I had always wondered what the Baddawi Camp for Palestinian Refugees looked like. Although it was only 10 minutes away from my residence in Tripoli, I've never been there before. We Love Tripoli’s event Shoot as you walk was my opportunity to have been there for the first time in my life, and to my good luck, holding my camera, fully loaded and focused on taking pictures. Waylon and Reine were invited to come along and spend the morning with us in the camp, to have a better outlook on the situation Palestinian refugees are living in. Eight-thirty that morning was our time to ride the bus heading to the camp.
I was, as most of the people there, concerned about the security measures and of course, whether a permit was taken in order to take photographs inside the camp. The organizers, and especially Taha Naji, have already taken this into consideration and obviously got the permit and an additional entourage throughout the camp.
Our first stop was around an old dysfunctional fountain outside a citadel. It appeared to me later on that this was located in the Beddawi area, on whose outskirts was the refugee camp. The longer the time we spent there, the more anxious I was to eventually reach our destination and finally meet the people inside, watch the armed security personnel, observe the children playing their innocent games and sharing stories with the locals on poverty and international support.
If the camp had a face, it would be the face of an old woman I met over there, she and her companions were gathering around a coffee table. They were all veiled and were discussing something so important their voices literally went totally silent when we stepped foot in their proximity. Here’s the issue, I can’t stand seeing a wrinkled face without taking a closeup photo. If there were anything I regret in my photography history was not having the guts to take someone’s photograph while all I needed to do was ask. I challenged myself that moment and asked the old woman for a photo; I mean, her face was a history book, an old map, a deserted island where civilizations have come and gone, leaving nothing but scars and wrinkled skin. She refused of course, which pushed me to distract her and press the shutter in a way I rarely did before: continuously snapping photos hoping I’d get a good one at the end. Though I was making sure I’d take at least one good portrait, I knew deep down the photos were not so good. I needed something else. I waited till everyone left, remained standing there, she watched everyone leave and apparently forgot about me. There was my chance; there was the Refugee Camp Story on my camera. A pensive look was all I needed.
Technically speaking, I am falling in love more and more with prime lenses, ever since my first was a 50/1.4, and my current lens is an amazing 35/1.8, the most suitable lens for close up headshots. I have a long way to master such a lens of course, but at the end it’s the thrill of the moment that counts the most.
If there was anything that would draw rainbows around the blackened camp, that would be the smile of each and every child around there. Innocence was so overwhelming I had to take a break from all the energy filling that playground. It was a football field where everyone was either practicing penalty shots, gathered around their coach, or simply shooting balls here and there. It was my second breakthrough to have been the annoying curious photographer to run around in between the players’ feet only to take a decent photo. The ball that hit me in the head was my signal to step aside and let the players go on with their practice; this was not the easiest lesson by the way. Eventually, it was this kind of overflowing energy that I needed to rationalize the universe’s justice in such a forgotten spot of the surface of earth. Divinity was there, in the eyes of those little champions, in their cries and cheers, in their jumping and kicking, in their feet touching the playground’s grass. Everything made sense over there.
I am aware those people need more than a playground or two, a UN aid or a country’s gift to raise their spirit. They had a cause, and only one cause, to go back to their mother land, their Palestine. Why do I have the privilege to work in a reputable company, earn a good salary, enjoy the simplest rights I have as a citizen in my country while, for the most of people my age in such camps, aren't even allowed to get a job. Whoever decided this is totally mistaken and this has got to change.
This might have been my first visit to a refugee camp, but will surely not be the last one. I have no clue to what extent I, as an individual, with the help of my fellow friends, am able to make a difference, but at least I know I’m not taking a neutral stand and watching other people’s rights getting violated. I would be taking action, and that is rule #1 in changing the world we live in: To be the change.
I only hope to see that old woman’s face smiling next time I have the chance to visit her..