Few people knew his name before he was found dead near the American University of Beirut. But on January 7, 2012, Beirut mourned the death of Ali Abdallah, a homeless man who was a familiar face for the AUB community, often found on Bliss Street, where the university is located.
When a photo of Ali was posted on the photography Facebook page of Humans of Lebanon, many recalled meeting him near the university, noting rumors that he was a former AUB professor.
One Facebook user wrote:
I read he was a physics professor in AUB who saw his wife daughter and sister raped and killed infront of his eyes during the war and he became like this and lost his mind I never understood anything he said and I dont think he understood anything I ever asked him. And I read he asked for paper and pen
With over 400 shares, the photo stirred strong reactions online, with messages of sympathy as well as comments on the need to take actual action:
Hope this is taken into a more serious action by the Lebanese youth! There is someone else out there living in the same circumstances, there is someone waiting for help!
The man, who already suffered from poor health most probably died of complications because of the cold. At least his death served as a wake up call. On the blog Hummus For Thoughts, Joey Ayoub who once spent a moment talking to him wrote:
So do not pity him and do not hate. Do not say that we cannot remember him because we didn’t really care when he was alive. Say that we must remember and do something about it. Do what? That, my friends, is something I’m still asking myself. I refused to pity Ali. When I finally talked to him, I tried my best to treat him as an equal because he was one. He never was less than an equal. That is something that we, all of us, condemned him to be.
That is why we must remember Ali. That is why I will not delete the photo, as some have asked me to. And that is why I will not merely do what we Lebanese do best: complain and feel better about it.
Ali must be remembered.
On A Separate State on Mind, one blogger remarks:
I will not mourn Ali Abdallah because I, like the absolute majority of AUB students in a state of depression now, never spoke to him, never bothered to know him and never considered him “our Ali of Bliss Street.” I feel sorry for the way he died – out there, alone in the cold, leaning against a cold Beiruti wall.
Some are citing natural causes for Ali’s death. Well, those natural causes are freezing to death in the midst of the worst storm of Lebanon’s recent history. How many of those mourning Ali ever thought about giving him a coat or money for a place to stay or ever tried to help him out? I highly doubt they are many.
For those of you who are touched by his death, there’s another homeless woman on Bliss Street that you’ve been ignoring for many years now. Perhaps it’s time to give her a second glance so you don’t feel sad when the homeless woman you ignored day in, day out ends up dead as well due to the freezing cold.
His death did start a movement of solidarity in support of the unprivileged. The Facebook group Fighting Homelessness in Lebanon gathered over 1300 members who will be volunteering to make a difference one way or another. Another group on Facebook called the Ali Abdallah Foundation pledges to try their best “to take care of the homeless people and to shed the light on their pain.”
Help for the most vulnerable is indeed much needed as Lebanon undergoes the worst storm in decades. The Bride (that’s the name of the storm) froze the country under a blanket of snow for two days. With poor infrastructure and shabby buildings, freezing temperatures and floods have exacerbated the plight of the most vulnerable, including Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their home country and currently living in camps. The Beirut suburb of Hay el Sellom suffered extensive damage and residents fear that buildings will collapse. Roads closed in many places around the countries and classes were suspended in public and private schools.
Relief efforts started immediately. At Nasawiya Café, a community center run by the feminist collective Nasawiya, warm clothes, blankets and food are being collected and will be distributed on January 11 to those without shelter, or without suitable shelter around the country.
Meanwhile, as the storm was raging, people also shared pictures of both the disaster, and beautiful pictures of snow-white landscapes on social networks. You can see many of them on the Lebanon Weather Forecast Facebook page. However, beware of counterfeit, blogger Nagib from Blog Baladi explains in this post how one pictures, labeled as a scene from Choueifat in Lebanon, turned out to be a pictures from another storm in another country.