Inside a different city
Five weeks in a refugee camp in Lebanon: Part
December 22, 2003
On Mountains and Guns
The Koura Plateau is a mountain range that is home to predominantly
Christian Lebanese. The region is known for its beautiful lakes
and the source of some of the finest olive oil in the world.
I stayed with a friend from university in a small
village, which was mostly Greek Orthodox--a minority in the predominately
in Lebanon. His house was situated on a smaller mountain, thus
causing his housed to be dwarfed by beautiful, luscious mountains.
The view from his porch was breathtaking. At night, one could make
out the roads by the cars driving on them; the roads being reminiscent
of a knife pulled through raw cake batter.
I spent most of the days driving around with my
friend and meeting his friends. They took a shining to my English
and did their best
to communicate with me. They would implore me to tell them some
English jokes, which were haphazardly translated. They would invite
me into their cars and would take me on driving tours of the area
(I think I did the same tour at least a dozen times
by that many different drivers). They asked me about my politics,
my background, and whether
or not I liked Lebanon. Every night we would hang out at the local
cafe/restaurant and smoke nargileh. We would sit and talk for hours;
laughing and making fun of eachother (and me).
The town I was staying in was a stronghold for the
Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. The SSNP believes in what they
refer to as a "natural
Syria". The logic being that is the fact the Middle
East today is only the way it is because the European powers carved
up the territory of the Ottoman Empire and divvied up the bounty.
The SSNP believes that these territories (Iraq, Palestine, Syria,
Jordan) should come under the banner of one Syrian state.
I pointed out the flag, they were amazed that I had heard of it
let alone recognize the logo. Many of the men in the town had fought in the
Civil War and told me some stories.
he has a bullet stuck in his ass," my friend tells
me, with the group of fifteen people my age hooting and hollering
to William's dad to show us the bullet. "It's on his thigh." William
defensively points out.
Turns out William's dad, a card-carrying SSNP member,
fought in the Civil
War against Christian Maronite forces, who were unabashedly anti-Syrian.
But while these groups of pro-Syrian forces were fighting alongside
Palestinians, pro-Syrian Shia Muslim militia Amal was waging war
against Palestinians in the camps. Thus continues the complex web
of politics that surrounds this insane war. (Actually, the
more I try to understand this war, the more I realize that they
chose the wrong symbol for Lebanon. Instead of a cedar tree, an
onion would have been more suitable--both in composition and effect.)
The leftovers of the war don't just lie in the poor
man's rear, but in the guns that most people have in their homes.
to double-barreled shotguns, to Walter PP7s to Kalashnikov machine
guns--the instruments of death and destruction abound even in the
most remote villages. On the surface, people use them to hunt and
ward off possible trouble makers who apparently hang around the
mountains waiting to pounce on unwitting travelers.
More realistically, they are a manifestation of the
distrust left by the Civil War.
Paranoia and conspiracy are rampant in this country -- what Robert
Fisk referred to as "The Plot". The Syrians
killed so and so. The Israelis planted this bomb. The Palestinians wanted West Beirut.
Hezbollah wants to have an Islamic revolution. Henry Kissinger
planned the entire civil war.
The lack of a real democracy in Lebanon
(Syria is the real decision maker in this state) fuels this.
The constant worries about the moukhabbarat (secret police)
uncomfortably laugh or visibly worry at the very mention of its
name. Too many people, guns, the very same guns that destroyed the country, are the only piece of protection
they have from the fractured country they love so much.
Among the Concrete Rocks
The beauty of the Koura juxtaposes itself oddly with this place.
Being back in the camps I have been readjusting to life here
and it has been an odd forty-eight hours. Although the luxuries
and the wonders of mountain life I will miss, the smile that
is brought to my face by the wonderful souls here in the camp
have more than made up for it. (When I got home, I asked Samer
if he missed me: "I
wouldn't know, I slept through most of the week you were gone.")
We stood on the roof and drank some arak I brought back. Arak
is the national drink of Lebanon; not surprisingly,
in needs to be watered down and drank "on the rocks". One
would be insane to drink it straight.
As I looked out over the
camp yet again,
I realized what the really depressing aspect of camp life:
the hardness. The view from here consists of concrete homes
sit beside each other in some odd formation. The outlook has
a sobering effect: how long could these concrete homes sit?
Could these homes sit for another 50 years? How long would
refugees be here? How long could they survive in these conditions?
In the homes in the Koura, even the most dilapidated ones
destroyed by the war, one could feel the tenderness
of the children that ran through the corridors. The floorboards
creaked with a
the millions of steps they have felt. There is a sense of
collective history that homes inherently represent. Houses,
homes, are meant to the forum through which we make our history,
through which we build our destiny.
The camps, on the other hand, represent the opposite, the
negation of history. They stand as a testament to the stolen
that these refugees have to cope with. The houses here
They are a raised finger to all notions of progress and
development. The camps, and states of poverty in general, are
denial of a basic destiny that every human being has the
It is the attempt to reconcile myself with these
tell myself that eventually these refugees will leave
and this place
will be destroyed. Hopeful as this may sound, but, these
may be the final years that these Palestinian refugees
here. This is not to say that wherever they may be implanted--the
plans in the working have included Canada, the United
States, various European countries, and some Arab states in
the Persian Gulf--will be
tantamount to social justice. (Incidentally, I read Rosie
rant, this one of the Right of Return. Scorned
be the man who denied us the ability to tar and feather).
But I always fall back to the souls who were
born and grew
up and died in this place. Where is the justice for
those stolen lives? Does the Road Map plan on resurrecting
the dead and
to grant them citizenship in various countries in hopes that they
forgive us for allowing this to happen to them.
able to reconcile myself with that; much in the same
that there really is no way to apologize to those
indigenous people we
annihilated in our conquest of the area we call Canada.
There really is no
way to take the truth straight. Therein lies the
of this horrible place filled with wonderful people >>> Part
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