Nov. 5, 2010 — It took us but a moment to slip from the modern airport highway into Shatila's alleys, and as always, walking in felt like travelling back in time.
I didn't expect a lot of change here since I last saw it well over a year ago: a year is only a blip in time in a place that for 60 years, has existed on the premise that it was temporary.
It was Friday mid-morning as we started our walking tour, and Shatila was a busy place. Women walked home carrying groceries. Some men worked on a small construction site adding a floor to a concrete house. Others tinkered with electrical cables, extending the complicated jumble of them that hang in every lane, providing erratic electricity to their homes.
The children roamed in the alleys, some of them making use of the single open space available for play. A clutch of them were engaged in a heated game of soccer. Off to one side stood the skeleton of what might have once been a swing, from which younger children happily hung and flipped.
Nahlah Ayed's Shatila blog
- Day 1: En route to Beirut
- Day 2: Small signs of progress
- Day 3: Sharing details, but with dignity
- Day 4: Artifacts of exile
- Day 5: Shatila's space problem
- Day 6: Camp politics
- Day 7: A litany of woes
- Day 8: Talking about Arafat
- Day 9: Dreaming big in Shatila
- Day 10: Living with the trauma of camp life
- Day 11: Celebrating sacrifice in Shatila
- Day 12: Stuck in Shatila
It is a coveted space: one camp official told us there had been numerous proposals to build there, but they were all refused — for fear of taking away one of few sources of amusement available.
As the afternoon wore on, many people sat on their front stoops and stared, watching passersby; framed by posters, slogans and graffiti that recalled the complicated political history of Palestinians.
It seemed to me that nothing had changed at all since I was there last more than a year ago.
But we did see some evidence to the contrary: this coming winter will be the first in which Shatila will have an underground sewer system — its construction was completed in the past year. It remains to be seen whether it will prevent the disruptive, annual deluge of water and mud in the alleys when the rain comes. But the residents are hopeful.
There were other small signs of progress: a small storefront offered teenagers televisions and a joystick, and for a small fee, the chance to play a video game.
Another storefront tucked into a dark alley provided computers for access to the Internet.
Surely, these were signs of improvement?
I was curious to hear the impressions of my colleagues, Ahmed Kouaou and Danny Braün, who hadn't been here before. Danny, a producer and videographer, had seen refugee camps in other countries. Was this different?
"You could see on the people's face that life is very tough over there, that it's hard — more than hard," he told me.
"It's like everything is dead … it really felt like it had been forgotten by the rest of the world.
"Everything seems to be improvised and not very solid."
This was our first, cursory look at the camp. Soon, we will be getting to know some of the residents, most of whom were born here.
I wonder how much change they've witnessed over the years they have called this temporary place home.