January 27, 2013

The Other World

Ramlet el-Baida; 57 km from Faraya

It is only 57 kilometers away from the slopes of Faraya, but Ramlet el-Baida could as well be an entire continent away, that’s how different these two worlds currently are. I occasionally walk my dog there in winter time, because a dog is not greatly liked in Beirut, and in winter time this is the only spot where it is relatively empty in Beirut and he can run free.
I thought about cropping our housekeeper out, but I decided against it; it only illustrates the worlds apart even more

But times are changing, it no longer is a queit place. The continuous influx of refugees from Syria makes them a common view in the streets. They come in all states. Some are so unbelievably rich that I am not able to wrap my mind around the wealth they have. They don’t think twice about renting a $3,000 a month apartment for 3 years. They enroll their children in prestigious schools at $7,000 a child, if not more.
The majority however is poor; they come from the back country, and they did not come by car. They crossed the border in mini-busses, with their blankets and clothes wrapped in plastic bundles. They do not have an income, and no bank-account from which they can withdraw. They camp out, or rent rooms from Lebanese families who have unfinished apartments on their roofs they do not need at the moment.
They swim with their clothes on; most Lebanese here will at least take off the undershirt, if not the pants as well.

No Faraya for them. A day on the beach is all they can afford. That is, if they can afford the transport to the beach. One woman asked me if I didn’t know of an apartment in my neighborhood that was for rent. She’d been in Beirut for 2 months now, but this was her family's first day to the beach. She couldn’t tell the neighborhood she was living in. “It is difficult, you know. Just . . . very difficult.”
She cannot wrap her head around my wealth either; the monthly rent in my neighborhood would probably constitute a yearly income where she comes from. And so from Faraya to Ramlet el-Baida is worlds apart.
Amna from a village close to Aleppo, now in Beirut since 2 months

They are slightly different from the Lebanese. Apart from the accent, there are other nuances. In the way they dress, for instance. The clothes are a little . . . odd, not something you’d find in stores here in general. They are much more conservative, and the women will sit in 20 degrees Celsius, covered in thick coats, under the hot sun. Their children and their man will not undress in their underwear when they go and swim, but will bathe with everything on. When they play beach soccer, the Lebanese men will take off their shirts and play bare-chested; The Syrians keep everything on.
The children will come and ask if the dog bites, and the women will come and talk. They ask where I am from, and tell me what village they come from, and when they left. The men – not used to foreign women - just sit and stare.
The women usually start conversations with my daughter and then come to me.

I am kind of curious how this is going to play out on the long run, if the conflict in Syria is not solved quickly.
I have been contacted by many people that are collecting clothes for the children. Both my children's schools are organizing food and clothes drives. But that is not going to hack it on the long run.
Their men will have to work in order to survive, and the bottom part of the labor market will suffer with the cheap competition. Nothing you and I will notice. At first. But the poor will get poorer. And poverty is an excellent breeding ground for extremism, whether it be political or religious.

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