Posts Tagged ‘bourj el barejneh’

By: Amal El Masri
Bourj el-Barajneh

I sat on the rooftop for hours yesterday, from late afternoon to sunset, watching people moving around in their houses, beautiful girls wearing green pants or red scarves or gold impossible earrings coming out to take down the laundry or to lean their head on their hand and peoplewatch, or the young men (the shebab ) who come up on their roof to smoke argilieh or to train the pigeons that so many of them keep on thier roofs or to make s-s-s-s-s-s sounds at me, foriegn girl, listlessly sitting on the roof and it becomes cool before I know it and the evening prayer call sounds (Allahu Akbar! Allahu akbar!) and soon, this Palestinian flag that I had been watching in the distance becomes indistinguishable in the night and I realize that this camp that has been here for 50 years, that has evolved from tents to shacks to a slum, will be here long after I die and I wonder what will happen to the Palestinians who don’t have nice Canadian passports, who have no passports, only UNRWA identity cards and frustration at wanting to live rather than exist in this concrete disarray.

And they do. At parties, at wedding, I am overwhelmed by the noise, the energy, the clapping, shouting, drumming and the dancing, my god, the dancing. Your only excuse not to dance here is if you are too young or too old to walk. On the dance floor, women’s hips become electric, men are fearless, no pseudo-macho-i’m-too-rough-to-dance, and I realize that I will never be able to feel joy like these people.

They have lived through sieges, massacres, bombings, multiple deaths in the family, civil war, indignities unimaginable. They came through a lot to get to this party, and dammit, they’re going to have a good time.

By: Mohan Mishra
Bourj el Barajneh

We have just finished our fourth week of teaching here in Bourj el Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp near Beirut, Lebanon. I continue to be amazed at the people here and how friendly and welcoming they have been to all of us volunteers. You can hardly walk down the street without someone calling you over to talk or invite you in for tea. After being here for more than a month, the community here really does make you feel at home.

We have now reached the midpoint with the english, french and computer classes. The students here all have such a deep knowledge about their history and community, it really has been an amazing experience to get to know them better.

Despite the unjust restrictions and the harsh reality facing Palestinians living in Lebanon, the kids here still have big dreams. Many want to be doctors, teachers, or journalists, while many also talk about wanting to help their community in someway when they are finished school.

In the classes they have all been eager to learn, although I think they have taught me more than I could ever teach them. The local NGO’s we are working with here have also been great. The different groups are all run by people from the camp and it is inspiring to see so many people working to support their own community. I am also amazed by the strength of the people living here. They have survived so much hardship and injustice, and have had so much taken away from them, yet they are still so generous and welcoming. I feel like I have already learned so much from the people here, about personal strength, about community, about generosity. I am looking forward to the next month of teaching and I sure it will be just as amazing as the last four weeks.

By: Yasmine Lemzoudi
Bourj el-Barajneh

Where can I start telling you how the experience of living and working in Bourj El Barajneh camp has been for me? My first day here I was walking around the labyrinth that is the camp with its meter wide streets and I thought to myself: “I like this place”. Everywhere paintings of mosques and palm trees adorn the sinuous streets as if to hide the cage it represents for its inhabitants. Despite the fact that dirty water runs down the middle of the roads making its way to the closest hole, there is an apparent effort to maintain this place clean and livable. The first thing that disturbed me was the thousands of bullet holes on the walls as if they were scars that had never completely disappeared. These holes tell the story of the sieges, the civil war and are reminders of the many enemies Palestinians have in this country. It is hard to explain how difficult and unfair life is for them. Electricity is cut usually three or more times a day for a period of two, four or six hours. The tap water comes from wells and is scarce and salty. Your neighbours have a direct view into your windows from about sixty centimeters away. The children play in the dirty alleyways even though they draw trees, grass and birds to represent their homes. There are many stories of people dying young and 96% of the elderly have diabetes. Most of the refugees can’t afford medical treatment and their beautiful smiles reveal a row of black teeth with quite a few missing. Children scream to you as you pass by: “what’s your name?” or “hello how are you?” even though you’re a stranger they see for the first time. Young girls brilliant in their studies tell me they won’t try to reach their dream of being a doctor or an engineer because they cannot work in their chosen field as they are excluded from over 72 different professions in Lebanon. The only way foreseen by the youth to better their situation is to leave. And many do. They marry a Norwegian, a German or someone from Denmark and they leave their families and community behind. When I ask people about their relatives four different countries are usually mentioned in the same sentence. This has made me realize what the word Diaspora means. For people so close to their family I cannot imagine how hard it is to be separated for years without seeing each other. I can’t imagine either how terrifying it must be to spend thousands of dollars so that your son can travel illegally to Europe and then to hear he got caught and was thrown in a prison somewhere where he was tortured and where they are asking you for even more money to pay for his way back to square one. Everything here reminds me of the misery and injustice these people live in. A man told me today to tell you what I saw, to tell people about the struggle of the Palestinians. He wants you to know, as many others do, that they are not terrorists. I can testify that they are the most kind, generous and hospitable people I have ever met. Living among them has been an important lesson in human values. I have heard many times: “We want our rights, we want our land. We don’t want war, we don’t want death, and the Israelis don’t need to be scared. We just want our land. We welcomed them into our land and they took it from us and expelled our fathers from our country. We hope to go back and that hope will never die whether this takes one hundred years or two”. So it is my responsibility to tell you their stories, to let you know that these people suffer and cannot go on living in these subhuman conditions. I could go on telling you about this place and these wonderful people but I will stop. If not tears will start running down my face.

By: Jordan Topp
Bourj el Barajneh

A miniature airplane hangs in the center of the ceiling fan. Mohammad points up at it, Nadia brought it for my nephew, Ahmad, but I took for myself. An airplane. The center piece of a room filled with symbols of a ravaged homeland. Palestine. Mohammad explains his increasing desperation to leave this place.

Earlier this month he got turned down for a visa to Italy. And he regrets not going with 2 of his friends who left through Turkey. They are traveling to Cuba from there, but will go down illegally when they stop in London…I should have gone. I have to get out of here.

I ask Mohammad if there is any news from Bilal and his friends. Last I heard the 8 young men from Bourj el Barajneh had been arrested in the Ukraine – after paying large sums to take illegal channels through Moscow. All the young men were arrested except Bilal. His mother tells us he got away because he doesn’t look Arab. Mohammad confirms the rumor circulating around the camp.

The 8 men are being returned any day now. Returned. The statement causes uneasy silence in the room. Returned. To the camp. I enquire about another rumor – Bassam, one of the young men – is he dead? They had actually begun funeral preparations last week, before realizing no one could confirm the facts. And so now his family and friends wait to see if he returns with the rest.

Saturday morning Um-Bilal greets Lara and I with ‘good’ news about her son. Bilal crossed another border and is staying with a man named Omar. He and 16 other young men from the camps in Lebanon, whom Omar responsible for. She doesn’t know much more, Bilal was too tired to talk. He had been in the forest – making his illegal crossing – for the past 5 days. He, along with a Syrian woman and her 2 children, had foraged for food. It is dangerous, she tells us, Some people get shot.

Trying to brighten the mood I ask about her trip last weekend to visit family in the South, only to find out she didn’t go. The man who ‘helped’ Bilal and his friends get to the Ukraine had called them, threatening to kill Bilal if he didn’t get more money. Mafia, she explains in English. But Omar is good. Better than the other man. Omar is also Mafia. And I wonder sadly how such things can be rated.

And so life continues in Bourj al Barajneh camp. As Palestinian families are broken apart and reunited by the cruel reality in which they live. With my soul disappointed in humanity (how many times can a soul be so disappointed?) I go up to seek the comfort of a cool night breeze on the roof with my friend Hanan. Talking about the situation of the young men, Hanan explains to me, too knowingly for a 23 year old woman, Life is bad for us everywhere, even outside the camps. This is our fate. And I remember a few weeks earlier, when Ahmad’s mother came to see me in the camp. He had sent photos for her – it had been years since they last saw each other. After almost 4 years in Canada- his early 20s no less – Ahmad was refused Refugee Status. He can not work, and has already received his deportation notice. As Ahmad’s mother opens the photos, to show her son to my friends in the camp, she begins to cry. All of my sons are in different countries, she explains. Rami has been refused in Canada. Tears fill the eyes of the room, for they have all lived the same story. Um-Majed – born in Palestine, who raised her children in the refugee camps of Beirut – comes to comfort her. One of my sons is in Italy. Another in Germany. And Majed is now in Dubai. This is the life for Palestinians here. They will be fine. This is the life for Palestinians in Lebanon. Until they have the full rights and humanity that all citizens of the world are entitled their lives, hopes and dreams are in the hands of others. And I wonder to myself – to Mohammad, Bilal, Ahmad and their families- how much longer can a people live this way?

By: Samer Abdel-Nour
Bourj el-Barajneh

Each morning I would wake up, wash, and head out to my morning class at Najdeh, in Bourj El-Barajneh. The Najdeh youth would were between 12 and 15 years old, and thus, many classes focused on the ideas of dreams, hopes, and realities.

The next class was also in Bourj, but with the Women’s Humanitarian Organization, or WHO. The children at this school were younger, a bit wilder, and would greet me each morning with a rendition of ‘good morning to you…’ sung to the tune of ‘happy birthday’. I’m sure they were tired of it by the end of the summer, but they still sang with smiles on their faces. I would spend my afternoons teaching in Shatila and Sabra, where I taught two days per week each. When I arrived it was always a treat for me. I recall one day when Fatima, an eight year old from Shatila flew down the three flights of stairs, grabbed my hand, and lead me to the class. She made me wait outside the room while she announced to the class that ‘Austaz Samer’ had arrived.

In Sabra, the older children used to fight with the younger children over which class I would teach first, even thought they know that the young ones got me first. Teaching days seemed long when the heat and humidity were factored into the day. After classes, I spent most of my time visiting the families I became close with in the camp. Often I would make two or three social visits per evening, drinking tea, sharing stories, learning history, and just being with the people of the camp. Before bed, which was often quite late, would spend some time preparing for the classes next day… Although each day may have seemed routine, nothing ever was. In any given morning there may not have been electricity, or perhaps something in the news from Palestine depressed the students. Some days the heat and humidity would just simply be unbearable. In the refugee camps of Beirut, everyday was an adventure, with one day almost never like the next.

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