Bourj el Barajneh

Yesterday morning found me in a meeting at Bourj al Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp, regarding the camp’s present needs and how I, as an individual, could be of help.  The director was kind and patient with our questions and ideas.  The place was not what I expected (in truth, embarrassingly, I had some idea tents and, what to my eye would be, dramatic, visible difference).  To the eye of one unaware of what to look for, Barajneh would not necessarily stand out but rather seem to be another part of the city, albeit a poorer local, from the exterior at least.  Entering the camp, the first aspect to catch my eye were the wires, webs of electrical and other-function wires, some thread-like, other quarter width in circumference, tracking along the alley-like passage ways, which connect the camp areas with maze-like intricacy, no more than six feet above ground, in some places hanging lower.  ”Watch the wires… about once a month someone is electrocuted.”  Bright swaths of cotton candy pink, sea foam green, and sky blue paint cover the exterior walls of some buildings, only climbing as high as, what would appear to be, the reach of the painter, and coming several inches short of the street level.  It is Saturday; kids are at school and there is a low hum of activity- a building being cleared of renovation ruble that will be the in-camp location for Doctors Without Borders (the door is marked with a sticker communicating that no weapons are allowed inside, the graphic a machine gun); fruit vendors and nut roasters hawking wares from curbside stands or push carts; conversation with neighbors.  More heads are covered than I typically see in Hamra. Water drips from lose pipe fittings. The narrowness of the passage ways lends to the feeling that the buildings are taller than they really are and lean toward each other more than they really do.  Simply what I see, and a strong sense to mindfully not peer through my Western lens, painting a more abject picture than is perhaps accurate. Yet the reality that 20,000 people occupy a single square kilometer, the largest dwelling is no more than three rooms (not bedrooms with extra spaces as well, no, rooms, period), and these are individuals landlocked to this location is telling.