools to critically evaluate the assumptions and normativities surrounding wounds, to examine the social, political and cultural value these entities hold. What then could different studies on wounds and wounded bodies in the social sciences consist of?
Majrouh3, Dewachi’s wound
The work of Omar Dewachi (2015) is a notable point of departure to study wounds in Lebanon. Dewachi, a medical doctor and medical anthropologist, studies the scars of an Iraqi asylum seeker in Lebanon who was capable of securing humanitarian aid because he had a visible wound on his body (Dewachi 2015: 63). He looks into what is revealed in wounds as they travel and “enter new social worlds” (Dewachi 2015: 65) and cross new borders. The starting point here is a physical wound, through which he develops the notion of “social wound”, an analytical concept that helps him trace “histories and geographies of violence that are entrenched in the ambivalences of everyday social experiences of war and displacement”
and to better understand the material and social vulnerabilities of “afflicted lives and bodies
2 Of course, medical anthropological research does not end here, but these are the common, general themes.
3 Wounded in Arabic
under war, and their entanglement in the ongoing reconfigurations of borders across states and communities in the Middle East” (Dewachi 2015: 65).
Moreover, he argues that wounds are embedded in the everyday social relations, especially in Lebanon “a country that has had to absorb the effects of civil wars, foreign military interventions, and waves of regional refugee crises over the last fifty years” (Dewachi 2015: 65). In Arabic, to be majrouh (wounded) also means carrying “memories, pain or histories of wounding processes” (Dewachi 2015: 64). He pictures the wound here as a process carrying certain meanings through its historical existence on bodies.
For Dewachi, studying wounds allows him to trace discourses of trauma and histories of violence in the everyday lives of asylum seekers, refugees, displaced individuals or those who have lived to see wars and violence. He tries to show how “the wound can reveal broader ecologies of violence and care across states and institutional borders and boundaries” (Dewachi 2015: 77) by researching political histories of humanitarian institutions and their bureaucratic management of Iraqi asylum seekers, studying the treatment of refugees by the Lebanese government, looking into his main informant’s stories on how he convinces institutions to receive aid by showing his wounds, and finally, by analyzing the power dynamics and clashes between citizens and refugees on the status of vulnerability and victimhood, as Lebanese have also suffered from war and violence.
Dewachi lays out an important context that cannot be ignored in the study of wounds in Lebanon. While he studies how wounds become entangled in larger power dynamics through the wound carrier (in this case the Iraqi asylum seeker), I will be shifting the focus from the carriers of the wound to the wound itself to understand the very being of the wound, its complexity and intricate texture and how it is enacted in practice in relation to other entities surrounding it.
Further expanding my search, I studied interesting conceptual frameworks through which we can study wounds. Annemarie Samuels (2016) looks at embodied narratives of three Acehnese women who survived the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004, a disaster that massively destroyed the coastal parts of Aceh, Indonesia and left many dead or severely wounded. In these stories, the body becomes central in “narrating” the experience of the disaster, “by enacting a past experience, through gestures, facial expressions, forms and modes of speech, but also through scars on the body, through tears and goose bumps” (Samuels 2016:
809). Here, showing one’s scars and looking at scars become central in understanding the disaster and how people view it and talk about it in its aftermath. Samuels explores the wound as a thing that embodies a disastrous event and explores the idea of “being in the world” through a wounded body. In one of these stories, an informant named Safrina, tells her story about the tsunami “by mimicking sounds, enacting situations, and pointing to parts of her own body that still show the scars of her wounds” (Samuels 2016: 818). Another story from Rania, points to a “poignant bodily experience of suffering”, when she shows the scars of her face that were
once wounds, connoting how she “embodies her tsunami experience in the present and through the process of healing” (Samuels 2016: 821). By documenting these narrated stories, Samuels tries to show that it is through the body, the wounded body that the intertwining elements of
“life as lived” and “life as talked about” come together (Samuels 2016: 818). She powerfully argues how exploring tsunami narratives through wounded bodies is important in order to not take post-crisis recovery as a self-evident process, since a lot of “hard and painful work is put into the process of remaking the world” through one’s wounds and their wounded body (Samuels 2016: 822).
Following the frameworks of embodiment, medical anthropologists have also studied wounded bodies of soldiers during war and post-war (Messinger 2010; Wool 2016). The post- blast-injury body of a soldier “is a cacophony of signals” (Messinger 2010: 291), open to different interpretations between “him” and the strangers he encounters at a rehabilitation center. Messinger (2010) looks at the rehabilitation of the injured body through the approaches of physical functioning and development of a future life. At the rehabilitation center, patients were “defined solely by their injury and the level of physical functioning they were able to achieve post-injury” (Messinger 2010: 298). Additionally, Messinger (2010) grounds his arguments in concepts such as embodiment and subjectivity to study how a soldier’s injury affects their subjective sense of self and how their shifting sense of self affects how they view their injuries (Messinger 2010: 298). Messinger’s “cacophony of signals” is an interesting concept to see how wounds have semiotic value. However, while he adopts theories of subjectivity and embodiment, I carry out a study of wounds grounded in a material semiotic approach.
Phenomenological studies of wounds
As I actively searched for different ways wounds have been studied in the social sciences, phenomenological accounts of wounds captured my interest. Phenomenology typically looks at the personal body and “the subjective way in which human beings understand and make sense of various phenomena within the context of their world” (Yaron et. Al 2017:
287). In order to study facial disfiguration, Yaron et al. (2017) look at phenomenological theories on embodiment especially that of Merleau-Ponty (initially published 1945, 2013) who argues that the “lived body” forms the points through which one could look at the world. As explained by Merleau-Ponty, embodiment involves an “intimate experience of my body’s
‘ownness’” (Yaron et al. 2017: 287), and this involves the preconscious sense of being here- and-now, “being immersed” in the body (Merleau-Ponty 2013: 374). The phenomenological perspective to the wound would be to look at the subjective experience of the wounded body, to look at the carrier as the “locus of perception and action” (Yaron et al. 2017: 287).
Additionally, Toombs (1995) takes a phenomenological approach to understand the lived experience of having chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. She explains that a phenomenological account of “bodily disorder discloses the emotional dimension of physical dysfunction” (Toombs 1995: 10). Toombs (1995) presents a brilliant account on the everyday
struggle of the disabled body, attends to materialities surrounding her “reaching for a cup” or
“grabbing a chalk” or “taking the stairs”, and she argues that “physical space is an oriented space” for her body (Toombs 1995: 11). From her perspective, the world is constructed through the disabled body and the focus is very much on the personal attribution of meanings to the world through the individual body. Hence, a phenomenological take of wounds not only looks at the personal, lived experience of the wounded body but views the meanings attributed to the wound through that body.
Moreover, Slatman (2016) adopts a phenomenological lens to look into the concept of habituation on her ethnographic research of women’s mastectomy scars. Habituation to a physical change (such as a mastectomy scar) “involves a change in one’s embodied self- experience”. Habituation to a scar as understood through phenomenological terms implies “a certain shift in the way one endows meaning to one’s own body” (Slatman 2016: 348).
Slatman’s detailed ethnographic descriptions of her main informant Ann, show how there has been a remarkable shift in how she experiences her scar from the first meeting till the second, a few months later. Ann first experiences the scar as something that “underlines the loss of her breast”, however this feeling of loss diminishes and “instead of a body lacking a breast, her body evolves into a one-breasted body” (Slatman 2016: 355-356). This means that Ann habituates to her mastectomy scar and grows accustomed to this new change on her body.
Slatman then looks into habituation as “de-signifying”; first she argues that the ontological4 meaning of a scar needs another description. She relates the ontological status of a scar to a sign, where the meaning attached to the sign is not present in the materiality of the scar (Slatman 2016: 358). This was the case when Ann was first mentioning her scar as relating to the absence of her breast, she was giving a meaning to the scar, “the sign” beyond its physical, material being. But, later, Ann continued mentioning the scar without talking about what it represents to her, the scar no longer referred to something else beyond its materiality,
“she did no longer look through her scar, but that she just looked at it” (Slatman 2016: 358).
This is how the “de-signifying” of a scar, it no longer signifying anything, reveals its habituation by “owing to its ineffaceable visibility and material presence” (Slatman 2016: 360).
Hence, Slatman calls for a focus on the scarred body’s materiality to “de-signify”. I find it captivating how Slatman suggests a shift towards the materiality of a scar beyond its semiotic significance. Her interest in the ontological is also inspiring. Building on this idea, in my study, I will bridge the ontological to the material, by studying wounds from a material semiotic approach (explained with detail in the theoretical framework).
I reviewed above previous anthropological and sociological research studies on wounds and scars; starting with how the wound enfolds histories of violence (Dewachi 2015), then looking into how wounded individuals’ reshaping and remaking of their worlds and subjectivities are done through their wounds and wounded bodies (Samuels 2016; Messinger 2010), and finally finishing with a phenomenological angle to see how the habituation of scars not only means their incorporation into one’s body but their “de-signifying” beyond their material existence as well (Slatman 2016).
4 Relating to the being of a thing.
Section 3. Theoretical framework: theorizing wounds in post-explosion Beirut
Now that we became familiar with existing empirical debates on wounds from different conceptual and theoretical frameworks in medical anthropological and sociological studies, in this part, I explain my theorizing of wounds in post-explosion Beirut. In order to “unweave”
and “unstitch” wounds, I build on material semiotic approaches. Material semiotics, as Law (2009) beautifully puts it, is a set of tools and sensibilities to explore how practices in the social world form weaves (threads, flows, links), where semiotic studies (plainly speaking the study of signs and how they are interpreted) is extended to look into how things in the material world
“acquire their meaning relationally” (Mol 2010: 257). Here, I lay out conceptual tools and methods of thinking through which I study wounds, these complex entities, how they are enacted, brought into play and mobilized in daily practices that are centered around them.
These wound-practices comprise of applying a scar removal cream, wearing a hat to avoid sun exposure, exercising, cleaning with antiseptics, laser sessions, photographing, looking in the mirror, displaying or concealing the appearance of wounds, and many other things. I will describe in the following the three layers through which I study wounds in my three empirical chapters, and the theories and concepts in which I ground my theorizing. As wounds become different things, theory also shifts, gets reshaped, practiced differently in different situations (Krause 2016: 23). Conceptual inquiry not only means grasping concepts and applying them as they are, but also actively engaging in their becoming. Hence, my framework takes shape by engaging with different authors, concepts, theoretical tools, and ways of thinking.
Relationality, relational materiality
In the Body Multiple (2002), philosopher and social theorist, Annemarie Mol, calls for an attention to materiality since the “the humane does not reside exclusively in psychosocial matters” (Mol 2002: 27). Feelings and interpretations might be important, but they alone do not consist of life itself; “day-to-day reality, the life we live, is also a fleshy affair. A matter of chairs and tables, food and air, machines and blood. Of bodies” (Mol 2002: 27). In studying daily wound-practices, materialities arise and relations form between wounds and other entities. My point of departure is to first observe wounds in such practices not as “prior entities”
but as things that take form and materialize in relation to other entities (Fox and Alldred 2017:
134). What does it mean for a wound “to become”? How can we question the being and becoming of such an entity? As Mol explains, to understand what a something is, one must look at the relations surrounding it for “the “is” is one that is situated” […], for “nothing ever
“is” alone”, and “to be is to be related” (Mol 2002: 54).
In A Thousand Plateaus (1987, originally 1980), Deleuze and Guattari, describe the concept of an assemblage which provides me with interesting analytical tools. An assemblage
consists of “multiple, heterogeneous parts linked together to form a whole” (Müller 2016: 28).
Deleuze and Guattari attribute important features to assemblages, one of which is heterogeneity: this means that the group of things coming into relation is diverse, we can have objects, humans, animals, events, ideas, movements, beliefs, etc. Another feature of assemblages, one which interests me the most, is relationality. This means that each element in the group is shaped and reshaped in interaction with the other elements of the group. The concept of assemblage and relationality allow me to look at who and what surrounds wounds as they constantly get into relations and form relations, and “be” and “become” through these relations. They interact with different heterogeneous entities such as mirrors, clothes and creams, but also bodies, photographers, communities and the city. I attend to the relationality of wounds in daily wound-practices in the first empirical chapter Living with wounds and wounds that are living.
Affectivity, relational affectivity, fluidity
Wounds bring together different people, wounded and non-wounded bodies, families and communities. How can wounds do that? What type of entities are they? What capacity do they have? In the second empirical chapter, I look at how wounds are affective social entities.
Wounds have a capacity to affect and be affected. Attending to affect or theories of affect, could be a daunting task considering how broad affect theory(ies) are. I would not be able to do justice to the whole branch of knowledge but will lay out the conceptual tools that are helpful for me to study the affectivity of wounds. In various guises, affect theory draws attention to
“the ways in which ‘bodies’ very broadly defined (human, animal, biological, technological, cultural) combine, assemble, articulate and shift into new formations, worked upon as well as working on” (Wetherell 2013: 350). So, affect is this form of resonance, rapport, acting as a connection through which humans and non-humans move together, shape each other, and affect one another. Taking the example of artworks; they have this innate physiological affect but
“the origin [of this affect] is social because they arise through someone’s interaction with other people, objects or elements in an environment” and so, in a way, affective entities breach borders between self and other (Boletsi 2019: 23).
This brings us closer to understanding how wounds are not just “wounds”; they affect their surrounding and get affected by it. So what interests me here, in the broad world of affect theory, is the relationality and sociality of affect, which means we can take affect as
“ontologically relational in that the whole phenomenon is realized in a distributed manner between interacting individuals and between these individuals and their environments” (Slaby 2019: 66). Hence, the relational affectivity of wounds is constructed when these entities come into interaction with wounded and non-wounded bodies, where this interplay affects the people, redefines the wounds and mediates communal connections.
In studying how wounds mediate social relations between different bodies, I explore how wounds move across and transcend bodies. The concepts of “fluidity” and “fluid bodily boundaries” become useful tools. Haraway asks, “why should our bodies end at the skin or
include at best other beings encapsulated by skin? (1991: 178)”. For her, bodies are fluid entities themselves, at the threshold of change and in-between categories. While Haraway’s topic studies and theoretical take are different from what I look at, I am inspired by how she breaks down bodily boundaries (1991: 212). She argues that “bodies as objects of knowledge are material-semiotic generative nodes” and their “boundaries materialize in social interaction”
(Haraway 1991: 200-201). By treating bodies as boundary-free entities, I turn to wounds, these entities carried by bodies, and how they become fluid entities, transgressing bodily boundaries, affecting and mediating bodies. Through Haraway’s suggested tool of fluidity and the conceptions of relational affectivity, I will look into how wounds are affective social entities mediating social relations, moving beyond bodies and moving bodies, all in the second empirical chapter Social lives of wounds.
Material-political entities and wounded cities
How are wounds political and politicized entities in post-explosion Beirut, as they actively create relations and communities, incite actions, initiatives and movements in the wounded city? How can we bridge the material to the political? And how can we conceptualize a wounded city? Here, I take my inspiration from two scholars, a medical anthropologist and a cultural geographer, who both use ethnography to research wounds in a Botswana cancer ward and wounded cities marked by past structures of violence and exclusion, respectively. I will describe how they inspire and provide me with analytical tools to be used in my final empirical chapter Wounds make the wounded city.
In a Botswana cancer ward, the only one in the country, Julie Livingston (2013) explores the “awful things unchecked cancer can do to the human body” (Livingston 2013:
3719) especially during a cancer pandemic in the global south. Livingston meticulously describes the materiality of ulcers, growing wounds on the bodies of cancer patients and the type of care they receive. The raw flesh, pieces of slough hanging and the terrible foul smell.
Next, slicing off the dead tissue with a razor, wiping the wound with saline and wrapping it in betadine-soaked gauze (Livingston 2013: 3719). After giving a thick account of an unchecked cancer wound, Livingston then studies the economic and political situation of the country and region. Due to oncological care not being available to all, those who cannot afford treatments, leave it until the situation becomes unbearable for them to seek medical care. “What is revealed in the wound is the obscenity of untreated advanced cancer on the scale now emerging in the global south” (Livingston 2013: 3720) and the economic-political situation, inequalities and discrimination faced by low-income patients, and this requires a new politics of care and prevention (Livingston 2013: 3720). The shift from materiality to politics is a great tool to study wounds in post-explosion Beirut, as these entities are intertwined with the political crises the city faces. What is revealed in wounds then when we study them on a city level?
Last but not least, Karen Till’s definition and conceptualization of wounded cities is inspiring. Wounded cities are “densely settled locales that have been harmed and structured by particular histories of physical destruction, displacement, and individual and social trauma
resulting from state-perpetrated violence” (Till 2012: 6). Moreover, when we consider cities as
“wounded”, the urban space is not only the geographical boundaries but is also a place where the inhabitants of the city have been “wounded by state and dominant social-political practices”
(Till 2012: 5). And indeed, Beirut is a “wounded” city as it is an urban space harmed by previous and recent violence, terror, displacement, bombings, explosion, and its residents have been wounded by state violence. The notion of a wounded city is captivating, and I will build on this concept to further explore what a wounded city is and what makes Beirut a wounded city.
After laying out my theoretical framework, I pose my main research question again:
How are wounds mobilized in daily wound-practices in post-explosion Beirut?
My main research question is built on three key elements: the wounds, the wound-practices and the city (post-explosion Beirut). Hence, I try to unpack these elements through the following sub-questions:
What do wound-practices entail and how do they mobilize wounds?
Some examples of wound-practices which I study below are applying a scar removal cream, photographing wounds, laser therapy treatments, wearing a hat, etc. I examine how these practices shape and mobilize wounds.
What are wounds and what do they become through different relations in post- explosion city of Beirut?
These relations include interaction with different entities of different scale: materials, bodies, communities, ideas, initiatives, the city.
What do wounds do in/to the city?
This question looks into the type of actions wounds do such as mediating, tying, inciting, in the city.
Section 4. Methods: how to study wounds in post-explosion Beirut?
Entering the field
For years I had passed by the port of Beirut to go to university without knowing that there was a huge supply of highly explosive chemicals stored in one of its warehouses, that one day, those chemicals would explode, wounding a city and its residents. Being a few kilometers away from Beirut on August 4, 2020 and then engaging in online spaces (Instagram and Twitter) by actively following wounded people, photographers, medical workers, news outlets, etc. meant that I had been in “the field” from an early moment. In February 2021, I travelled from Amsterdam to Beirut, in order to conduct my fieldwork by doing observations in the city and interviewing wounded and injured people.
Being in the field meant being at home. I had been away from “home” for half a year;
I had left right after the Beirut explosion and, even though, I had been engaged in the field practically all my life, being physically there felt crucial to my project. Simply going to the supermarket with my parents and seeing the drastic changes in the prices was perhaps one of the banal engaging-in-the-field moments where I was not directly conducting my own fieldwork but understanding the field and the local crises better.
Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, a city with thousands of years of history. Over the previous decades, the city’s politico-historic past is overfilled with countless violent events that have physically, psychologically and spiritually wounded the city and its residents: from the wars to assassinations, blasts and economic collapse. Beirut is a multiethnic, multicultural and multi-sectarian city, a city of many peoples, though the August 4 explosion impacted all of its residents together in multiple ways.
Key informants and recruitment
Before getting to Lebanon, I had already entered the digital field by following and engaging with social media accounts and posts of injured people, which also helped me to get in touch with many of my informants. I put out a tweet and a status on Twitter and Instagram respectively that says: “I am conducting fieldwork on wound and scars of people who got injured in the August 4 explosion of Beirut, for my master’s thesis. If anyone can connect me with people who got wounded, are currently in rehabilitation, or sustaining injuries, I would be very thankful. Please share”. Friends, acquaintances and people from my networks responded by either recommending a name to reach out to or saying they could personally help as they had been wounded. It was interesting to notice how people “recommend” a potential interview:
“she’s okay now, she’s chill and she’ll talk”, “he went through a lot and sustaining injuries so I think he could help you”, etc.
I reached out to several other people in order to recruit via their networks. I met with a man who along with others had organized a fundraising for long-term injured people. He refused to put me in touch with some injured people unless I provide financial compensation.
Nonetheless, the meeting helped me to acquire information on initiatives, organizations, NGOs and the help and aid they were providing to wounded and injured people. I also sent out emails and messages to two reconstructive surgeons and a dermatologist, who could not meet me, but the latter suggested I check out the online initiatives she was part of and sent me links.
Moreover, a relative, who had also helped affected families with reconstruction projects, put me in touch with three informants (a Lebanese Armenian man and a Lebanese Syrian couple), and later accompanied me to their houses for the interviews.
I conducted nine in-depth interviews with eleven key participants5 with eleven signed consent forms6. Five women (a 19-year-old, three in their 20s and one in her early 40s), five men (one in his 20s, two in their 40s and one in his 50s) and a teenage boy, whom I interviewed along with his father. These people had been wounded and injured in several and different ways, I describe their wounds and injuries more in detail through my empirical chapters.
Seven of my informants lived in Karantina, Mar Mkhael and Gemmayzeh, three neighborhoods that are adjacent to the area of the port and got heavily impacted by the explosion (see annex 1). Two of them were working in an area within hundreds of meters of the explosion and two happened to be in Mar Mkhael and Achrafieh (another district close to the port).
In-depth interviews with key participants
The main research activity undertaken to answer the question above was in-depth interviews with key participants who were wounded and injured in some form during the Beirut blast. The in-depth interview is “one that allows the interviewee enough time to develop their own accounts of the issues important to them” (Green and Thorogood 2018: 116). It consists of certain topic points that lead the discussion all while allowing the research to be flexible and get engaged in a long, extensive conversation with the participant.
My interviews lasted from one to two hours. My interview questions were divided under three main themes Living with wounds, Recovery and rehab, and Injury experience. I asked my participants several questions such as how do you take care of your wounds, what forms of rehabilitation do you follow, what do you think about the situation? (to view the whole list, see annex 3). I met nine of the interviewees at their home or at a café, while three of them opted for an interview on Zoom due to covid-19 restrictions. Conducting fieldwork on Zoom
“complicates traditional understandings about accessing and entering a field site” (Howlett 2021: 6). My Zoom interviews happened in a more relaxed nature as my informants were sitting
5 Four of whom were related: father-son and husband-wife.
6 More on consent and consent forms in Ethical questions
in their bedrooms, in comfort, which allowed me to “virtually situate within the less informal aspects of my informant’s life” (Howlett 2021: 9).
I communicated with my informants in Arabic and Armenian, mixed with English and French expressions. Speaking to one another was not difficult, however I noticed how questions and the meanings of questions change when I try to translate them from English.
When I wrote down my questions in Arabic, I had to change the structure of some to fit into its logics. Moreover, informants understood questions differently; a question on “when the wounds are the most present” led to various discussions from daily activities to experiencing nightmares to the difficulties of being in the city again. Questions also changed with the different appearances of the wounds and in order to phrase them, I found it helpful to check beforehand the situation of my participants either through those who connected me to them or through their publicly shared pictures on their recovery journey. Through that, it became a little less vague for me to know if I should phrase my question in the present or past tense or whether to talk about recovery as a past or future event.
I recorded the interviews on my phone, of course, with the permission of my informants, and kept a fieldwork journal to take notes during the interviews, jot down ideas and observations on the setting, their tone, the appearance of wounds and the reactions of their family members. I also added notes from my observations of the wounded city while doing solo and group walks. The journal later on helped me in adding context when I transcribed my interview recordings in verbatim.
To analyze my data, I grouped interesting excerpts under common themes such as wound-practices, body, city, recovery, family/community. I highlighted the parts I found the most interesting and directly related to my study, added notes and comments on my laptop and journals, and then referred back to these highlights while drafting the empirical chapters. All transcripts, drafts and files are stored anonymously and confidentially on Google drive, protected by a password.
As I explained above, digital observations on Instagram and Twitter were a crucial part of the research activity. Not only was I able to connect with potential interviewees through those platforms but I also collected data from posts by wounded, injured, scarred individuals, people and bodies, who had posted pictures of their wounds and their recovery journey. I also gathered data from posts by photographers, reconstructive surgeons, dermatologists, news outlets, investigative journals and community initiatives. The data I gathered were from public accounts, publicly available under Instagram’s and Twitter’s privacy policies. I transcribed and noted this data anonymously. Even before the world of digital networks started being heavily used to continue “life as it is” during the covid-19 pandemic, digital and virtual ethnography was a growing method to conduct qualitative research in anthropology and sociology. “It is no longer imaginable to conduct ethnography without considering online spaces” (Hallet and
Barber 2013: 307). Moreover, I chose to conduct digital observations since I learned a lot about wounds and what they become on display, in public, shared, celebrated, appreciated, online.
Reflecting on covid-19 restrictions
Being from Lebanon and conducting fieldwork “at home”, I underestimated how long and difficult it could be to gather participants for the interviews. Adding to this was the difficulty of conducting fieldwork during a global pandemic. I was fortunate to be able to travel back home and be in the field again, nonetheless, facing local restrictions were barriers I had never faced before while conducting fieldwork. In mid-February 2021, Lebanon was in a full lockdown, only allowing residents to leave the house in necessary situations with a permission.
My first two weeks, I had to quarantine at home and follow the updates and changes of the restrictions in order to plan out my interviews. The situation got better slowly, and during March and April, places in the food sectors such as restaurants and cafés were open again.
Navigating these restrictions slowed down my plans.
Of course, conducting fieldwork during a pandemic means that there is the risk of being infected and getting quarantined. My parents and I got infected with covid-19 and we had to isolate ourselves for two weeks. At the time, I thought this was definitely an obstacle, one that slowed down my fieldwork further and affected my mental wellbeing. Nonetheless, as any experience in fieldwork helps us to grow and adds to our knowledge as ethnographers, this obstacle taught me that taking care of myself and my health is necessary as a researcher.
I cannot deny that the topic of my research is very heavy. My interviewees are at the core of the project, they have witnessed through and on their skin and organs a very violent and traumatic event. One of the main ethical concerns regarding my project was the potential psychological risks that could cause emotional harm to the interviewees, since having conversations surrounding such topics could bring out bottled emotions and tragic memories.
Nonetheless, when interviewing is “done with empathy and understanding”, having taken into consideration “the interviewees’ agenda” and their concerns (Green and Thorogood 201: 93), it could be an empowering experience. This is why I started my interviews by directly diving into how my participants take care of themselves and how they live with their wounds. I tried to not overwhelm them with suggestive questions and always acknowledge their emotions and viewpoints, constantly thanking them for opening up to me.
The topic of injury during the explosion popped up later in the conversation, as my participants were already prepared to talk about it. Talking about it seemed natural to them as they have all told that story many times. Perhaps, it would have been strange to talk about their wounds without mentioning the main event that caused it even if it meant talking about a
stressing event. Here, having experienced the explosion myself, I also shared about my own experience whenever the conversation called for it.
It was heartwarming that my interviewees trusted me, and they opened up about their experiences. Many also diverted the conversation and asked me about my own experience, got curious about life in Europe, talked about the past, the present and the future of Lebanon, the dystopic experience of buying groceries in the country nowadays and many other interesting things. It was interesting how through these “off topic” conversations, my informants weaved the context of their field and talked about their situation from different angles. It was also interesting to see how people talk differently about their traumatic experience: “I make a lot of jokes about it, it’s my way of coping with it”. Most conversations were relaxed and some even showed me and sent me pictures and videos from that day and the transformations of their wounds. At the end of each interview, I asked my informants if there is anything positive that they encountered in their experience and the conversations concluded on a positive note or in an informal casual conversation about daily life and aspirations.
Informed consent is a process that is entered into effect when a participant is introduced to the study, explained to what the research entails in a comprehensive and succinct manner.
An important aspect of this process is when the interviewees sign a form that contains necessary information on the project (view annex 4). When it came to informed consent, I sent information sheets to interested individuals, after letting them know briefly about the project.
Some asked a few questions about the process and then agreed to have a chat. Before starting the interview, I explained/reexplained the aim of my study and the interview, how it will go, how it is voluntary and if they feel uncomfortable at any moment, they could skip the question or stop the conversation. Then, I asked them to sign the consent form and note if they agree for me to record the interview for which all of them noted yes. I also made sure to let them know that the recordings were solely for me to listen again later and note down their answers.
Additionally, I agreed with my participants to keep their names and identities anonymous and let them know about how I will use the data in my study.
Having lived in Lebanon my whole life, I have been part of my field for as long as I can remember. Experiencing the August 4, 2020 explosion, surely became part of my Lebanese experience. It allowed me to gain access and open up about my own fears and anxieties in order to build rapport. Nonetheless, I did not get wounded nor injured during the explosion, which created a different layer of experience to witnessing the explosion. In a way, there was this small distance between me and my informants, as I was an “outsider” to their wounded world.
Being born in Lebanon as a third generation Armenian, I lived until my high school years in a closely-knit Armenian community, not having much contact with non-Armenians, odarner (foreigners, others, as articulated in the community). Spoken Lebanese Arabic is very much different from the written language, which we learned in school. Not having many Arab friends until college, I had trouble conversing in the spoken Arabic language. Now, I speak
almost fluently in derij (spoken Arabic) after attending the American University of Beirut where I made many friends and acquaintances. I reflect on this because it affects my personal fears when it comes to conducting interviews in Arabic. It also affects how I gain access to many interviewees. When I reached out on personal networks in order to find injured people willing to participate in my study, I got messages from many Lebanese Armenian friends.
Something that I thought might skew the sampling.
On the other hand, keeping in mind all of these nuances when it comes to access, my positionality as a Lebanese woman, gave me an easier access in Lebanon comparing to another person not having lived here. In such a small country, where people are very friendly, curious and open to help strangers, sometimes in an intrusive but mostly in warm ways, getting connected to potential participants becomes relatively easy. However, I am aware this research- at-home could also result sometimes in framing some things as natural matters and taking them for granted. It was challenging to conduct research on such a sensitive topic that is personal, political and tragic all at once. I felt burdened sometimes by the fear of not doing justice to all aspects of the tragedy and the stories of my participants. I also felt, sometimes, guilty for being abroad and in a better situation, as people assume. These situations put up some limitations in grounding my ideas academically and separating my emotions from analysis. Nonetheless, my thesis project allowed me to learn about myself, my fears and anxieties, and find healing in writing.
Section 5. Living with wounds and wounds that are living
Introducing the chapter: wounds as relational entities
…I love my scars and my wounds, and they have never annoyed me, and after I removed the stitches, after a couple of weeks from the explosion, they told me at the hospital that there is a cream called Meboscar, a cream to put on scars, ma tkhalle yiaalle’ (doesn’t let it leave a mark), I bought it and maybe I used it like twice, didn’t use it again because I felt like I do not want it, because I am not covering something that is ugly7. And there are many people who ask me that why didn’t you use it, why didn’t you cover these scars? If someone has a birthmark, would they hide it, cover it? if they have freckles would they hide it? People literally do tattoos that last on their bodies forever. So, these scars metlon metel ayya shi like a birthmark (they are like any other thing like a birthmark), tattoo, or something that lasts forever, especially that they have a story, mannon shi sakhif (they are not something silly) …
7 Meaning for her, the scars are not ugly.
I sat in my parents’ bedroom, holding my laptop and waiting Cathia8 to join the Zoom call. It was a rainy evening, typical to those of March, and the thought of conducting fieldwork during a global pandemic materialized further through that Zoom interview I was about to have.
I knew about Cathia, a woman in her mid-twenties, through Instagram, where she was active in talking about her story and experience during and after the Beirut explosion. Her photograph had circulated a lot as she was covered in stitches and scars. She had several wounds; the deepest and gravest one was on her neck where her jugular vein was cut, another on her hand, a long white line parallel to her artery as she showed me through the camera, a slash on her nose and eyebrows and the rest throughout her body as she was hit by shattered glass from the windows of shops next to the office where she worked. It captivated me how highly she spoke of her scars and told me how she would not want to “hide” them as they are not “something silly”. More so, she compared these things to a birthmark or a tattoo, even though you are born with the former, and the latter is acquired by choice. But her emphasis through such a comparison was on the value these scars hold, how they “have a story”, how they hold something valuable in them. Cathia, like many of my informants, was covered in blood and huge cuts, a few minutes after the explosion on August 4, 2020. She had gotten up, walked on shattered glass, went from hospital to hospital as they were either destroyed from the blast or over-occupied. She was amazed at her strength and her capacity; after surviving such an event
“you can’t but fall in love with your recovery journey”.
Cathia told me one thing that materialized her understanding of these wounds and how they carry a story, and that is her rejection to use Meboscar, a scar-removing cream. Like many of my other informants, her description of such wound-practices involves interaction with other entities (in this case the Meboscar cream). Through these interactions, what we understand as a wound gets shaped and reshaped. The wound is in a process of becoming. The wound is in a process of living; not only are my participants living with their wounds, but their wounds are also living with them and the materials they use to treat and give care to their wounds. By denying the usage of Meboscar, a practice involving this interesting material, the wound as a valuable, story-carrying entity gets enacted.
While I dive deeper into how wounds interact with different materials and become different things, I reflect on how my work diverges from that of Dewachi. As I laid out in my literature review, Dewachi’s work is inspiring and gives a lot of insight into how one can approach a study of wounds in the Middle East. In my own study, I build on this literature and shift from looking into histories of war and violence and how wound carriers who have been through such experiences navigate their lives, but rather focus on the materiality and relationality of wounds, their “being” and “becoming” in daily practices revolved around their care, protection, attention and cleaning. In this first chapter, I look into wounds not as
“ontologically-prior essences” but entities that are “relational, gaining ontological status and integrity” (Fox & Alldred 2017: 24) through their relations to other things, bodies, people, and ideas. I explored at the beginning of this section how the value of a wound gets materialized in
8 All names mentioned are pseudonyms.
relation to a scar removal cream through the practice of (in this case) refusal to apply the cream, and in the following, I will continue to examine other such practices and instances that reveal the relational materiality of wounds in post-explosion Beirut.
Wounds and materials: the case of mirrors
Through the interviews with my key interviewees, I got informed about how they live with their wounds and how their wounds live with them. In daily wound-practices, materials occupy an important space as the interaction between wounds and materials shapes the
“becoming” of wounds. One of such materials, the scar removal cream enacted the in/visibility of the wound whether you decide to apply it or reject it. Visibility, invisibility, disappearance, appearance were all common themes among the interviews. A material that appeared in the practices of seeing, looking, avoiding and taking a glimpse of one’s wounds was the mirror;
the famous mirror, an object with confusingly complex physical explanations tied to it.
Admittedly, one of the first stories I came across on social media was that of a 6-year-old Syrian Lebanese girl who had lost an eye, after a glass from the shattered window had injured her. I went back to further read into this story. The little girl wakes up every day, her mother explains, and goes around the house to see herself through a mirror. She looks into it and realizes the absence of an eye and the presence of a large wound. “We took down all the mirrors”, but apparently, she is now climbing chairs to reach the mirror of the bathroom.
Despite the emotional charge, this heart-wrenching story illustrates perfectly the interaction between wounds and other entities. The mirror here becomes an important tool in the daily life of the child, through the practice of looking at herself in order to reaffirm the presence of her wounds. The wound materializes, comes to be, in relation to another entity, the mirror. It becomes a wound in the practice of looking oneself in the mirror.
The mirror appeared multiple times when I conversed with my key informants about how they take care of their wounds on a daily basis or when they feel the presence of these entities the most throughout the day. Hagop9, a Lebanese Armenian man in his forties, was doing his daily exercise, measly jogging only 500 to 600 meters away from the port of Beirut where 2750 metric tons of Ammonium Nitrate exploded, throwing him on the other side of the road where pieces of glass and debris rained on him. He had 28-30 stitches on his head where there was a massive cut starting from the middle part of head and reaching to the left side of the upper forehead. He told me how he was the most worried about his face, how it looked
“distorted, grotesque”, stitched from all the places, and swollen. “The first day I got out of the hospital, it was swollen from this part of my head and some part had a sunken appearance”, he told me signaling the scars with his hands. For Hagop, the wounds on the other parts of his body did not matter as much as the wounds of his face, which his sister also claimed that the appearance was something hard to reconcile with: “I think I still have a shock from his face”
… It doesn’t require much to realize that his sister was seeing the wounds of Hagop’s face
9 Hagop is an Armenian name but here it is a pseudonym.
more than himself, however there was an entity that allowed him to give attention or a form of care to his facial wounds, an entity which materialized the presence of the wounds and allowed for their visibility. The mirror. Besides enacting the appearance of wounds, the mirror enacted these entities into something Hagop wanted to get rid of, as he was actively looking into the mirror every day to eventually spot the disappearance of his wounds or in other words, their healing.
When I wake up in the mornings, when I want to wash my face, brush my teeth, I look at the mirror, I look at them [the wounds], I check them out, till this day. Of course, it was more and more the first 1-2 months, that’s when I was doing that all the time. I used to check how it is going, is it improving? is it healing? or is it the same?
The practice of hiding the mirror to keep the child from looking at her wound and then the practice of actively looking into the mirror to attend to the healing of the wound were both gripping examples of a wound-thing relation. Further diving into how the material visibility of a wound is tied to objects such as the mirror, I turn to Racha’s peculiar case. Racha, a 25-year- old woman, was having a “chill”10 day in Achrafieh, a district of the city, which was heavily impacted by the blast, being close to the port. The apartment where she was hanging out was vitré (glazed) and so when the blast shock shattered the windows, 5 huge glass shards cut Racha’s back and wounded her deeply. One of these pieces had entered and gotten to a very close proximity to her liver, leaving her hanging between life and death. Since I am studying wounds relationally to materials, here they become glass-wounds and a reminder of the shattered glass11. In its turn, the glass also becomes a reminder of the wound. Painfully interesting.
However, my interest here lies in the position of these wounds: on the back. Here the (in)visibility of the wound is tied so deeply to it being on the back. When I asked Racha how she lived with her wounds, she responded that it was quite helpful that it was not her face. A lot of people have it on their face and it would have been fine for her too if she had it there, but, perhaps, it would have been a hundred times harder to cope with it: “I remind myself khalas12 it’s on your back, it’s fine, I don’t really see them, it’s fine”. For Racha, the wound on her back makes her forget about it, in a way to cope with her situation, a situation which could have been avoided if, ironically, the Lebanese government had not thrown “behind its back”
the management of toxic chemicals.
10 Relaxed, calm
11 A couple of my participants told me stories about how very small glass particles had stuck in their skin which in one case the skin had kicked out the material after a while of recovery and in the other case, a second surgery had taken it out. The glass had become part of their wound-experience.
12 Khalas is one of those untranslatable, versatile words that changes meaning in each context. Here, khalas could be translated as “it’s over”. In a way, Racha says khalas to soothe herself and get a form of closure.