By: Mahmoud Al-Adawi

The devastated neighborhood of Dahiyah is experiencing a rapid and sporadic reconstruction. Much of the development is illegal and has led to violent clashes between residents and the security forces.

This morning I went out for a walk to the neighbouring areas by the airport highway, across and adjacent to the camp. If you heard, this is the area that has been talked about on the news in the past few days, with regards to the illegal building rush; this is also the area where there were clashes between the security forces who had come to try to demolish these new constructions and the people who eventually drove them out.  The episode resulted in two kids being shot to death during the turmoil and a number of other persons were wounded from both sides. Then, of course, the security forces disappeared and no one really knows who shot the kids – each side accuses the other.

Honestly, I couldn’t believe the extent of the construction going on at first. I mean, I know that some people had taken advantage of the war situation to do some construction or renovation, but this area has literally been completely reshaped – it has taken on an entirely different image. Almost everyone is building either one or many extra floors, or people are simply constructing entirely new buildings on existing empty lots. The area seems lawless or in a state of insurgency. I don’t mean that there are armed men in the streets or anything of that nature, but you do get the feeling that no one can stop people from engaging in this illegal construction right now.

These days, it is as though Dahiyah were an independent space: during the day when there is traffic congestion, you can see Hizbullah members standing at crossroads organising the traffic. I went for a walk in Dahiyah as well; most of the rubble from the buildings that were completely flattened has been cleared, and there are fewer trucks and bulldozers now. The buildings that were only partially damaged seem to require a greater amount of time, effort and equipment to fix and many of these buildings have not been touched yet. The more rubble is taken away and the cleaner the area becomes, the more one discovers the extent to which the area is devastated. The hot weather and the gusts of wind create a sense that one is walking in a desert. The white ash and fine dust from the ground concrete cover the ground in a white-grayish sheet that reflects and intensifies the sunlight. You can find a few people walking around in Dahiyah, but nothing compared to its previous state or to the adjacent neighbourhoods that weren’t bombed. If you got deep into the most heavily bombarded areas, it is like walking through a forest of mangled and twisted steel, because that’s how they are clearing the rubble – they separate the steel from the concrete and pile them in different spots.

It is still even possible to find some collapsed buildings where there is still fire and smoke fuming from the shelters beneath them. The one building of this kind that I saw was most probably a sewing factor, because I saw lots of coloured thread rolls scattered among the shelter’s ruins and the smoke smelt like burning fabric.

With regards to this area deep inside Dahiyah you can state without exaggeration that it has been annihilated. And I don’t only mean the buildings on top of the earth, but literally everything below the earth – it’s as though it was blown upside down. The sewers were uncovered and the asphalt is totally gone. Despite this, the few buildings that are still standing on the periphery of this area and that are still habitable are slowly being repaired. Walls and balconies that were blown up are being replaced, like patches in a torn cloth. These repairs are not going on all at the same time though, and it is not uncommon to see a renovated, newly repainted apartment with clear signs of life, while the other apartments in the same building remain scarred by gapping holes and seared in black soot, with jaggedly broken windows that remind one of a mouth with missing teeth.

By: Mahmoud Al-Adawi

The ceasefire has begun and Mahmoud Al-Adawi is surveying his surroundings, noticing the smell of pine trees along with pulverized concrete of the devastated buildings.

So until this moment it seems that the ceasefire is holding. The news is speaking about thousands of people from south Lebanon who are going back and not waiting, despite warnings of dangers like unexploded cluster bombs and such. Some news started mentioning casualties due to this. The Israelis are saying that the air and sea blockade is still in place, as is the prohibition against going south of the Litani River. This morning life somehow returned to the street next to the Amlieh [large technical college facing one side of the camp], filled with the traffic of people who had clearly returned to either check on their homes or just to take a first look at the destruction. I saw masses of people on the airport highway parking their cars and standing in groups at various bombed places, just watching. The lateral roads leading to the airport highway are closed, however, for safety, as there is rubble everywhere, so it’s even difficult for anyone to pass. I stood and looked out from a distance, surrounded by the broken branches of the pine trees, with their distinctive smell. A surge of memories came back to me, triggered by the familiar mingling of the smell pine trees mixing with that of explosives and pulverized concrete. The buildings on the side streets are a sight to behold. The buildings seem as though they have mutated, some have just vanished into piles of rubble. In other cases the top floors have collapsed, resting on the lower floors that remain standing. The buildings that are still standing have no walls, as if they had been sent back in time to the period when they were still under construction, just standing in columns. In the middle of the street lie chunks of debris, looking like arches over a devastated street. It is as though one were looking through an ancient tropical forest where all kinds of weird things block the view. This is just a taste of what you would see if you walked along this street, which leads you to the broken heart of Haret Hreik.

The last time they Israelis bombed Dahiyah was around 11 p.m. last night. Then it was quiet until this morning, when I was awoken at 6 a.m. by the sound of jets. There were a few small explosions and as I looked up over Beirut, I saw that these were caused by rockets exploding in the sky and leaflets being dropped onto the city. That was the last thing that occurred before everything went calm again.

This morning, before leaving the camp to go to work, I noticed that families who had left the camp were returning. Since last Friday, and the leaflets stating that Bourj el-Barajneh area (and not camp) was going to be targeted, there was a huge exodus. Since then, walking through the camp has felt different in some quarters, with patches of empty homes making the alleys strangely quiet. But given today’s ceasefire, I think the majority of those who left Friday or even before that time will return, and the alleyways will retrieve their chaos and noisy activity.

By: Gus Constantinou

You knew something out of the ordinary was occurring by the quartet of young boys posing as musicians milling about the street below. Three of the boys were holding durbakehs (Arabic drums) and one was cradling what looked to me to be bagpipes. The musicians’ hair was carefully slicked back, their jeans carefully ironed, their shirts impeccably pressed. A small group of women and children had begun to gather round the band, seemingly confirming our suspicions that something exciting was underway. Quite suddenly a cue was given and the boys began to drum in a frantic, yet unified rhythm.

No sooner had the high-pitched bagpipe played its first note than the women began to ululate in unison with the drums, throwing their hands into the air, and beginning to dance. From a room just below our balcony a woman in a white hijab emerged with one hand in the air, the other holding the hand of the man in a dark suit that followed her. Yet another woman emerged to going the group, this one in a green hijab. The trio danced in a circle to the cheers of the gathering that was growing by the second. As the music swelled, the trio went around the circle a few more times and then led the procession to awaiting automobiles. We ran to the back of the small apartment whose rear balcony provided us a perfect view of the ongoing ceremony. It was in this rear area where we had waited on several occasions for taxis to pick us up. It was also from this aerial perspective that I tried to compare this wedding scene with those back in Canada.

In Canada there isn’t water and sewage running through the streets. In Canada, there aren’t a myriad of electrical wires hanging from the roofs of crumbling and crowded buildings, pock-marked with shells from a not-too-distant war. In Canada, the bride and groom do not await their automobile by the camp garage dump. And in Canada, there isn’t a highway being constructed directly, almost as to appear inside, my family’s home and neighbourhood.

And yet in Canada, we do not celebrate this heartily.

Our neighbours do not take the time out of their busy lives to throw rice down on dancing brides and grooms and proclaim ‘Mabrouk!’ Our whole community and neighbourhood do not get excited and involved when a wedding procession noisily appears. Of all the places in the world that I have been, it has only been here, in this camp where people have allowed me to live and teach, that people resist by refusing to let their surroundings get the best of them. Just like in my Canadian home, despite its differences with the camp, a wedding is going on. And just like back home, perhaps even more so, there is much celebrating to be had!

By: Michelle Turner
Wavel Camp

Nour walks through the door to the home Amélie and I have just rented for the Wavel volunteers, mop, broom and dustpan in hand.

A couple of 10-year-old boys from the neighbourhood stand in the doorway asking us what team Amélie and I support in the worldcup. Italia? Brasil? Allemania?

The apartment is bare. Nour looks at us, then looks at the boys. “La,” she says. And she closes the door in front of them. “Much better.” She smiles and thrusts the dustpan into my hands, and begins to sweep, bent over, forming a pile in the centre of the concrete floor. “Yalla.” She instructs me to put the dustpan in its place. The home is being transformed. “La, Amélie. The towels must be folded like this.” She places them on the metal shelves that we have just covered with newspaper to hide the rust underneath. “La, Michelle. The garbage bin goes over here.” “At night, you must close this.” She points to the little window in the kitchen with the broken screen. “Michelle, the carpet.” We move the carpet so the mattresses line up with the carpet’s edge. Just right. Nour smiles at her accomplishments. “Adey Ahmrik?” I ask.

“Ten years old,” Mama replies.By: Michelle Turner
Wavel Camp

Nour walks through the door to the home Amélie and I have just rented for the Wavel volunteers, mop, broom and dustpan in hand.

A couple of 10-year-old boys from the neighbourhood stand in the doorway asking us what team Amélie and I support in the worldcup. Italia? Brasil? Allemania?

The apartment is bare. Nour looks at us, then looks at the boys. “La,” she says. And she closes the door in front of them. “Much better.” She smiles and thrusts the dustpan into my hands, and begins to sweep, bent over, forming a pile in the centre of the concrete floor. “Yalla.” She instructs me to put the dustpan in its place. The home is being transformed. “La, Amélie. The towels must be folded like this.” She places them on the metal shelves that we have just covered with newspaper to hide the rust underneath. “La, Michelle. The garbage bin goes over here.” “At night, you must close this.” She points to the little window in the kitchen with the broken screen. “Michelle, the carpet.” We move the carpet so the mattresses line up with the carpet’s edge. Just right. Nour smiles at her accomplishments. “Adey Ahmrik?” I ask.

“Ten years old,” Mama replies.

By: Carolina Vergara Lamarre
Bourj el Barajneh

Amidst the chaos that are my classes, full of energetic students who already told me they love ‘Miss Carolina’ as of the first period of class, and the discouraging and depressing reality of the camp, I try and find a balance between overwhelming feelings of happiness at the hospitality and generosity of the families who have welcomed me into their homes, and my feelings of guilt and sadness.

It is already the 11th of July. I have only been in Lebanon a week and a half and have only just started teaching; however I have already noticed how fast time passes while here in the camps.

When I am not teaching, most of my free time is spent enjoying invitations to tea, coffee, dinner and engagement parties. Lesson planning therefore usually occurs late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. I already know how difficult it will be to leave all the wonderful people I have met and have yet to meet.

Amidst the heat, the grime and the mazes that are Bourj al Barajneh and Shatila, I have found such a wonderful energy, strength and warmth among the Palestinians living here in the camps. Sitting on the roof top drinking coffee or tea before bed while eating delicious fruit with my host family, has become a nightly ritual for me. As we chat, I look out at the lights on the mountains and the other houses in the camp and try to come to terms with the fact that I have been welcomed into the homes and the lives of a people and a community who have never enjoyed the same experience themselves for close to 60 years. This summer will prove to be one of the most challenging experiences I have faced as of yet.

While I attempt to make learning English “fun” to classes of 35 students, sweat plastering my clothes to my back and legs, I reevaluate my own priorities in life. I’m not sure how much English I will be able to teach my students over the summer. As long as they laugh and smile while with me, I will be happy. I know this summer will change me permanently. The friendships and lessons I learn while living here will stay with me forever.

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