Yesterday I moved from Shatila to a spacious apartment in East Beirut; the contrast could not be more profound. Beirut is not a large place, and yet it feels as though we’ve traversed a universe. There are the superficial things: hot, fresh water comes out of the tap rather than cold salt water; my roommate and I sleep in beds rather than floormats (which were necessary in Shatila because our apartment was shared with ten other people) and we have our own bedrooms; there are two trees immediately outside of our window; there are dumpsters and even recycling nearby here, a stark change from the open trash piles in Shatila.
And then there is the jauu, the general atmosphere, the totally different feel of the two places: the Christian neighborhood here, with its spacious streets, French-sculpted cemeteries and churchbells and roadside shrines, is a stark contrast to the feel and texture of the narrow alleys in Shatila, which are covered with bright Ramadan decorations and political posters and punctuated by calls to prayer.
I have a month before me to reflect on what the past month has been, and I’m hoping to do this by writing daily on a particular aspect of my very brief stay in Shatila or an element of my new discovery of Beirut. I’ll edit these and post them here in the hopes that I’ll both process and share a bit of what it’s like to work and live in a refugee camp that was created as a temporary solution and dragged on to experience the unthinkable for over sixty years – and what it means that the normal life of the city goes on, unfazed, just a stone’s throw away. It seems impossible to consider the two places in isolation but equally impossible to grasp both at once, and so I hope that the process of writing through both places will help.
For those who are devotees of this as a food blog, never fear: the home-cooked Palestinian meals we enjoyed in the camp and the array of Lebanese delicacies I’ve been enjoying outside of it will play prominently into these stories. But there’s no way I can write about the food without backgrounding it with the incredibly rich stories of those who make it.
First installment, coming soon: my morning walk to school.