The pool: my first memory

At three years old, I first enjoyed wading and playing in a small fresh water pool in the mountainous Lebanese village of Aljahilya. I rode on the back of my older cousin, who acted as life guard under a brilliant blue sky. We had been welcomed that first day with shelter and swimming, but next day the villagers asked us to leave, fearing that the warplanes would follow us to also bomb their village. My family had fled from our camp few days earlier, as warplanes had bombed our camp the first time that I remember. Under the thin zinc metal roof of our home, in the angle of wooden supporting beams, my dad had protected me with his body as bombs fell and exploded. Instinctively, he knew that our house with such weak construction would never protect us. My joy of a three year old child in the love of my father, the protection of a cousin in a swimming pool and the chance survival from bombing by warplanes tempered my memories of the humanity and inhumanity what was my early life.

Do not sell me, Dad!

In refugee camps in Lebanon, there are, of course, no hospitals and little medical care. Unlike other foreigners in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are denied access to the Lebanese health care system. Few in the camps can afford private medical services. I remember watching one case of a man desperately trying to save his father when he could not afford medical treatment for him.

The man, named Ghassan, had invited the media to a press conference and was holding his son tightly between his arms. He said loudly, “I am going to sell my son to pay medical bills at the hospital and save my father there.” The little boy, perhaps five years old was crying non-stop, “Do not sell me, Dad.” The media seemed speechless.

Ghassan’s home was worth nothing as were virtually all homes in refugee camps. His furniture was old and also worth nothing,. He was an engineer, but jobless as the Lebanese government does not allow refugees to work in Lebanon. His family strove mightily just to live marginally and avoid hunger, but he could simply not afford the hospital expenses.

I thought, “What kind of society sells children? What kind of society sells life-giving medical services? What kind of desperation would lead a parent to make a choice between his father and his own son? People are not for trade or for sale. Perhaps when humans are the most precious, beyond money and other gods, will we face and fix the problems of poverty, discrimination and the desperation of the choiceless.”

Ghassan did not sell his son, as the boy’s grandfather died shortly after that. I often think of the agony of the boy in fearing being sold by his dad, perhaps feeling responsible for the death of his grandfather, and the desperation of the dad in trying to save his father. The inhumanity of refugee life made such stories not uncommon.

Unity in diversity in Russia

At 19, I was travelling on a high speed Russian train from Moscow to Rostov-on- Don to go to medical school. I had left war-torn Lebanon and my Palestinian refugee camp, immature, excited, anxious, my emotions churning. I loved the feeling of standing by the window of the speeding train while images of the beautiful Russian landscape raced by, as fast as my thoughts. I felt the past, present, future of humanity and myself running endlessly, but I felt unable to catch any of them. A young man from Sudan started to talk to me. He spoke my language, and asked me if I wanted to go and have lunch. We knew no Russian, but we had a few Russian rubles to buy something on the train dining car. We went, had a soup and a lot of laughs, as we tried to communicate with others. I found students from Ghana, from El Salvador and Nigeria. We spoke English, Arabic, but few Russian words. We were all very friendly and supportive, even though we had only just met on the train. We felt united, a close community. We felt a change in the world.

Leave a Reply