Book Excerpt: PIECE OF WAR BY MEHA DIXIT
An excerpt from Piece of War: Narratives of Resilience and Hope by Meha Dixit, published by SAGE Publications India. (2020, 292 pages, Paperback: Rs. 450 (ISBN: 978-93-5388-506-9), SAGE Select.)
Chapter 7: Resilience, Coping and Hope
Lebanon-Syria Border: 2019
It was a freezing day in the border town of Lebanon in the Bekka Valley, which was located just a few kilometers from the Syrian border. Imran, the taxi driver stopped the car near a settlement of Syrian refugees. Few men were standing in the dusty field outside the shelters covered with tarpaulin. Little children, mostly girls, possibly in the age group of 5 to 13 years, who were ambling across the ochre field speckled with stones, came running towards the vehicle. While some raised their hands to wave at me, radiating exuberant smiles, others chuckled playfully covering their faces with their palms. Some children began to speak in Arabic and chuckled again. “This is Anjar settlement of the Syrian refugees,” Imran pointed out. While I attempted to interact with the children in broken Arabic, Imran spoke to the men outside the shelters, who then asked me to come in.
Many people, both men and women, came out of their shelters and gathered near a large bench. One middle-aged man, who introduced himself as Mohammad, pulled out a chair for me and asked me to be seated. “When was this settlement set up?” I asked. Imran translated it to Mohammad in Arabic. After speaking to Mohammad briefly about the camp, Imran explained, “This settlement was set up in 2012. Most of the Syrian refugees here are from Aleppo and some are from Hama. It was in 2012 that the rebels took control of Aleppo’s eastern half. Around that time, these people had to flee Aleppo.”
“Mohammad who is from Aleppo says it was very dangerous to continue living in Syria when the war began. Although he never witnessed any fighting, due to fear he decided to flee along with his family. He is not in touch with anyone in Aleppo,” Imran added. While Imran was translating what Aisha, Mohammad’s wife, had just said about the war in Syria, many children began to crowd near the bench. One of them curiously looked at me and smiled. As the chatter of the children grew louder, Imran said vociferously, “Aisha says it was very dangerous to live in Aleppo, they had no choice but to leave their home.”
“Who has set up this settlement?” I queried.
Imran briefly spoke to Mohammad and other people at the camp who were either standing or seated on the bench and said, “They are saying there are no formal refugee camps in Lebanon in response to the inflow of Syrian refugees. There are only spontaneously set-up tented settlements in the country. Most of these settlements have been built by the refugees themselves.”
Just then, a woman named Hayat came forward and began to speak in Arabic. She stretched her hand and pointed towards the shelters, and then looked at her robe, lightly pulling one of the sleeves. “She says the condition at the settlement is miserable. The settlement lacks basic amenities. They do not even have proper clothes to wear,” Imran translated. Other people also shared the problems they face at the camp. Salman who stood near Hayat agitatedly began to speak in Arabic. “Salman says there is no provision of clean drinking water,” Imran translated and added, “According to Mohammad, each person receives merely $27 per month from the UN, which is not adequate. He says they have to manage everything including food within that amount.”
“Mohammad says he wants to go back to Syria, to his home, along with his family. They can return only when the war ceases or the situation in Syria improves. Until then they have to continue living here at this settlement,” Imran pointed out. “Despite their ordeals back home when the war began, their arduous journey to Lebanon, and a miserable life at the settlement, what is it that keeps them going?” I asked. Imran translated what I had just said. Most of the people stretching their arms upwards as if to offer prayers seemed to speak in a chorus- “Allah”.
A little girl who was standing near the bench whispered in Arabic. “She says that she will show you the settlement,” Imran translated. As she pulled my hand, other girls also joined in. As we moved towards the field, I noticed many children cackling and running, innocuously teasing each other, seemingly oblivious of the suffering that war brings. While some must have been extremely young, barely one or two years old, when they came to Lebanon along with their families, and others were born here, yet despite the wretched condition at the settlement as pointed out by their parents, most children radiated optimism.
This is reminiscent of what many people in Lebanon who had lived through the prolonged war told me- “Children never lose hope.” When the little girls and I began to walk towards one of the shelters, an elderly man said something in Arabic. Soon the little girls began to giggle. A young man who had accompanied the elderly translated in broken English, “Sing beautiful.”
While some of the girls began to sing enthusiastically, others hesitantly joined in. The chorus grew louder, soon fluctuating- ebbing and rising – as the girls kept joining in and leaving it. The faces of the little girls glowed with optimism as they sang the song that, Imran later mentioned, was emblematic of peace and hope.
Excerpted with permission from Piece of War – Narratives of Resilience and Hope by Meha Dixit (Published by SAGE Publications, 2020)