Bye for now, Bourj Al Barajneh

Our stay here in Lebanon is coming to an end, and it has been an experience. We have learnt that a 12 seat bus can fit oh so many more people, that hospitality has no limits (yesterday in a taxi we were offered coffee, cigarettes and Halls lozenges, all before even reaching the first traffic light), that smoking one argile is the same as smoking a whole pack of cigarettes (who would?ve thought?!), that our teachers were telling the truth when they said some people feed their newborns bread soaked in tea and sugar (we?ve also learnt that in addition to this they feed them chips), that a two-lane street can fit about seven cars at once, with some goodwill, and that firing a machine gun can mean ?I agree with what Hassan Nasrallah is saying on TV?.

We have gotten used to the constant smell of argile and air pollution, having no electricity half the time, having salty water in the taps, hearing gunshots, seeing rats and insects the size of them, and covering up regardless of a clear blue sky and 35 degrees.

However, most of all we have enjoyed the unique experience it has been to be here, the exquisite food, the warm people, the strong coffee (Dingding hates it), the dancing, the sights, the fresh fruits and vegetables and the friendliness. We have seen a diverse country with a rich heritage, met amazing people, learnt about the situation of the misplaced Palestinians, about the Arabic culture and about life in general.

Lebanon As We Know It

work
Work
the camp
The Camp
rooftop decorations
Rooftop decorations in the camp
our view
Our beloved view
hope
Hope
food
Food
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Count the bulletholes
bombed buildings
Bombed buildings
balconies turned curtains by war
Balconies turned curtains by war
baba in his shop2
Baba in his shop
baba and mama
Mama and Baba

Smells Like Love

Since the last post, we have participated in some health promotion workshops, attended two weddings (three counting the one Dingding accidentally crashed), done some sightseeing, had Stian visiting, and finally soaked up some sun.


Our organisation is arranging workshops on nutrition and health in the other camps in Lebanon, and we got to see some of what we?ve learned in school in practice. When we visited one of the more conservative camps in the north, poor Dingding wasn?t properly dressed for their taste, and in lack of something better to cover her shoulders and knees with, she had to put on a clown costume to look decent. Much to my amusement:)

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The weddings were a fun experience, and I must say I admired the brides for their willingness to dance in spite of their wedding dresses measuring two meters in diameter. Cred! The immense cakes were cut with swords and young and old were dancing on the table to celebrate the holy union.


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It was great to finally see Stian again, my husband as far as everyone here are concerned, and we?ve had a great week, being careful not to offend anyone with "inappropriate" displays of emotion.

We went to see the impressive Jeita Grotto, unfortunately, there are no cameras allowed, but you might be able to get a peek on new7wonders.com. It was amazing!


We have been to Beirut and Byblos? hot beach clubs, tanning and sipping rosé, pretending to be able to measure up to the Middle East?s play boys and play girls, who seems unaffected by everything but tan lines and designer clothes.

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We have seen the extraordinary Roman ruins at Baalbek, and admired the work it took some 100,000 slaves 250 years to build. We watched the sunset change the colour of the massive columns and had a little photo shoot before we went back home to Bourj al Barajneh.

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We also got a chance to see Beiruts infamous nightlife and show Stian our new favourite dance, a dance all Lebanese (arabs?) seem to know.


Lastly, I?ll copy a paragraph we found in a guide book, a hilarious and spot on description of the traffic down here:

"As you will soon realize, patience on 4 wheels is not a common Lebanese trait. The condition of some of the roads and the regular debilitation traffic, especially in Beirut, doesn?t help the temper on the matter. Moreover, many Lebanese drivers are in touch with their inner James Bond and have only 5 minutes to save the world. They?re on a mission to get from point A to point B by any means necessary. Some have a desperate urge to impress, even if it falls on deaf ears; at least they?ve enjoyed the scorching sound of their other and sometimes only babe, their car."

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Enjoying desert after wine tasting in Zahle. Yum!

As some of you might know, the election is on here in Lebanon at the moment, and the situation is tense. At the moment we are in the camp, as it is the safest place to be during the election. The result will be out tonight and there is expected to be some riots tonight and tomorrow, but if you hear of any trouble in Beirut, know that we are out of harm's way, working on our health campaign, playing solitaire and watching movies in our apartment.


All the best from "the Paris of the Middle East"

Update from libbings

Sitting on our balcony listening to Michael Jackson and watching the sun set on the buildings that make our view, I can only say that this is growing on me. My sudden enthusiasm might very well be connected with the fact that my wonderful boyfriend has gotten a few days of work to come visit - yay!

Since the last post, we have celebrated Nekbe - 'Palestine day', been to the mountains, and learnt how to dance as if there was no tomorrow, like people here do. According to Lonely Planet, Beirut is practically the party capital of the world, and here I was thinking alcohol was prohibited and that women were to maintain an overly decent behaviour at all times. No, the Christians making 40% of the population gladly drink their sorrows away, and the Muslims we've met have a surprisingly promiscuous dancing style, shaking all there is to shake and flirting like it?s what they were born to do. Once again I have to remind myself not to be so narrow-minded.

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watch and learn, ane
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sabrin and us
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excursion to ehden
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i am super happy to get away from the air pollution for a day
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dingding  and some dancers
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dingdings new hair!
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dinner
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a woman sowing
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nekbe
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nekbe
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nekbe
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nekbe

Being a Woman in Bourj al Barajneh

As our prejudices rightly indicate, gender inequality is a pressing issue both here in the camp and in Lebanon in general. So far, the worst discrimination we?ve experienced, is the patronising comments from by-passers (in all fairness, they are compliments, just slightly inappropriate) and the fact that we are not allowed in the gym after noon. That?s right, women can only exercise from 8-12, leaving working and training mutually exclusive. So much for getting in shape while we?re down here!

 

Not only is the Palestinian population in Lebanon almost entirely cut off from the mainstream, they also have practically no legal rights; they are prohibited from entering the public workforce, barred from owning property, have limited access to public health care, welfare and education, in addition to major social stigma. UNRWA provides medical care, schools and vocational training to the registered Palestinians, but their services are insufficient to secure dignified living conditions. ?The registered? make approximately 60% of the population (10% of the Lebanese population). The remaining 40% of the Palestinians refused to register in 1948, as they didn?t consider themselves refugees, but rather temporarily displaced. The registration offices were open for one year, and descendants of non-registered Palestinians cannot chose to register now, meaning they live here illegally without rights, even to the basic services provided by UNRWA.

On top of this, the women are even more vulnerable than the men, and the inequalities facing Palestinian women in Lebanon are exacerbated by the interpretations of cultural and religious duties and by the highly patriarchal traditions. For example in the case of divorce, the children automatically go to the father, leaving women trapped in marriages in fear of losing their children. It is also a popular belief that it is a sin for a woman to go to sleep before asking her husband seven times if there?s anything he wants. It is also a sin for a woman to refuse her husband ?marital activities?, and it is believed that if she does, ?the seventh layer of heaven will shake?.

According to research carried out by Women?s Humanitarian Organization, 92% of the women in the study spends their free time inside the camp (the camp is one square kilometre and houses 22,000 people, so the concept of a private sphere is literally non-existent) and 93% of the women ask permission from a male family member before leaving the house, 94% of these are required to be back before dark. Additionally, 41% of the women reported that they or a woman close to them were exposed to physical abuse.

 

There are some laws that protect Palestinian women?s rights, either through Lebanese law, or through traditional religious sharia law, but claiming them is difficult, as women don?t know about them, don?t have financial resources to claim them or don?t know which mechanisms are available to them in order to claim them.

One of the priorities of Women?s Humanitarian Organization is to empower women through teaching them about their rights, both legislative and the interpretations of the Koran.

 uten navn

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Anyone feel lucky to live in their respective parts of the world?

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We do!

Women?s Humanitarian Organization and the Camp

It never really occurred to me that someone actually grows up in refugee camps. In my mind it?s something temporary, but Borj el Barajneh, like the other Palestinian camps here in Lebanon, have now seen two generations born and raised, going on the third. Some people have spent the past 61 years here ? they have settled down. However, the hope of returning to Palestine is still alive, represented in the keys they used to lock their doors in 1948, which is an important symbol to all Palestinians.


According to a women here in the camp, Lebanese law states that refugee camps are not allowed to show any signs of settlement, which is the reason for the ocean of wires and the untreated water. The Palestinians are not allowed to use the public systems, so they make their own slightly less effective arrangements. The land whereupon the camps are built is rented by the UN for a period of 99 years, and it is unclear what will happen if the situation is still not resolved within the next 38 years, when the leasing contract runs out.


It feels bizarre learning and thinking about the tragic history of the camp, and walking in the footsteps of massacred people. From our front steps we are "in the aim" of the snipers who hid across the street in 1984, and killed anyone who tried to enter or exit the camp, and all around us there are bullet holes and bombed buildings. Nonetheless, the people we meet seem content, and the grudge and bitterness I had expected from "the forgotten people" is practically non-existent.


Being here is overwhelming, and we learn something new every day, but I guess you?re bound to, facing a culture so far from your own. We?re enjoying the experience a lot, though the excessive air pollution and the occasional O.D of argile, or habl babl aka sisha, along with the absence of our better halves can cause some headaches and homesickness :)


Enjoy the pictures ;)
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Ejoying traditional food in Beirut
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Raoche
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Dingding and Suzanne
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Two girls at the beggining of the Nekve celebration, kissing a poster of Arafat
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Nekve: Palestine Day
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A man dancing with a framed picture of Arafat
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At the school where we're following the English classes every morning
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Sharing secrets in the lunch break

Pictures!

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Our living room
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kitchen
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rooftop football
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chillin'
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ding ding with "birth gifts"
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suzanne
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on our way to work
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outside our apartment
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hassan and mama mokaram
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at the entrance of the camp

First Days at the Camp

We are now in the refugee camp where we?ll be spending the coming 7 weeks. It?s bigger than expected, housing about 22.000 people. It has narrow streets and shabby buildings and we still can?t tell one street from the other, so we keep getting lost. The coordinators at Women?s Humanitarian Organization speak English, and the job seems very exciting and relevant. Today we have observed the different programs they run (from infant and child care to breastfeeding programs to nutritional and health programs for elderly and disabled), and tomorrow we?ll be choosing which ones we want to work with, if not all.

We have also moved in to our apartment, which is quite nice, it has one bedroom and one spare room with a mattress, a bathroom (with a broken shower), a kitchen and a living room. After a thorough scrub, it felt clean enough ? until we found out we have a house rat! Tonight we?ll invite Hassan (our neighbour) over for rat hunting.


As soon as we had put our bags down after arrival, we were invited to our neighbours (Hassan?s wife and her friend) for coffee, an amusing experience as neither of them knew any English. When I tried to tell them we had arrived two days ago, they thought I asked if they were lesbians, and there was a lot of giggling and gesticulationsJ Like the rest of the people here who don?t know English, they try to speak slowly to us in Arabic, convinced we?ll understand if they just repeat themselves enough times, and if they say it louder. It doesn?t seem to bother people that we can?t really communicate; they invite us over for shisha and coffee nonetheless ("come, come, jalla, jalla").


There are more wires and cables here than I?ve seen in my entire life combined, and they are all hanging from 1.5 to 4 meters above the ground. Therefore, in addition to trying to dodge the mud puddles and loads of garbage, we have to duck not to get caught in these webs of wires. So far, we?ve had a couple of black-outs a day lasting from 5 minutes to 4 hours, but when it?s running, the electricity in our apartment works well.

At the supermarket, we got repaid in chewing gum packs instead of small change (1kr is 250lbp, so we?re big spenders down here), not sure if this was a coincidence today, or if it?s common practice.


As you can imagine, there are a lot of new experiences, and we?re enjoying them all and looking forward to an exciting 7 weeks.

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the view from our apartment (i'll post pics of it later, but the internet connection is really slow)
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on our way to work
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right outside the camp
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wires
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more wires - this is how it looks everywhere!
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We went to the kindergarten program today. i thought this back pack was cute:)

Safe and Sound on Lebanese Ground

After a tearful goodbye, and a speedy send-off from Keren, we headed for unknown ground, arriving safely at 3am this morning. We had no problems at customs, but everything takes a bit longer with a Chinese passport ? one of the guards even rang our hotel and asked if ?Ding Dang Dong? was staying there. As you can imagine, I found that hysterically funny at 3 in the morning.

After finding the hotel, it took us about 15 minutes till we were in bed and asleep, exhausted after the past few days of exams, 1st of May and travelling.

Well rested, we went out and walked around Beirut for a few hours. It is a city of contrasts; war-torn and dilapidated buildings lie side by side with fancy looking skyscrapers, and on the ocean promenade the outfits vary from conservative ?Muslim clothes? to board shorts to stilettos. Not surprisingly, Paul Smith, Fendi, Chanel and the rest of the crème de la crème crew have found their way here, well lead by Ronald McDonald.

Full from hummus and water melon, we are at an internet café, both very excited to go to the camp tomorrow, to see our home for the next weeks, and to see what and whom we?ll be working with.

Hope you are all well, god tur to those of you who are leaving in the next few days!

 

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mad props for the parking skills

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bread on a bike
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first lunch in beirut - hummus kawarma
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Keren raced us to our gate
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Les mer i arkivet » Juni 2009 » Mai 2009 » Mars 2009
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