Why I packed medicine and 6kg of flour for my trip home to Lebanon

Chronic shortages of medication and wheat plus rocketing food inflation have prompted expatriates such as Liza Ayach of The National to take action

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Packing your suitcase before jetting off for an overseas break can be a daunting task for any holidaymaker.

Do I really need to bring that extra hardback crime thriller to read lazily on the beach, and will cramming half of my wardrobe into my suitcase end up busting my luggage weight allowance?

But planning for a trip home to Lebanon raises rather more pressing questions for expatriates such as myself, with the country in the grips of economic crisis.

My homeland is beset by chronic shortages of imported medicine and wheat and flour, and inflation is sending food prices rocketing.

So my luggage decisions are focused on what prescription drugs to take, and how many bags of bread and quantities of flour I would need to bring.

About 22 per cent of Lebanese households are food insecure, the World Food Programme said.

Long, early-morning queues often snake around bakeries and grocery stores as customers race to buy limited quantities of subsidised bread before shelves empty.

Bread, flour and medicine, therefore, were my key priorities before flying out this week.

Having endured and survived the 15-year Lebanese civil war, my whole family learnt how to be resilient and adapt to any challenge.

But with my ageing father due to undergo surgery this week, the purpose of my visit was to make his life easier and ensure he at least doesn't have to join the anxious crowds hunting for essentials.

Bread has a short shelf life, lasting up to seven days at room temperature. With frequent power cuts, what has become a precious commodity can so easily go to waste.

I packed six bags of bread, 6kg of flour, along with yeast, crackers, pancake mix, over-the-counter medicine and vitamins.

PCR tests, first-aid kit and painkillers were included in my luggage, as I also sought to limit the need to travel because of rising fuel prices.

Lebanese traveller Liz at Dubai International Airport. Photo: Liza Ayach

Helping out at home

My experience, of course, is shared by many other Lebanese travelling home from all parts of the world.

Rabih Al Sayed, 35, decided to surprise his parents, who live in Bekaa, by visiting home.

Mr Al Sayed has lived in Canada, where he runs his own beauty salon, for nine years.

“The purpose of my trip is just to visit my family,” he said. “They don't know that I'm coming. I want to surprise them.

“I didn't wish to cause them to worry about the progress of my trip, because many flight were cancelled in Canada earlier due to the pandemic.

“I packed some over-the-shelf medicines for my parents and neighbours. These could be in stock in Lebanon, but I bought them so they don't have to spend their money there.

“Sometimes my parents find it hard to get bread, but they always find a way to get it.”

Liz, who asked for her surname not to be used, was on her way back to Beirut having visited a friend in Dubai when she spoke to The National.

“I came to Dubai for two purposes, to get my medicine and to visit a really close friend of mine,” said Liz, a graphic designer.

“To hit two birds with one stone, I got my medicine with me and my family’s medicine because I’m afraid we will not find stock in Lebanon or if it’s affordable or not in Lebanon.

“Every time the prices are changing.”

Updated: September 05, 2022, 4:46 AM