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A mother's weekend errands show the impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Simple, everyday essentials - things like food, fuel, electricity - are no longer affordable for most of Lebanon's middle class. And the value of the country's currency has dropped by 90%. NPR's Arezou Rezvani reports on how the challenge is playing out in the life of one Lebanese mother and her family.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

AREZOU REZVANI, BYLINE: It's a Sunday morning, and 44-year-old Rania Awada is running her weekend errands.

RANIA AWADA: Here we arrive to a supermarket.

REZVANI: Awada is a preschool teacher here in Beirut. Her husband works for the post office. And together with their three daughters, they used to live a very comfortable middle-class life.

AWADA: We used to go shopping, to travel and to buy many things.

REZVANI: That all started to change a few years ago. Lebanon's government and banking sector spent years mismanaging the country's cash reserves, and the financial system finally collapsed in 2019. Awada's $1,200 monthly paycheck is now worth about $120, and she has to make it stretch.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLASTIC BAG RUSTLING)

REZVANI: Here at the supermarket, she picks up a couple of kiwis, a fruit her youngest daughter loves, but she eventually puts them back.

AWADA: They're expensive. Now I can't buy. I have to see the meat and the chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Arabic).

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

REZVANI: She pays for a bag of onions and makes her way to the butcher.

AWADA: (Speaking Arabic).

REZVANI: These days, Sunday suppers aren't what they used to be.

AWADA: See; I used to buy a chicken before, a whole chicken. And now look what I am buying.

REZVANI: Two chicken breasts for her family of five. As we walk around the block, Awada tells me about the side hustle she recently started, a collection of desserts she sells from home, and how she's encouraging her daughters to leave Lebanon for a better life abroad. She then stops at the spice store.

AWADA: This is - we call it mloukhieh. Green leaves - we cook it with the chicken. It's super-yummy.

REZVANI: There are tubs of dried herbs, jars of various legumes and pickled vegetables. She points to a bucket of white powder.

AWADA: See; and we used to get milk. Now we're buying milk like this - powdered milk.

REZVANI: It's cheaper this way, but it also lasts longer. Power outages here can drag on for hours, sometimes days, and milk spoils fast. But it's another essential pantry item that's impossible to find.

Is this flour or no?

BILAL TAGHIDY: Corn flour.

AWADA: Corn flour.

TAGHIDY: (Speaking Arabic).

REZVANI: The owner of this shop, Bilal Taghidy, says customers can't buy flour anymore. There's a shortage. What's left in the country is reserved just for bakeries. But when Awada goes to pick up some bread just around the corner, that's all gone, too.

MAZEN AHMIEL: I change the prices on hourly basis. Some shops - they do it on a daily basis.

REZVANI: Mazen Ahmiel is the owner of that breadless bakery and market. He updates prices regularly to keep pace with the exchange rate, which fluctuates multiple times a day. Other shopkeepers, he says, simply mark prices way up every day to account for the climbing inflation.

AHMIEL: But who's going to - who's being affected by that? The customers. They are paying more than what - the real value of the item.

REZVANI: On her way home, Awada makes a final stop.

AWADA: I have Type 2 diabetes. I take a medicine. It's called (inaudible).

REZVANI: She goes into the pharmacy to ask for it and no luck.

AWADA: I can't find my medicine.

REZVANI: This is your diabetes medicine...

AWADA: Yes.

REZVANI: ...You cannot find.

AWADA: No.

REZVANI: So what do you do in this case?

AWADA: I have to take one pill instead of two pills until they get it to me. And this is an important medicine.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE RINGING)

AWADA: Hello.

REZVANI: As Rania makes her way back home, her husband calls.

AWADA: (Speaking Arabic). I'm telling him about the medicine. He said, it's OK. Don't worry. We'll look for other pharmacies.

REZVANI: She seems a little defeated by the day, her shopping bag light, her burdens heavy.

AWADA: So as you can see, it's not easy to live in Lebanon. It's so hard.

REZVANI: Arezou Rezvani, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.