The Documentary Podcast
Rebuilding Beirut’s village in a city
Thursday, 29 July
A year ago Johnny Khawand saw the home he grew up in ripped apart by the massive explosion in a chemical dump in the port of Beirut, Lebanon – one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history. For hours Johnny fought to save neighbours trapped in the rubble, seeing some die in front of him. Now, after months of restoration work, he’s coming back to try to rebuild his life, hoping that the unique spirit of his close-knit, multi-faith neighbourhood – Karantina – will survive. As he enters his house again for the first time, memories flood back – both comforting and distressing. Johnny and other survivors have formed close bonds with some of the volunteers, including engineers and architects, who’ve spent the last year rebuilding the district for free. They’re passionate about restoring its ancient buildings exactly as they were before. But they’re angry that they’ve received no help from the Lebanese state, which is accused of negligence over the explosion. And Johnny and others now fear that wider redevelopment plans will bring in big money and change Karantina’s character forever. Tim Whewell asks if Beirut’s “village in a city”, with its many layers of history and memory, can survive?
Reporter and producer: Tim Whewell
Producer: Mohamad Chreyteh
Editor: Bridget Harney
(Image: Beirut explosion survivors Manal Ghaziri and Johnny Khawand outside the ruins of a neighbours' house in the Karantina district. Credit: Mohamad Chreyteh/BBC)