Nostalgia is powerful in Lebanon, a country whose population is dwarfed by its diaspora. Ask Lebanese expats to describe home and they may offer sweet memories: the scent of jasmine and cedars, of coffee spiced with cardamom and of manaeesh (flatbreads) fresh from the oven; the sound of Fairouz, a beloved chanteuse, warbling from cafés and car radios.
Three years into an economic crisis, though, the defining sensory experience of Lebanon is the smelly, noisy diesel generator. The machines run at all hours, providing power that the state cannot. The air takes an acrid tinge; their roar keeps people awake at night. And they are perhaps the most telling sign of how economic collapse is harming Lebanon’s environment.