The Lebanese community in Yellowknife is very small, but residents are reeling from the size of the blast that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Aug. 4.
Rami Kassem, owner of Javaroma Gourmet Coffee & Tea, said other than him and his wife, there are very few people, if any, that he knows of in Yellowknife who hail from Beirut. He said Monday that he has close to 70 family members living in the overseas city that he calls home.
All survived the blast.
His brother’s son, Hassam Kassem, 19, was spared by illness. Hassam escaped potential harm because he was home sick from a day job at a delivery company located in the area of the blast. That company lost two employees due to the explosion.
“The first thing, like everybody else, I woke up and saw the news and the worldwide coverage of the explosion in Beirut and so I called back home (to) my family and all members of brothers and uncle around that area,” Rami said. “I wanted to make sure they are safe and talk to friends and ensure they were safe. It is the first thing you do.”
As a downtown business owner of Javaroma since 2001, Rami has been front and centre whenever there has been upheavals or tragedies impacting the Muslim community. In 2016, he was present to help facilitate a Syrian refugee settlement.
In 2017 he was among the strongest advocates to raise money in the community for survivors of the shooting at the Islamic Centre of Quebec City.
Rami said last week’s incident, however, which was determined to have stemmed from ammonium nitrate stored in the port of the city, was unlike anything he had seen before, comparing it to the Lebanese Civil War that he left behind when coming to Canada in 2001.
“This explosion, when I saw pictures in the morning, it was devastating and something I’ve never seen in my life,” he said. “This is a nightmare.”
Rami is raising awareness about ways people can help Lebanese residents in the aftermath. He said a good way to do that is through Islamic Relief Canada.
In larger Lebanese communities in Canada, he said there are efforts to gather items like clothing and food and other essentials to support the people who are suffering. In Yellowknife, because it’s so far away, it’s better to send money to an organization that can best direct funds where it’s needed most, he suggested.
“We are trying our best to get the money to to those in need,” Rami said. “The money is not going to the (Lebanese) government because the government is corrupt and nothing will get to the people. ”
On Aug. 10, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned from his position along with his entire cabinet in response to public outrage from the explosion.
The effects of the impact are ongoing and are compounding a desperate situation that has included a “disaster” economy and the number of Covid-19 cases that have been increasing, Rami said.
The Aug. 4 blast occurred in an eclectic and busy area, which made the incident especially sad, Rami said. What’s important is that residents realize that people of all different backgrounds were impacted.
“That area of the harbour in Beirut I would describe as the heart of Lebanon,” he said, noting that similar to a body, when a heart fails, as a central organ, the rest of a body fails. “As you know, the heart doesn’t distinguish between left hand or right hand, meaning that you have workers, business owners, Christians, Muslims all there. The explosion doesn’t distinguish.”
Amana Jaber, owner of Main Street Donair and a resident of Yellowknife for about 25 years, agrees that it’s one of the worst things she has seen in the country.
She has family in Beirut as well as the mountain village of Nabatieh. She said it’s important to remember that the Lebanese people are resilient and are in the process of cleaning up the streets and moving on from the incident.
“It’s really sad what happened with the explosion,” she said. “At the same day of the explosion, I contacted family and the good thing is that with technology and messenger, you can contact them and see them too.
Right now she’s trying to remain as positive in her outlook, despite the explosion compounding other problems in the country.
“People are helping and we are cleaning the streets of the country and we are going to stand up on our feet,” she said. “We are always strong and we always keep a smile on our faces.”