"I’m a guest here" Ahmed, Palestinian refugee

February 22, 2011

"I’m a guest here" Ahmed, Palestinian refugee

Itaf, 54, could see the airport from her house when she moved in 20 years ago. Today she can’t anymore because too many buildings that block the view have been built. The camp never stops growing, but upwards as the capital expanded and caught up with the camp’s boundaries. Ahmed, her 72-year old husband “left Palestine on 15 May 1948 when he was 10,” she explains, as if she was there.

“After a long journey, interspersed by many stops, he arrived in Tripoli to move into a tent. He later arrived in Bourj el-Barajneh where there was also a tent provided by a UN agency. Now everything has changed. A house was built and floors were added so that my boys could move in. The house is a building now.” Some 50 people make up the family, not all stayed in the camp. One of the sons was killed during a fight within the camp in 1987. Ahmed, her husband is blind, following a cataract, not such a long time ago.

“We have electricity only a few hours a day, we have constant power cuts, water is salty, it’s all what we’ve got.” The 2006 seems far from Beirut, yet the aftermaths linger. A former employee of a petrol station relies on social handouts, he also needs support. He’s always quiet but always wears a broad smile. Yet, as his wife recalls: “he tried to commit suicide a number of times, he had become very aggressive as he, a quiet man before, couldn’t stand anything anymore: the shouts of children, laughter of neighbours, the noise of mopeds… he was shouting without apparent reason, was smashing furniture in anger, frequently annoyed relatives and neighbours, had headaches.” The MSF psychiatrist has been treating him for two years to help understand the pains that affect him.

Ahmed is one of the first MSF patients in Bourj el-Barajneh. The old man with the gentle smile interrupts his wife to invite us: “my house is your house. Here, in this camp, I’m not at home, I’m a guest. I used to like the good things in life, I loved life, I was a friend of the “kief”: I was dancing with my wife every time I could, in particular during weddings, and I loved to sing. I would so much want to return to Palestine, if it were possible…”

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