“I felt like it was the end of the world”

November 14, 2012

Beirut, Lebanon

By Maria Semerdjian

Joziane Shedid – that was her name.

After a difficult search, we had managed to identify the blood-soaked young woman in a picture taken by Reuters photographer Hasan Shaaban in the wake of a powerful bomb explosion in Beirut.

We found it difficult to identity the girl because at first we didn’t realize she was the older sister of Jennifer Shedid, another bomb victim Hasan photographed that fateful day, who was even more severely injured and almost lost her life.

We searched from clinic to clinic and finally found out that the young woman we were looking for was at the Lebanese Canadian Hospital. When we arrived, we saw Jennifer’s mother and asked if she knew the girl from the photograph. “That’s my daughter,“ she replied immediately, and pointed over at Joziane.

The dark-haired young woman was sitting there with members of her family, a cross around her delicate neck and a picture of the Virgin Mary in her frail hands. She welcomed us with a generous smile and Hasan and I went with her into another room to hear about her experience.

“I have told this story many times to different people in my family, but each time I retell it, I have a different impression. I realize that sometimes I forget information, which I think is important for people and the press to know,” said Joziane. “I want to be as detailed as possible so people know what really happened to us.”

Joziane told us that the bomb went off while she was at home with her cousin Joseph, waiting for her sister Jennifer to sit down to lunch.

Suddenly, said Joziane, she found herself on the floor covered with the wreckage of a glass display case and with debris from the roof. “I felt like it was the end of the world,” she recalled.

She couldn’t feel her feet, which were already weak because she had had surgery on them for a skiing injury. But that didn’t matter. With “God’s strength”, said Joziane, she moved at a snail’s pace to get out.

In that moment, she said, all her concern was for Jennifer and Joseph. Pain left her and she was fully conscious of what was going on, but as she looked around she couldn’t see or hear any trace of her sister.

She struggled to stand up, and saw her cousin covered with stones. Joziane started to yell, telling him to try his best to get out, because she desperately wanted to make sure that Jennifer was all right.

Then, in a horrible moment, she saw her little sister, silent and covered in blood. At that point, said Joziane, she heard a second explosion go off but she couldn’t care less.

Joziane went over to Jennifer just to hold her hand and make her feel that there was someone with her. She tried to clear away the debris and glass and chatted meaninglessly, simply to keep her sister conscious and let her know someone was there.

This was the scene the girls’ father found when he came back from shopping for groceries. His face was a mask of horror.

“Father please just save Jennifer,” Joziane started to scream. The little girl was shivering, she had lost huge amounts of blood. Finally, the sisters managed to leave the building with the help of security officers and neighbors.

Joziane remembered someone carrying her, trying to save her from the fire that the bomb had ignited. That was the moment that Hasan caught on camera.

Now in hospital, Joziane looked back on the traumatic experience. “This incident will not make me hate my beloved country of Lebanon. But I can’t deny that I am scared of my neighborhood and of Beirut.”

Yet she stayed defiant, saying that if the individuals who had set off the explosion thought they could turn the Lebanese people against one another, then their attempt had failed.

“Our faith is stronger than their cruel plans,” she declared.

Others seem to feel more fear. Hasan and I sought out the man who had carried Joziane to safety, and we asked to take another photograph of the two of them in the same place. At first the man agreed, but when we arrived with Joziane at the spot where Hasan had taken the original image, he changed his mind. The picture might get him into trouble, he said.

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