Post river trip last week and a rowdy Monday and Tuesday session of classes, my voice had gone from a little raspy to just gone. By Wednesday, my kids started coming in and pointing out the obvious “Miss Nour, sawtik rayi7.” My response: “Yes, so please don’t make me yell at you.” Sufficed to say, my request was not granted. Though, to be fair, they were much better this week and these little rascals are quickly weaseling their way in to my heart … especially as they have been writing and drawing their memoirs this week and even more so during their party bus rides down to the river. Imagine a bunch of middle schoolers standing up and dancing for 2 hours to T-rashrash and Fares Karam and those are my Friday mornings and evening rides to and from the river.
Their text this week was an excerpt from the Ruby Bridges story and not surprisingly they found some interesting parallels in their lives and the segregation of the 1960s U.S. Everything from the Apartheid Wall they’d heard about in the West Bank (which we then proceeded to draw a map and label on the board) to Shatila’s conditions compared to the rest of Beirut to one of my girls pointing out that just like Ruby Bridges got to go to the white kids’ school, girls and boys should be in the same school too. Then, of course, there were some simpler concepts of fairness…like how on a hot day, if one class has a fan and the other one doesn’t, that’s not fair. lol. I am pretty sure I sweated out half of my body weight this week.
This week was also filled with a lot more out of the camp activity than usual. We had two volunteer birthdays, Imad and Kate, so both required some celebrations which we were all more than happy to participate in. Also, the beautiful and amazing Huda Asfour made her way to Beirut so I took shillat Shatila, which is what we have named ourselves btw, out to the show for an amazing evening of her oud playing.
By Saturday, we were all more than exhausted of our 9am-6pm school days and evening adventures. But, this week’s Saturday outing was not one to be missed. We were headed south to the Palestinian border, so we woke up, rallied, grabbed our passports (which had been submitted a week prior to the Lebanese army for permission to get past the checkpoint on the way to Maroun al-Ras), and headed out.
Our first stop was the Beaufort/Shaqif castle, a fortress over 700 years old, sitting on the top of a mountain with a breathtaking view. During the Israeli occupation of the south, the Israeli army used it as a storage facility for gas and other essentials. We found a remnant of theirs in a lookout point…a chip bag with Hebrew on it…a surreal thing to find here. We weren’t close enough to see Palestine yet from these hills but we knew it was just over the mountain across the valley.
After exploring the castle some and taking some group pictures, we headed off to Maroun al-Ras. A ways into the ride, I noticed something and turned to Rawan. “You see that?” I said to her. “It looks like a settlement.”
We thought we were still looking at Lebanon. About a second later, a small wall popped up and then some barbed wire. “This is it, we’re at the border,” I said.” She looked at me “Are you sure? Where’s the buffer zone? We’re so close!” I replied: “I don’t know, but I know this is the border.”
The driver affirmed my suspicion and we announced to the bus to look to their left. We pulled over at a lookout spot about 35 minute before Maroun al-Ras and spent a while taking in the view. Some people talked, some cried, most were silent, and absolutely everyone was just annoyed as hell with these damn UN soldiers who were keeping an eye on us and filming with a camcorder.
I looked to our good friend Mahmoud a lot. It was like watching a heart break again and again for the entire day. Every stop, every breath, every photo was to watch him and so many others see something so close and so far away. So many Palestinians, whether from the States, or Shatila, or one of the other camps, so connected to a place they’ve never been allowed to live in…and yet it lives in us in such a profound way.
I got away from the UN soldiers ad the group for a bit. Hid behind a massive billboard of Nasrallah (an ironic cover, no?) kissed a rock, and let it fly. One stone for my parents and one for me. Two small pieces of Lebanon over the fence.
We slowly recongregated to the bus and headed down to Maroun al-Ras. I’m not sure how to describe the strangeness of this place. Upon arrival, you see an “Iran Gardens” sign, Amal flags flying everywhere, a paintball kids course, a replica Dome of the Rock with an Iranian flag atop [yes, not a Palestinian one…I will let you guess the level of annoyance I had with that particular detail…we put up our own flag (below)], and families picnicking. Meanwhile, we all walked down the hill, as close as were allowed and looked down to the border where a little over a year ago thousands of Palestinians had gathered to protest and commemorate the Nakba. There stands now near the border a memorial to the youth who were killed. Mahmoud stood and told us stories about that day, how many people there were, how far they walked before Maroun al-Ras, how the Israelis fired live ammunition right away and never even shot a tear gas canister.
We had an hour and a half before we had to be back at the buses to head to Soor (Tyre) for dinner, and without even noticing, we all had ended up just standing there and staring at Palestine for the entire time.
Borders are a funny thing. In some ways, looking at this imaginary line between Lebanon and Palestine was just a reaffirmation of how much it all runs together…the land, the people, the language, the culture, the ties. In other ways, the colonial reality and stark contrast overwhelms you. The colors shift immediately from brown to green. On some areas of the border, there is no real difference except for a barbed wire fence, in other areas the abundance of water on the Palestinian side…stolen by Israel from the Golan Heights and distributed to Jewish settlements…smacks you right in the face.
The ride to Soor was quiet. It wasn’t until after dinner and almost 20 minutes outside of Beirut that the singing and dancing on the bus picked up again, and even when it did, it was with a different tone and spirit.
We came back drained, physically and emotionally, but recharged as well and for me, rededicated to waking up for school on Monday with my kids. Next week’s unit: geography vocabulary. Borders everywhere we go…