Over my years of gypsy-like fervent travel, I have come to take extreme pleasure in returning to familiar places. My return to Beirut last week was no exception. My cab driver from the airport brought a huge grin to my face as I listened to him complain about having to wait a little longer than expected for me. The grin then transitioned into a full-on smile as I inhaled a combination of familiar smells through the open window, the sweet Mediterranean breeze mixed with abnormally potent vehicle exhaust, and then approached something much more ridiculous, something along the lines of this when I forced the cab driver to pull over (at midnight) so I could buy a manouche, a hot-cheese-laden piece of wondrous bread. I was back in Beirut, and I had missed it.
But backing up a bit, the past few weeks have been busy with preparations for my travels. I would like to thank you all for your contributions of money and clothing. Your generosity has touched me, and it will undoubtedly benefit some much deserving people here in the coming weeks. Due to the large amount of clothing you all provided, I was forced to construct a lightweight disposable suitcase for its transport. Witness the beauty:
This little 50-pound duct tape miracle didn’t make it to Beirut with me, but luckily it arrived a couple of days late with the handles torn off and a small hole in the top, contents undamaged. I guess my design wasn’t completely without flaw.
Since I returned, things have been a bit of a whirlwind. Recently, I was able to meet with the regional director for a non-profit called Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). When I was in Lebanon earlier this year, I volunteered with JRS and have been hoping ever since that I could open my school in conjunction with them. Fortunately, the director was interested in my project and will be putting me in touch with someone from the US office so I can start making financial arrangements. This is huge, and will hopefully lead to me being able to conduct official fundraising in the US under the umbrella of this already existing non-profit.
I’ve also managed to find an interpreter who will be traveling with me so I can begin filming a documentary on the current situation of Syrians here in Lebanon. I’m hoping the video I produce will help spark interest in the situation here and give people a better idea of what is going on. More importantly, I hope it will compel people to action, and make them want to donate money and resources to help ease the suffering of these people.
Yesterday was an extremely sobering day. As I mentioned in my previous post, I became close with one Syrian family in particular during my last visit to Lebanon. I was finally able to to meet up with the father of the family yesterday, and was surprised to see he had lost a considerable amount of weight. Chatting in a Starbucks, I learned that things had been difficult for them since we last saw each other. They had moved residences twice since April, the first of which had been to the mountains in order to be near some of their extended family members. Unfortunately they had neither power nor running water in their abandoned building/home there, and finally decided to move back down to Beirut. So, as of two days ago, this man and his family became the newest residents of Bourj el-Barajneh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut.
My friend went on to describe the financial troubles they have been having. After setting aside the requisite money for rent each month, the family then uses what remains for food and other less important necessities. He described his situation during the past months as a form of torture; of smelling food without being able to eat anything, of being in a perpetual state of hunger. It broke my heart.
What is it like to go without food for so long that the smell of it makes you a crazed kind of ravenous? What is it like to be constantly hungry, to never be full? These are things most of us will never experience, and is undoubtedly something I cannot even begin to comprehend. However, I do know that at that moment my resolve to help these people increased tenfold. It made my trivial worries in life disappear. It reminded me how superficial and materialistic I can be. And it reminded me how fortunate I am in life, and how much I take for granted.
I will make a difference here, I am determined.