A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Loan Project Coordinator of Najdeh, Ms. Yosra Jrad, in Al-Buss camp, located in Tyre (otherwise known as Ṣūr to the Lebanese). I had lost my translator last minute, as her bus broke down on the way to meet me at work, and had to manage with an English teacher from the camp. When I later went over the translated transcripts, the looks of confusion from Ms. Jrad during our interview suddenly made sense. It was clear that the English teacher did not really understand what I was asking and simply improvised all of the questions, leaving me with a very nonsensical transcript.
Luckily all was not lost, as the teacher, along with another Najdeh employee offered to give me a tour of the camp. I was expecting dire conditions, lack of space, wires hanging everywhere, much like my experiences in other camps. However, it was quite the contrary. In fact, Al-Buss camp is one of the cleanest, most spacious camps in Lebanon. Streets are wide, refugees have actual homes with gardens and backyards, there are trees and other greenery and the schools offer children actual places to play and have fun with jungle gyms and toys.
Despite the neighborhood-like aesthetic, there is still much improvement to be made. There are many who suffer from the heat of the summer and cold of the winters, with metal roofs and lack of insulation in homes. The only UNRWA school directly faces a garbage dump in the camp. Initially, there had been some disagreements on whether or not the waste could be removed from the camp at all. There is one hospital, however the majority of Palestinians do not carry insurance and must pay out of pocket for surgeries and other expensive treatments. To manage, patients will beg the community and neighbors to donate to their cause.
This was the first camp I went to that had checkpoints at the entry and exit. You must carry an ID or permit to enter and exit the camp. More than half the refugees find it very difficult to leave, as they are not documented. I was not aware of this before my departure and learned it would take up to several days to obtain a permit. The driver assured me not worry and said I could pass as Lebanese. We were able to enter, no questions asked. However, my new Najdeh friends expressed concern on my exiting the camp, as the checkpoints are very strict. They devised a plan to avoid the checkpoint. The driver drove out of the camp without me, while the teacher escorted me out over piles of rocks and rubble (from a fallen shop) to the main street. There, I was reunited with the driver.
Above: Where I was able to exit the camp.
A few days after the Al-Buss interview, I was sent to Saida (a bit north of Tyre) to interview some students at a vocational center. Upon my return home, I learned that a UNFIL convoy had been bombed along the coastal road, a mere few hours after my departure on the same road. It was a strong reminder that there are still many dangers in Lebanon, the effects of the civil wars linger, and the anti-West sentiment remains strong.