Witness: Inside Al Salam Mosque
A story from within. On the 23rd of August, two bombs exploded in Tripoli. 47 were killed, and over 500 wounded. The first explosion hit Taqwa Mosque and killed at least 14 people. The second hit Al-Salam mosque and killed around 33. They were hit by cars carrying 100 kilograms of explosives. My friend was there, in the Al-Salam mosque. He told me today that he had written down his experience. So I asked him to send it to me, and here it is.
The Smell Of Death
“There’s no place to park the car”, my cousin yelled. I got out of the car in front of the emergency entrance of Nini hospital and told him to park it far away. I ran, yelling out “Wassim! Wassim!” I had blood on my shirt but didn’t know exactly where it came from. Wassim was nowhere to be found.
Before entering the first room, I stopped. The hallway that used to be a waiting place for concerned loved ones is now filled with corpses. Not even whole corpses; a leg in one place, a head in another. There was no blood, only black residue from the brutal explosion. Nurses were closing up the body bags crying, shaking, and hoping no one else sees them.
In the corner was an old man, just sitting there. I do not know how, but he had a huge opening in his forehead. It felt as though we were a few inches away from seeing his brain. And yet he was just sitting there, aware that he would have to wait his turn for a nurse or doctor to get to him.
A man stopped me and said please stitch me up. I told him I’m not a doctor, I don’t know how. He knew this, he was desperate. He then told me “Call my brother please”. I said of course and asked for the number. He didn’t know it. I looked at him and saw on his face desperation and confusion. How could I blame him for such a request? He asked me “Where am I? Who did this? Wasn’t I praying at the mosque? Where am I?” I could tell from the white bandages on his head that he may have lost part of his memory. But I couldn’t linger any longer, I had to look for my best friend and his family.
I started calling out his family name, no answer.
A nurse filled with tears in her eyes and horror on her face looked at me and said:
“Are you looking for Wassim?”
I responded, “Yes, yes, where is he?”
She asked “Are you ok?”
“I responded, “Yes, yes, I’m fine. Tell me where he is.” How could I complain after seeing how severe other people’s injuries are?
She pointed towards the end of the hallway, to the left. I was assured that he was not among those in the white body bags. I ran as fast as I could until I saw him. I saw his uncle, blood drops dropping down on the ground. There were big drops from his face, and smaller ones from his back. He looked at me and smiled. I knew he was ok.
He said, “Moustafa. I can’t find Moustafa. He is badly hurt.”
I told him, “Don’t worry. I will find your grandson”.
It felt as though all of my friend’s family was here, hurt.
I ran throughout the hospital looking for a 5 year old kid who is hurt severely, calling out his name, asking everyone.
“Are you looking for a kid wounded in the neck?” a wounded man asked me.
I replied, “Yes! Please, where is he?”
He told me to go to the first floor. I ran up with my cousin right behind me. When we got there, we saw him lying there, on a bed. The bed next to him had a man who couldn’t be identified due to the sheer redness on his face.
I asked my cousin to take a photo of the kid so that we can show it to his grandfather downstairs so that he can be rest assured that his grandson is alive.
I stayed with the kid. There were no nurses, no doctors, just this kid with the left side of his neck half open and myself, a man with no medical knowledge. I told the kid to grab my hand and squeeze. He couldn’t. He just wanted to close his eyes.
“No! No! Mostafa! Mostafa!” I yelled and pinched his legs until he opened his eyes. “You’re a strong boy! You’re strong! Yalla! You can do this!”
He wasn’t screaming from the pain anymore. He had no voice to do that with. He wasn’t crying because he ran out of tears. He was trying to give up, to give in to the bitter reality that he was about to die. Other people might fight but a 5 year old might view it as sleeping and resting.
I kept shaking him while holding his head so as to not aggravate his neck wound. I screamed for help over and over again until a nurse came. As soon as she arrived, Mostafa closed his eyes. The nurse yelled “No! No! Don’t let him give up! Don’t let him go there! There is a doctor downstairs that can save him.”
It was like she was asking me to save his life. It was as though whether he lives or dies was my choice.
We both made him open his eyes. We carried him downstairs, one holding his head and the other carrying him. How we managed to run down stairs so fast, I will never know. We took him to the doctor downstairs but his mother was already there. She was crying.
I told her, “He will be okay. He is getting fixed up now.”
We took his blood type to ask for donation.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about Wassim. There was still no sign of him. I turned back to the hallway and yelled out his name again. A man covered in blood looked at me. It was him. I hugged him. I didn’t know how to let go. I knew I had to, but I didn’t know how to let go my friend. I was so happy to see him alive.
I started to do weird things. I smelled his clothes and kissed his forehead. I just didn’t know how to reach to a man I thought was dead.
I told him that his nephew was getting fixed up, that his uncle was fine. But he couldn’t stop crying. I tried to calm him down, but I couldn’t.
“Abdel Hadi. He is gone man. He died”
I didn’t even know my other friend was at the same mosque.
I had two options, I told myself. I could freak out in a room full of unstable people or stay calm and continue to help other people like my friend’s family. I chose the latter because I knew that I’ll have all the time in the world to freak out later.
The walls and floors were repainted with the color red. The smell of rubbing alcohol usually smelled in a hospital was gone, buried by the smell of burned bodies. There were nurses tearing up, trying to act strong; doctors trying to attend to everyone, and yet feeling helpless; babies crying from pain, others from fear and confusion; mothers looking right, then looking left, hoping that their sons are not under white cloth; sounds of people screaming drowned by the sound of ambulances for a few moments, only to resurface a few moments later; names being called left and right. I smelled the smell of death.
What is smelled like, I’ll never know how to explain with words. It was a smell you don’t ever smell, a smell you never forget, a smell that never leaves you.
The smell of death.
What did these people do? Is praying a sin now? Are those who return to God supposed to go to God? Are those who did this trying to turn us all into killers? Are they trying to build up the hatred inside of us? Should we retaliate? If I send a letter of peace to them, will the smell of death go away? If I grab a weapon and fight them, will the look of Mustafa’s eyes as he tried to rest, as he tried to die, be erased from my memory?
Perhaps the biggest pain they caused wasn’t the dead, nor was it the injured. The injured will heal, the dead will be martyrs. The biggest pain they have caused us to feel is the feeling of helplessness and confusion, wondering if we can do anything to make things better only to realize that we never can.
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