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Families In Lebanon Aim To Celebrate Eid Despite The Steep Costs

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha is a time of prayer, gift-giving and feasting. But Lebanon is in the middle of a staggering economic crisis, and a lot of people there can't afford even simple food. Here's NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken, laughter).

SHERLOCK: I'm walking along Beirut's corniche, this kind of seafront promenade, and it's the first night of Eid, and it is packed. There's families here, children everywhere. There's - just spotted two little girls running around in big, white, puffy dresses.

(CROSSTALK)

SHERLOCK: I meet a family - three sisters and their husbands and their kids, including 14-year-old Miriam Salah.

How are you experiencing Eid this year?

MIRIAM SALAH: This year? (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: "Eid," she replies, "there is no Eid." I ask the family if they've done this year any of the things they would normally do, like buy clothes for the children or even just have a meal together where a sheep, sacrificed to God per the tradition, is the main dish. But even the idea of this is ridiculous to them.

(CROSSTALK, LAUGHTER)

ABIR AL MASRI: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: "We haven't had sheep or chicken or burgers or anything," says Salah's aunt Abir al Masri. "All that is too expensive now."

AL MASRI: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: "We're just smoking shisha, so we can blow away our frustration," Masri jokes.

(CROSSTALK, LAUGHTER)

SHERLOCK: In this economic crisis, banks have frozen accounts, meaning people can't get their own money if they have it. A once-healthy middle class is gutted. People are getting evicted from their homes. The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, says more than 70% of the country sometimes can't afford to buy food. What's more, the government says it's out of money, and donor countries don't want to give more until it deals with chronic corruption and mismanagement. In a fitting metaphor for Lebanon now, the families on this corniche are left trying to celebrate Eid in the dark because street lamps are broken.

On the corniche, I meet Ahmed Husseini (ph), a chef who's now out of work. We talk about the shortages of fuel and medication.

AHMED HUSSEINI: You don't take anything without any problem.

SHERLOCK: It takes hours to get just the basics now?

HUSSEINI: Yeah, yeah. And it costs too much.

SHERLOCK: Husseini's mother cleans laundry in a local hospital. Her salary of 700,000 Lebanese pounds per month is now worth barely $30. That's less than the monthly cost to run a generator, an essential in the blistering summer heat, when there's so little state power. Or to put this into the context of this holiday, her salary is almost six times less than the cost of a sheep that the family would traditionally buy at this time of year.

...Buy the sheep.

HUSSEINI: No, we don't have Eid like before.

SHERLOCK: Husseini says with so many people unable to afford the festivities, this doesn't really feel like a holiday at all.

Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "OF THE WRIST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.