The alleyways are too narrow for more than one body to pass through at a time. In Shatila, the Palestinian refugee camp set up in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, my guide more than once looked back at me to make sure I was still there. "Does your embassy know you're here?" she asked and laughed nervously. It was a joke, sort of.
Most people in the camp are good people, she assured me, but a few really don't like Americans. They're crazy, she said, as if to suggest that this was a wild proposition. I nodded, wary of being put in a position where I would either have to defend my homeland or lamely attempt a Canadian accent.
The camp played a significant role in both Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the 15-year Lebanese civil war. In this case, "significant role" means bombardment and siege and no shortage of bullet holes in the walls. Consequently, it's a little difficult sometimes to know what was caused by large-scale calamity and what's just garden-variety decay brought on by years of economic deprivation. It reminds me a little of New Orleans in that way.
An estimated 12,000 refugees live in the camp, though that estimate varies wildly depending on whom you ask. They're not all children, though these pictures may suggest otherwise, but children don't mind having their picture taken. At what point do people stop wanting to have their picture taken? I don't know. Based on the young man (not pictured) who shouted at me, "Delete that picture!" I'm going to say it's about 17 years old. (Also, in a camp where most people don't speak English, let's take a moment to reflect on the idea that "delete that picture" is a somewhat complex English sentence, combining as it does the use of the imperative and “delete,” which I don’t think is a common introductory piece of vocabulary.)
A girl plays in the alleys of Shatila.
Families of 10 or more live in one-room concrete boxes that generally receive electricity no more than two hours a day. The mother of these children uses that time to play VHS tapes of children's shows. In nearly every tent or shack I’ve been inside, a TV has sat silently in the corner.
I thought about reversing this so that it might look more like “Whistler’s Mother,” but journalistic integrity compelled me against it. Also, some quick research informs me that the real name of “Whistler’s Mother” is “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” so feel free to trot that fact out at parties. Someone might be impressed, or more likely they’ll just hate you.
I don’t know how he broke his foot. Honestly, he just seemed like the sort of guy who’s always got a broken foot.
Despite the power outages, a number of Internet cafes operate inside the camp.
Technically just outside Shatila, though very much still a part of it, Palestinians set up shop.
At Basmeh & Zeitooneh, an aid group for Syrian women, a group of young Syrian Palestinians operate a daycare center for the women who attend the seminars.
I’ve found since talking to a lot of refugees and a lot of people who work with refugees that there is great faith being placed in the empowering potential of crafts, both financially and spiritually. I hope that’s true, because women all over Lebanon are learning to knit and make jewelry right now on the basis that that knowledge will rebuild Syria. Or at least pay some bills.