Ahmad Hajjaj is preparing for the worst amid Lebanon’s suffocating economic and financial crisis. He secured kerosene for lamps in fear that electricity would permanently be cut and backup power generators, which provide 75 percent of the electricity supply, would stop working.
“I’m a person who was disciplined in a scouting community, my story with these lamps go back to scout camps 43 years ago … today we are back to point zero,” the 50-year-old man told The Daily Star after he stocked up on kerosene lamps and kerosene.
Hajjaj was not the only one preparing for tougher days ahead.
“I’ve been traveling from street to street in old Sidon, in search of a portable kerosene stove,” Siham al-Abd, 60, told The Daily Star.
She was seeking to buy the stove which is mostly used to cook, in fear that she would run out of gas used for her normal stove at home.
The shop of Hajj Mahmoud Kanawati, came back to life recently, as he resumed his work in repairing portable stoves.
“Dozens of people are coming in everyday to buy a portable stove,” Kanawati, who was sitting in an old chair repairing old stoves, told The Daily Star.
“Some of them [customers] holding stoves that were gathering dust at their houses but are now being put to use once again,” he added.
Octogenarian Kanawati has been learning how to repair portable stoves since he was very young
“This profession has come back from the dead decades later,” he told The Daily Star.
He explained that the kerosene stove reached the Levant region from Scandinavian countries, specifically Sweden.
Kerosene lanterns and stoves made a comeback in various areas across Lebanon, as the country faces increased hours of power rationing and even complete blackout as the country awaits a fuel shipment.
Power generators widely used as a backup source of electricity for when state-provided electricity is cut are also threatened with decreased activity as they also run out of fuel oil, which is currently scarce in the market as many have stockpiled the material and others have smuggled the subsidized good to Syria through illegal crossings.
This crisis comes on top of an economic collapse that has left more than half of Lebanon’s population in poverty, with the national currency in freefall and people with dramatically lower purchasing power.
Inside old Sidon Abou Mustafa is taking in new orders for the arrival of appliances in demand, such as portable kerosene stoves and lamps.
Abou Mustafa told The Daily Star that the demand for kerosene lamps is “unbelievable.”
“I am selling around 100 lamps daily,” he said, noting that each lamp costs LL50,000 and portable stoves, LL225,000.
Abou Mustafa said that people used to buy these lamps as decorative pieces for their houses, but today they are buying them for a more practical purpose.
Inside Abou Mustafa’s shop, Naji Yehya, a government employee whose salary is LL1,900,000, which equates to around $200 with the current black market exchange rate, told The Daily Star he came from Qabr Shmoun to Sidon to buy kerosene lanterns.
“They [politicians] have returned us to the first century,” he said.
Yehya said these lamps haven’t been in use for decades, recalling that the last time he used one was during the Civil War.
“The leaders today want to exercise their tyranny on us again,” he added.
Haifa Sleiman, 22, was also in search of kerosene lanterns.
“I don’t know how to use it … we are the technology generation … my mother asked me to buy one in fear of a complete blackout,” she told The Daily Star.
“They took us back to the stone age,” she said, echoing many others who were compelled to buy lanterns and portable stoves.
“I wiped off the dust from it [stove],” said Nicolas Matta, holding his portable copper stove, while waiting in line for his turn in the shop.
“In other countries they want people to advance, here they want us to go back to the old ages,” he said.
Intisar al-Bayoumi, 76, was boasting in front of the daughters-in-law about how she used to use a kerosene stove to cook and heat water for baths.
“Every homemaker used to own a stove like this that would make a loud growling noise, however some families used to have ‘silent’ stoves which cost double the price,” she explained.