In here, we hold up our walls, not the other way round

In here, we hold up our walls, not the other way round

Fatima Ghazawi

Time repeats itself, and all days are identical in our little house with small rooms, where weary walls lean on one another. A place that drips in sweat on the harsh winter days. Water leaks from the roof, penetrating the ceiling, changing its colors and peeling off its paint. Here at Shatila, we switch roles. We hold up our weary walls, not the other way round.

I peg out the laundry on the rope hung across the small balcony overlooking a long narrow street. The same road I used to play in when I was a child.

I would lay on the ground, holding rocks in my small hands, throw them at seven flat stones stacked above one another, trying to knock as many as possible to win the game, and then twirl in happiness.

Now, this child does not enjoy looking at the street anymore.

What I see is a bare-footed child trying in every step to avoid hurting his daring tiny feet. He already looks like an old wise spirit, forced to grow up too soon. I hear an old man begging, asking for help in a trembling shy voice.

A volcano of anger rages within me.

My nationality always makes me feel like an outcast in this country like I am guilty of something. In reality, we learn at a young age to be ambitious, study and go to university, and chase our dreams of a promising career. However, after graduation, we find out that we can only work in a job that suits our nationality.

When I blame our camp and its streets for my failure, my mother’s words haunt me: “Make a piece of art out of this wreck and enjoy it. After the destruction, there comes the rebuilding; after refuge a home; after the camp a city called Haifa”.

Drugs have become dangerously widespread in recent years at the camp. You now see children and youths brazenly doing drugs in the streets, driven by despair when they can’t find a way out of all this.

They were born with the burden of the Palestinian cause in a country that refuses to accept them as citizens, which keeps them as rejected refugees. So they grew up tormented. When they finish their education without the hope of getting work, they find themselves on a dark and mysterious road where addiction is their only option.

When Adam and I sit on the roof of the cultural center, overlooking the camp, I see how miserable the place is.

Most houses have remained the same since they were first built, only now with damaged facades. But at least the sky above is spacious.

Buildings are lined up like army convoys.  Every day they become taller to accommodate newcomers. Extensions built make them look like raised hands, asking God for help, or like a person drowning in a vast sea.

I love the camp, and I hate it. I want to leave it, but I miss it, reject it, and accept it.

Despite the helplessness of homes, streets, and pavements, some things soothe the pain. My heart is filled with warmth when I see one of us innocently picking up a breadcrumb off the ground, kissing it in recognition of its value a blessing, and placing it on the side of the road so no one would step on it; when I see the smile of a child returning from school, or the flags flying high across the entire camp.

Despite the many differences among those living in the camp, we are united in our love for Palestine.

Each time I look at the camp, I discover new things. It looks different depending on the place you’re looking at it from. The camp holds many secrets.

I love the rain a lot, and I love it more at the camp because if you’re not a son of this place, you will not experience the moments when rain knocks on the steel covers of shops, making the sounds “tick, tick.”

At the quietness of midnight, when you put your head down on the pillow, you feel as if a mother is patting you gently to sleep in peace.

Quotes from a story from the book ‘Shatila Stories’ issued in English by Peirene Press in 2018, after a three-day writing workshop held at the camp in collaboration with Basmeh & Zeitooneh Organization.