By: Mandelena Santos
Bourj el-Barajneh

Even before I walked into the camp I recalled what I had read in last year’s newsletter about the first impressions of a former CEPAL intern. To paraphrase, she stated that she felt comfortably at home in Bourj el Barajneh but that still she was aware that her experience was not like those who lived in the camp since she knew always that she had the luxury to leave should she so desire. I held these thoughts close to me, as I believed that they would be significant to my experience in Bourj. Throughout my time here I have often deliberated upon what my luxury to retreat from my surroundings without losing my ability to return means to me and to those who have been deprived of this opportunity. It is difficult to believe that people who have experienced and continue to experience so much pain and have had so much taken away from them can be so giving. And it is because of this that, at times, it is easy to forget that they have lived through so much unrest. The bullet-ridden structures in which they live are a constant reminder of their affliction, however, as are the photos of the family members who were killed which hang ominously on the nearly identical paint-peeled walls of their various meticulously clean homes. The proximity of their surroundings adds to the close and warm feeling of the camp but it also can feel equally suffocating. With no parks to stroll in or play grounds for children to run and play the tiny concrete alleyways hardly suffice for the human necessity for the physical release of energy through exercise. Before I arrived at Bourj el Barajneh I remember telling people that the children had no where to play. They could hardly believe me and I also had difficulty conceiving it. I thought that there had to be somewhere that they could run around freely. But the only open space is filled with debris and thus the small passage-ways are what the children use to make do. Daily, as I walked to my classes the children and adults smiled and said hello. Their strength of spirit moved me. I found myself thinking of my luxury and how it could be so easy for them to resent me yet how they embraced me instead. The hospitality and warmth of the people I have met has awakened a new consciousness in me. I am now more aware of the life that the Palestinians here face and also more cognizant of the world’s obliviousness to their plight. I hope that my time here has enhanced their ability to acquire their own voice in the ever-increasing English dominated world.

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