When Trump blatantly laid out his plan for building a physical wall between Mexico and the US border, the idea was deemed so ridiculous it naturally reached viral status. Such a ‘concrete’ plan seemed especially foolish coming from someone with a reputation for delusional ideas. But (yes, there’s a but) in reality Trump will not always be around to humorously highlight the question around walls in general, which already happen to be everywhere around us. From political borders, to social classes to even our spiritual sources, whether they are physical and cost millions or invisible and cost us peace of mind, they seem to invite more harm than protection.
If in the shape of an issued visa or barb wire, Syrians have become very familiar with a never-ending treadmill of barriers. During my trip to Lebanon, I came to realize the different shapes walls can take and how often it’s the invisible barriers that create the most solid realities.
Shatila camp, built for the ‘temporary’ circumstances of Palestinian refugees in the late 40’s outdated its status as ‘temporary’ to permanent over the last 6 decades. Its dense cement walls whisper a history of trauma and violence. While in the last two years, Shatila Camp has experienced an influx of thousands of Syrian refugees, swelling its dense population into the 20,000s.
The thing about Shatila is that because residents are not provided basic civil rights, they are socially, physically and economically confined to the ‘Camp’. The other thing about Shatila is that it’s no longer considered a camp despite its name. In fact it resembles more, a hustling and bustling urban settlement with convenience stores, barbers and dentists.
What this means for Syrian families who take refuge here, they are forced to come up with money for rent, and all other expenses while navigating a crowded maze, of stacked cement walls. Because employment is already scarce in the fragile Lebanese economy, and even more so in the isolated Shatila economy, where humanitarian aid is thinning out every day, the economic burden falls on the shoulders of husbands who rely on unstable and unpredictable task jobs in construction etc. As for women, contributing to the family finances is nearly impossible.
Because one income does not reach ends meet in Shatila, where rent is on average $200-$300, some of the responsibility falls onto the children and inevitably hinders their education. If you’ve had the chance to visit Lebanon, you already know child labor is kind of like a societal elephant in the room, but a really really big elephant.
This being said, women in Shatila have A LOT to offer. Although they came to Lebanon empty handed, these very hands carry years of experience and talents in needlework taught by their mothers and grandmothers in Syria and Palestine. But because lack of legal status, resources and networks are replaced with social stigma, any opportunity to utilize these talents very rarely stretch out of the confinements of Shatila Camp.
This being said, it’s important to note, In Shatila, there is no border control. It’s essentially a city within a city left to it’s own devices. It is this mutual understanding with the rest of Beirut that draw the thickest lines.
In the early days of my trip however, before I knew this much about Shatila, I happened to come across some open doors…
But that’s for another blog post.