A refugee story: from Burj El-Barajneh camp to Ashrafieh

A refugee story: from Burj El-Barajneh camp to Ashrafieh
* Palestinian Journalist

.Somoud Ghazal was born in Burj El-Barajneh camp, south of Beirut, to a Palestinian father who was killed in the 1980s. She chose to marry a Lebanese young man and now lives with him in Ashrafieh. “I eagerly waited to enter university to be able to go outside the camp’s border, as some Palestinians had not left the camp for years as if it had become an optional prison for them. But I did not expect to move from the camp house to the Ashrafieh buildings we used to hear about when we were little kids.” She explains.

Soumoud visits the camp every week with her husband and two children to see her family and relatives. She points out that “whenever I get close to my place of birth and childhood, I feel that I am visiting my country, which I have only seen from behind the border or on television and the social media.” She explains that “the camp environment clings to the collective identity of a people without a homeland. Although I now have a Lebanese ID after I acquired my husband’s nationality, there are things in my heart that are not written in official documents, the most important of which is that I carry Palestinian genes and have many memories in the camp.” Sometimes when she walks with her family in the alleys of the camp, she tells her two daughters that she was born there, she attended this school, and she used to buy ice cream from this shop. She emphasizes that she should reinforce these facts and teach them to her daughters so that they love both Palestine and Lebanon, and it is for this reason that she hums traditional Palestinian songs to them before they sleep and during the day. She laughs a lot when her older daughter calls her “Yamma”(mom) with a Palestinian accent, describing that by saying “the heart can stop beating at such a moment because then the differences fade away and barriers are broken down. We build a new generation that does not differentiate between people according to nationality or area.”

Soumoud, who works as a journalist, considers that “life outside the camp is full of details about other people’s perception of the Palestinians. Many Lebanese friends call me by my name and attach my Palestinian nationality, which is normal because I adhere to my identity and my name is indicative of it.” This does not bother her but rather makes her express her Palestinian identity more openly, especially in the Ashrafieh environment which is not accustomed yet to Palestinian presence. When asked about the different environments, she answers, “In the camp, conditions are completely different. In the camp, alleys are narrow and electricity wires intertwine with water pipes. In Ashrafieh, I live in a multi-storey building and use an elevator, but in Burj El-Barajneh camp, privacy is almost lacking, construction works are randomly done without urban planning, power cuts are frequent, and what is harder is that the water is salty and must be bought and filled in tanks. The camp is about daily suffering and nerve-wracking details that exhaust the refugees and prevent them from thinking outside the box, thus depriving them of the opportunity for collective creativity. The main concern is to secure the necessities of life before thinking about learning music, for example, as I am doing now to my daughters.”

 “Inside the camp people know, greet, and help each other, facts that are visible in sad and happy events, but in Ashrafieh, you sometimes feel that you live alone in the apartment. We have a few acquaintances and I do not know all the names of the neighbors in the building yet. She added saying that “luxury is widely available in Ashrafieh, unlike the case of the camp. Here you can go for a walk at any time, but in the camp there are no green spaces or a places to play or do sport.” 

 “Societal differences are many, and it is sufficient to mention to any person that our place of residence is in Ashrafieh to prompt them to think that I belong to the bourgeois class or to associate me with a certain political affiliation.” She adds saying that “after the Beirut Port explosion last August, I got to know the majority of the neighbors, but they were surprised that I am a Palestinian who has been living here for two years without them knowing that. Perhaps the calamity brought us together and fostered solidarity among us to the extent that we cooperated, especially in the aera of humanitarian relief. However, if this disaster had happened in a Palestinian camp, solidarity and cooperation would have been greater, perhaps because people know each other and have greater trust in others. We witnessed this during the Israeli aggression in July 2006 when the camps were mobilized to welcome the displaced and provide aid according to their means.”

She explained that “the living conditions of a significant portion of the Lebanese people are similar to those of Palestinian refugees in the camps, owing to the difficult economic conditions prevailing in Lebanon now. But life in Ashrafieh, with its streets and people, remains completely different.”

If Palestine is liberated? Shall I stay in Lebanon or go back to my home country?” I do not have an answer to this question yet.