Khalim and his classmates from Syria live in Bourj el Shemali. Khalim is one of the new wave of refugees to arrive in this seventy-year-old refugee camp in southern Lebanon.
He has good rhythm, this boy who learned mouth pops on his first try and never misses a chance to strafe them.
Like most of our music students, he alternates between focus and distraction. It is no wonder. His neighborhood has virtually no green space, and the narrow alleys that connect his apartment to the Cultural Center where we teach are shared by motorcyclists, curious children, mothers who smile at our hellos in Arabic, fathers walking to work, and trash. Lots of it. UNRWA provides garbage removal, spotty electricity, and running water which, like taps throughout Lebanon, doesn’t deliver potable water. Hence, thousands of plastic water bottles reflecting sunlight, then growing opaque with dirt.
The Lebanese government forbids residents from bringing building supplies into the camp. They don’t want it to grow. The country is poor and reluctant to invest in its Palestinian community.
Nonetheless, families do grow, and Syrians arrive.
As we walk through camp, we listen for wildlife. Apart from alley cats and a rooster, we hear none. In a Palestinian home in the camp, we enjoy hookah under a pair of caged birds. The sound is as close to one from nature as Khalim will hear. The son of our hosts helps African refugees in Italy, their daughter volunteers with BAS — our partner NGO.
People are shaped by context. So we are thrilled to watch Khalim take LEAP’s violin class, draw, and shake out tension when Ali, a BAS volunteer from the camp, beats out a rhythm. And sing with abandon a song about expressing oneself.