I very recently got back to Beirut after spending 45 days working in the Bekaa, where, tented settlements and Syrian refugees are a sight that you cannot get used to nor forget. As I watched the rain pour down, over a beautiful Beirut city, I remembered things that were completely unrelated to one another: New York city in the rain and a girl called Maha.
Maha is a little 4 year old girl.
Maha is a little 4 year old girl with cancer.
Maha is also a little 4 year old girl with cancer, who is a Syrian refugee, outside her country, living in a tent in the Bekaa.
I met Maha when I visited her tented settlement, where her mother Hana’ and her aunt also called Maha, told us their story.
Maha’s belly started to swell while their village was under siege; they had no access to doctors capable of diagnosing Maha.
As Maha’s health deteriorated, their house got bombed and they became homeless in their own village. Maha’s mom only wished she could go back and save her own middle school certificate and some of her 5 children’s clothing. Maha the aunt wished she could save the only picture she had of her father.
After they managed to flee the village, they managed to find a doctor, the doctor decided to operate on Maha and it wasn’t until after he cut her open that he realized she had a tumor. He immediately advised the family to head to Lebanon since there was very little chance for effective treatment with the current situation in Syria.
After being refused twice at the border because of problems with identification papers, Maha and her family finally made it into Lebanon. And With the collaborative help of many NGOs, Maha was provided with treatment and is now in a recovery phase outside of hospital… Inside her tent.
To try and understand what a tented settlement is; try to imagine being thrown in the middle of the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on your back and you have to create shelter for your family.
The first question I asked my friend Joelle as we left the settlement was “what is going to happen when winter really kicks in?”… She could only shake her head.
That is the story I had going inside of my head when I posted the following status on facebook as the storm “Alexa” hit our shores:
I decided to cut out some of the comments I got and share them with you since they do represent the views of a big portion of the Lebanese people:
Meet Marc, a 28 year old Lebanese who knows Ghandi.
True, there are thousands and thousands of Lebanese people living in extreme poverty. Most of the country fails these people every day. People like Ali who died on the streets last year in a storm in January and to whom I dedicated a post (you can click HERE to read the post).
I wonder if Marc had read my post about Ali last year…. would he have said “what about the Syrian refugees?”
Marc invites me to stop thinking that I am Ghandi just because I visited a camp… I should do what he does I guess but I am not quite sure what that is yet.
At this point I still don’t understand how me mentioning the Syrian refugees denies the existence of the Palestinian and Lebanese tragedies…
Marc sheds light on my light (I have no idea) and then accuses me of living in illusions and dreams… And of being a softy…. (I don’t know)…
Bernard is very selective about his refugees he wants them to be Cypriots or Canadians. Bernard writes a “thesis” with “fancy words” on how to properly deal with the Syrian crisis and sums up with “Let’s start fixing our shit before fixing others”. Marc liked it. (Bernard lives in Poland)
Inspirational Baboon steps in… (Marc liked it, the “other refugees” are the Palestinians so obviously they can go to hell too)
Marc defines the Lebanese people, enrolls in grammar and spelling bee contest immediately after.
Baboon speaks again…
Marc speaks Italian…
Yes we have our own local share of homeless people to take care of. So does Germany, so does France, so do all other countries in the European Union. But they differentiate between a local problem that is common everywhere on Earth and an exceptional problem where entire generations of people are being robbed of their lives and being FORCED into homelessness.
These are people who were not poor! These are people who went to schools, had a roof, built lives. Had neighbors. Had a pet. Had a job and memories in every corner of their village. They do not want to be here, they would go back home the second they can.
As for the concept of “let’s fix our shit first”.
Guys this is our biggest shit since the civil war.
I realize that a big portion of us have been conditioned to look down on the Syrians because of our parents, who lived through a horrible occupation by the Syrian regime. But racism should not be tolerated regardless of what the history is. Let’s face it if these refugees were Spanish our attitude would have been so much more different and sangria would rain from the sky.
There are at the moment 835,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon which is almost a third of the country.
Hate them or like them, you should do something about it.
The refugee crisis does not affect the Europeans one bit. Not in any way. And yet, they send their youth to work in the Bekaa and they spend millions and millions of dollars from their own tax payers money to help ease the lives of Syrian refugees sometimes because it’s the right thing to do, sometimes because of politics.
The world bank expects unemployment rate in Lebanon to double next year to reach 30% why? not because we have Syrian refugees but because we have no government to put in action correct policies to control the crisis and because we have citizens who simply nag and criticize without taking responsibility and without seeking to be properly informed.
Stop trying to discuss ignorant solutions, it is an insult to the thousands of Lebanese and foreigners who are dedicating their lives and studies to solve the crisis and making a difference; their already are plans in action and without them things would be far far worse. The UNHCR coordinates with over 60 NGOs that coordinate on issues that range from health, nutrition, logistics, security, education and much more.
By highlighting the Syrian crisis locally and internationally we will put pressure on donor countries to give out the funds they promised and we will pressure the government to create policies that would protect us and the refugees. The more you ignore the crisis the bigger it gets and the more we pay for it in security, in health and in economy.
So regardless of whether or not you are sympathetic to the Syrian refugees it is a national duty to care.
You are arguing for the sake of Lebanese homeless people? what the fuck have you done to make their lives better? Most of you did nothing. We are a generation of wana-be artists and gulf countries slaves with no national attachment and no vision.
So to hell with you Maha, to hell with your friends who didn’t make it, to hell with your mother and to hell with all Syrian refugees.
Now excuse us as we go nag and have a drink in Mar-mkhayel.