Driven by despair, Lebanese pharmacist looks to life abroad
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The shelves are bare at the Panacea pharmacy north of Beirut. Its owner, Rita El Khoury, has spent the past few weeks packing up her career, apartment and belongings before leaving Lebanon for a new life abroad.
For the 35-year-old pharmacist and her husband, and countless others feeling trapped in a country hammered by multiple crises, Lebanon has become unlivable.
Driven by financial ruin, collapsing institutions, hyperinflation and rapidly rising poverty, thousands have left since Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis began in late 2019 — an exodus that accelerated after the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last August, when a stockpile of improperly stored ammonium nitrates detonated, killing 211 people and destroying residential areas nearby.
Lebanon has been without a functioning government since, with political leaders deadlocked or complacent as the country hurtles toward total collapse. Fuel supplies are running out, leaving the country at risk of plunging into total darkness as power stations and generators run dry.
Now young to middle-aged professionals are leaving — doctors, engineers, pharmacists and bankers, part of the latest wave of emigration in the small country’s modern history.
“It’s been 10 years since I opened this pharmacy. I gave it all that I could,” said El Khoury, standing in her empty pharmacy. Though her career was her passion, she is armed with determination and hopes for a better future in France, where they are headed.
LEAVING OR STAYING
It’s a question almost every generation of Lebanese has asked throughout the country’s turbulent 100-year history, rife with instability and crises. The country has seen a ruinous 15-year civil war, military occupation by its neighbors, bombings, political assassinations and repeated bouts of civil unrest.
The result has been one of the world’s largest diasporas relative to the size of the country — estimated to be about three times the population of 5 million at home.
There are no exact figures for how many Lebanese have left since October 2019. Some estimate up to 20% of Lebanese doctors have emigrated or are planning to leave. Out of 3,400 unionized pharmacies, around 400 have shut down and 70% of pharmacy graduates end up leaving, said Ghassan al-Amin, head of the pharmacist syndicate.
Airport scenes of parents sending off their kids to work or study abroad are very common. During the civil war, which ended in 1990, tens of thousands of people left, joining previous generations of Lebanese immigrants to Latin America, Europe, Africa and Australia.
The current economic crisis is unprecedented in Lebanon’s modern history, and many worry the flight of educated professionals and soaring poverty this time would forever alter the identity and reputation this small country once had as the medical, tourist and banking capital of the Middle East.
El Khoury and her husband, Marcel, never wanted to leave, determined to remain close to their parents in a country that provides no social welfare for its elderly. She is an only child. Her husband has two brothers, both living in Dubai.
But their resolve to stay began to crack two years ago. The economy was tanking, and hard currency was becoming scarce. In October 2019, public frustration exploded into nationwide street protests. Banks clamped down. People suddenly saw their dollar bank accounts frozen and Lebanese currency withdrawals limited, trapping all their money. The Lebanese pound, pegged to the U.S. dollar for decades, unraveled. Salaries dropped and savings evaporated.
El Khoury’s husband, a financial software developer, started looking for jobs abroad, but then the pandemic hit, slowing everything down. The couple decided to apply for immigration to Canada and began the lengthy paperwork process.
By mid-year, drugs started disappearing from pharmacy shelves, shortages exacerbated by panic buying and suppliers holding on to the drugs, hoping to sell for higher. Six out of 10 brand-name drugs were suddenly unavailable.
“There were days when I came home crying,” El Khoury said. “When I was studying pharmacy for five years, they never told me I’d have to decide who gets to have medicine and who doesn’t.”
On Aug, 4 — the day the of the port explosion — she was working remotely from home when the earth shook, followed by a deafening blast. From their apartment north of Beirut’s port, she saw a gigantic cloud of smoke rising above the city.
The explosion triggered childhood memories during Lebanon’s civil war, when her parents had her sleep behind a sofa, hoping it would protect her from the shells.
The blast solidified the couple’s resolve to leave.
El Khoury now ridicules the word ‘resilience,’ often ascribed to Lebanese people for their ability to pick up the pieces and rebuild after every disaster.
“To me resilience is an excuse that we give ourselves for apathy and not doing anything,” she said. “Resilience is why we keep falling lower, and we get used to every new low.”
STARTING FROM ZERO
In January, El Khoury’s husband received a job offer in France. They decided to take it. She began selling her pharmacy stocks, and begin the long process of packing up a life in preparation for their departure on Saturday.
“We are going to start from zero,” she said. “Everything we have worked for the past 15 years, the money we have earned and saved, it’s all gone and we’re starting from scratch.”
They feel sadness, apprehension and nostalgia mixed with relief at finally taking the leap. They worry about leaving their parents behind in a country with an uncertain future but at the same time, there is excitement about what awaits.
El Khoury recalls the hope and enthusiasm she felt when she first opened her pharmacy. She had just returned from a year of study in France, and the pharmacy, she felt, was her mission. That mission was cut short, she said. Hopefully, a more dignified life in France awaits.
With family and friends left behind, ties with Lebanon would not be cut. She is already planning Sunday lunches with an open Skype connection between Paris and Beirut so they can stay connected with their parents. But the move, El Khoury feels, is permanent.
“It would take a miracle for us to come back here,” she said, then added: “A miracle or retirement.”
Driver in January crash in Hazel Dell dies from his injuries
A 20-year-old Vancouver man who crashed his car into a tree in Hazel Dell in January died from his injuries at a Cowlitz County care facility late last month.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday it learned earlier this week that the driver, identified as Angel Gonzalez, had died, according to an agency news release.
A sheriff’s office statement said Gonzalez was driving a 1993 Honda Civic at 6:16 p.m. Jan. 25 in the 2600 block of Minnehaha Street when the car went off the road and crashed into a large cedar tree.
Evidence gathered at the scene indicated the car was traveling at a significant speed prior to the crash.
Gonzalez, the sole occupant of the vehicle, was unconscious and transported to an area hospital.
The crash investigation remains open, pending the receipt of toxicology results, the sheriff’s office said.
Clark County tries, fails to dismiss plaintiff in Benton case
Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday afternoon in the trial of a lawsuit brought by Don Benton, the former director of the county’s now-defunct Department of Environmental Services, and two subordinates.
Trial began May 3, with two days of jury selection, at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
The county has maintained there was no wrongdoing in the May 2016 layoffs of Benton, Christopher Clifford, a program coordinator, and Susan Rice, an administrative assistant, amid what it contends was a planned staff reorganization.
Benton submitted a whistleblower complaint — about two weeks before the layoffs — against then-county manager Mark McCauley, accusing him of illegal actions and political retaliation. Clifford and Rice apparently helped Benton draft the complaint, though testimony from the defense has stated that was not known at the time.
The trio then filed a lawsuit in December 2016 in Clark County Superior Court alleging hostility and retaliation during their employment.
None of the plaintiffs were reassigned or rehired by the county after their layoffs.
The parties spent much of Thursday going over last-minute legal issues and jury instructions.
Jurors returned at 2 p.m. to hear the remainder of the defense’s witnesses and evidence.
The defense showed excerpts of depositions of Clifford, Rice and Benton. In them, Benton said he could not recall when he started drafting the whistleblower complaint or who had helped him. Clifford said he did not sign his name to it, and there was no discussion about doing so. Benton turned it in to the county’s human resources department on his own, Clifford said. Rice only read the complaint, she said, and didn’t assist in the research or drafting.
The county rested its case after the excerpts were shown. There were no rebuttal witnesses called.
Afterward, the county tried to dismiss Rice as a plaintiff, contending she was not a whistleblower. However Judge Gregory Gonzales found the plaintiffs had submitted enough evidence to send her claim to the jury.
Trial is not happening Friday due to a scheduling conflict at the event center. The parties planned to meet, though, to finish hammering out details before the case goes to the jury, which will return at 1 p.m. Monday.
Kelenic, Gilbert headline major roster shuffle for Mariners
SEATTLE — Jerry Dipoto couldn’t help but chuckle when Jarred Kelenic went deep in his first at-bat at the Triple-A level.
It was yet more evidence Kelenic was ready for the big leagues.
“I laughed out loud when he had a homer in his first Triple-A at-bat off a lefty, because that’s about as appropriate to how Jared Kelenic accepts challenges as you can imagine,” Dipoto said Thursday. “And I’m sure he’s going to be up for this next one, which is facing the best pitchers in the world night after night.”
Kelenic and right-handed pitcher Logan Gilbert are making their debuts for the Mariners on Thursday night as Seattle takes the next step in its rebuilding project. Kelenic is starting in left field and battling leadoff, while Gilbert will start on the mound as Seattle opens a four-game series with Cleveland.
“Players, sometimes they hit the ground running, and sometimes they don’t. The major leagues are difficult,” Dipoto said. “But there’s never any more excitement than with the anticipation of the arrival of talented young players like these and we’re excited to see what happens across the board. It’s gonna be a fun time for us.”
The additions Thursday are part of a major roster reshuffle for the Mariners. Coming up from Triple-A Tacoma along with Kelenic and Gilbert is right-hander Paul Sewald to bolster a taxed bullpen.
But Kelenic and Gilbert are the headliners. Kelenic has been regarded as one of the top prospects in the minors for several years and only reinforced his status with a torrid start at Triple-A, where he hit .370 with six runs, two homers, a double and five RBI in just six games.
“He’s knocked every challenge we’ve given him out of the park, really, and has done that since he’s been a Mariner,” Dipoto said.
Kelenic will primarily play in left field, but Dipoto expects him to move around the outfield on days Kyle Lewis or Mitch Haniger need a break from playing in the field.
Kelenic said some of his nerves were eased because Gilbert was debuting on the same night.
“To be able to start this journey in the big leagues with someone that you started the journey with in the minor leagues makes this transition a little bit easier,” Kelenic said. “I was just talking with him in the clubhouse and as excited as I am to get going with my major league career I’m just as excited for him.”
Gilbert’s arrival in Seattle was partly out of necessity. Dipoto said the team started targeting May for Gilbert’s potential arrival late last season. But major injuries to Seattle’s starting rotation may have prompted a slightly quicker decision on Gilbert, who made just one start in Triple-A.
With Seattle’s plan to use a six-man rotation, Dipoto said the Mariners believe they’ll be able to control Gilbert’s innings and keep him around the target of 110 to 120 innings pitched this year.
“He’s, I believe, as ready for this opportunity as a young pitcher can be,” Dipoto said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for him. It’s quite a challenge in the big leagues. But he’s so cerebral. He has been preparing for this start all of his life.”
Manager Scott Servais said the goal with Gilbert would be to get about five innings. He also revealed Gilbert had shoulder trouble early in spring training that has limited his workload to date.
“He’s completely healthy now. He’s good to go and the goal tonight would be about 85 pitches,” Servais said.
To clear space on the roster, Seattle optioned relievers Aaron Fletcher and Wyatt Mills to Tacoma, along with outfielder Taylor Trammell, whose spot is being taken by Kelenic for now. Trammell made his major league debut on opening day but is batting .157 in 27 games. Manager Scott Servais said Trammell needs more playing time and expects he’ll be back with the major league club at some point.
Seattle also transferred left-handed pitcher Nick Margevicius and right-hander Ljay Newsome to the 60-day injured list. Margevicius has been out since April 26 with shoulder issues. Newsome may be headed for Tommy John surgery. Dipoto said it appears both players could be done for the year.
Seattle also designated for assignment outfielder Braden Bishop.
Razor clam digging at Mocrocks Beach OK’d for Saturday, Monday
OLYMPIA — For the first time in 2021, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish managers have approved two days of razor clam digging on Saturday, May 15, and Monday, May 17, after marine toxin tests showed the clams are safe to eat.
The approved morning razor clam digs on Mocrocks beach only, along with low tides, are listed below:
No digging is allowed after noon during digs when low tide occurs in the morning.
“After this long closure due to high levels of marine toxins, we are happy to open a dig this weekend, said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. “And, even though it is just one beach, we hope people will enjoy the opportunity responsibly.”
No other beaches are scheduled to open at this time, and WDFW will continue testing marine toxins in razor clams in conjunction with the Washington Department of Health, in order to determine whether additional digs can be scheduled before the end of May, the normal season end point.
The agency continues to emphasize ‘digging while distancing’ and masking up when near others to support efforts by community health experts to ensure a fun and safe razor clam season.
Razor clam diggers can find detailed beach maps that indicate locations and local names for beaches on WDFW’s razor clam webpages.
All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach.
Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license (starting at $9.70) to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website and from some 600 license vendors around the state.
Under state law, diggers at open beaches can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.
More information can be found on WDFW’s razor clam webpage.
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Driver Critically Injured in Collision with Tree **Updated information 5/13/2021
**Updated Information, 5/13/2021
On 5/11/2021 CCSO Traffic Detectives learned that the driver of this vehicle succumbed to his injuries, and died at a care facility in Cowlitz County late last month. The investigation is still open, pending the receipt of toxicology results.
On 1/25/2021 at 6:15 pm, CCSO Deputies and EMS personnel responded to the 2600 block of NE Minnehaha Street for the report of a collision involving a vehicle and a tree. Upon arrival, EMS personnel attended to a male driver and lone occupant of the involved 1993 Honda Civic that had collided with a large cedar tree on the north side of Minnehaha Street. The male was unconscious and was transported to an area hospital with life-threatening injuries. Scene evidence indicated that the vehicle was likely traveling at significant speed prior to the collision.
The driver and sole occupant of the vehicle was identified as Angel Gonzalez, age 20 of Vancouver.
The CCSO Traffic Unit was called to the scene and is investigating the incident. NE Minnehaha Street was closed until approximately 9:45 pm and traffic diverted.
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