Oct 24, 2013

Unearthing hopes in Eid

Takbeerat March, Photo by Ahmad M. Halawani
I would never forget her when she followed our trail when leaving the khankeh, begging us for some diapers for her child, thinking we were some sort of an association, and not knowing that every lira was either donated by people who never knew each other, and by our own pocket money. That was more heartbreaking than anything else that whole time.

I'm talking about the time we visited the "Khankeh", a place well known to old Tripolitans. It's the place where widows gather and are sorted out in a room each with her children, and sometimes more than a family need to fit inside the same room. I was explaining to my dear friend Soha, who came all the way from Beirut to Tripoli to celebrate Eid our own way, and cheer up the kids of Khankeh. I was explaining to her the history of this place, and how it was established and treated during the ottoman empire, and how it eventually ended up a worn out shelter for a bunch of helpless widows, who rely wholly on aid and help from their surrounding to survive. The day nobody offers them food, they won't be having any piece of it that day, all 30ish souls of them.

The day started out by leaving Beirut early morning, reaching Tripoli at around 10, and then heading straight to action. I already had a set of coloring pens donated by a friend of mine, my little brother Naji donated the elastics and hence we were making sets of 4 coloring pens, 12 sets in total. Next was to decide what to get them with the money we had. We already had gathered a little from donations basically, which we had topped a bit more from our pockets, and put up a plan. Twelve kids in khankeh were about to receive a goodie bag each in the occasion of Eid, hopefully to brighten their holiday.

I won't ever forget the enthusiasm Souha showed. We started out in an old library inside the old market, managed to bargain for some coloring booklets with stickers inside, some blank drawing pads, and eventually a bag of colorful balloons. The old guy was kind enough to help us out even though he was grumpy at other customers, I bet he felt the Eid spirit somehow!

Next was the bags we're about to fill with the goodies we got. 2 sets of 6 red and yellow bags each were enough to help really get that kick and feel what we're doing taking shape finally. Soon after the bags were there, the most glorious wave of rain was waiting for us there, cheering and wishing us good. With some help of the kind owners, we managed to pack 12 bags with the coloring pens, coloring books, drawing pads and balloons so far.

Mourad Getting Face Paint in preparation for the Clown Walk in Jabal And Tebbaneh.

Not far away, and beneath the heavy yet blissful rain, we spontaneously decided to bring in some maamoul! I mean, what is eid without the Maamoul? Souha kept telling me she felt as if she went back to the days of the red cross, where charity was all they did at the time. Soon after, we both had this insurmountable joy when our search for some candy and juice led us to that tiny internet cafe, whose owner was incredibly happy to sell us all his stock of wafers, bonbons and juice. I threw away a word of "sorry", feeling bad for wiping out his merchandise in Eid, replied with a wonderfully happy "not at all! NOT AT ALL!".

It was bliss and happiness the whole time, even the sky was shedding a smile upon us. The rain wasn't too heavy, better yet, it stopped the moment we were ready to visit the khankeh. And in fact, right after crossing the old market and the Hanged Mosque (jeme3 l m3alla2), there I was, giving Souha some instructions and tips on what to do and what not. I bet she had no idea what we were about to encounter there inside, standing on the edge of that damp staircase, leading to the infamously poor "khankeh".

Screaming out "ya allah" when going there is a must for me, a sign for all women to wear their veils upon me coming inside. But all in all, I asked Souha to go ahead in front of me just in case. First thing was greeting them, and of course, they intuitively gathered in front of our eyes, little by little, knowing there will be some sort of a giveaway. Turned my head for a bit to chill things down a bit, and said hello to the oldest woman in there and checked up on her. I knew them all, except for two new faces in there, I bet they are syrians for they didn't want to go out until we were about to leave.

I failed to keep an eye on Souha, who was holding 6 bags meant for girls, while the 6 bags of mine were obviously meant for boys. Anybody who has undergone such activities knows how hard it is to keep things in order. Took them only a split second to create the most annoying havoc ever, even though I was screaming out loud to send in their children only, priority to the youngest of course. But no, poverty and need has gotten to them to the point their way of treating us was ridiculously selfish, aggressive.

We Love Tripoli at their visit to the elderly shelter in Abu Samra for Eid.
Pictures taken by Randa M. and others, compiled by me.
 It killed me, the fact that some women are willing to make up lies to be able to get another goody bag, while others have the dignity to hide away and not ask for anything unless served. I pushed away the two annoying women, and made sure the youngest children got their bags. In a matter of a couple seconds, the bags were totally gone, and the old woman in the room behind me, with all the hideous stench coming out of her room, she was still calling out for us to hand her a bag, no matter how many times I explained to her that this is only for children.

Poverty at its worse indeed.

We excused ourselves, and left. Not a single word was said, we were both at the edge of crying. I had my eyes filled with tears the moment we were taking that dirty staircase back up, and I was sure Souha felt the same too, all until we noticed one of the women calling out for us and begging us for a bag of diapers! This is where I couldn't feel my legs anymore. Enough said.

I don't have any pictures of the thing, I don't have any sort of footage, no photos of the children, no recording whatsoever, nothing. Yet I believe what we did has changed the day, or at least two hours, of those poor kids, who didn't have the chance to feel Eid like they are supposed to be.

What is Eid to you? Doesn't it bother you to be wearing new clothes in Eid? Doesn't it the least hurt you to be having 4 sorts of main courses on the first day of Eid knowing such people are fighting over a piece of bread?

#basme_tayra Photo by Salam Fawwal
 I know I celebrated Eid my own way. Souha did the same, Mutaz, Mourad, Khaled Hassan Yahya Jihad Foutoun and Maya did the same as well. All of the initiatives that took place before or during Eid leave me proud and speechless. Who had heard of the Clothes Collecting Campaign my friend Reine launched for Syrian Refugees? Ever saw the #basme_tayra hashtag along your social media timelines? Did you stumble on the photos and the smiles they were spreading out? Did you hear about the famous Takbeerat march that took place in Tripoli, where more than 300 people gathered eventually in a huge square releasing lit balloons over Tripoli under what was known as #Mentaad2?. We love Tripoli had done also a wonderful job, so wonderful it brought me to tears while sitting on my desk in beirut going through the Facebook album pics. They made sure to spend the days of Eid with the long forgotten elders at the famous shelter in Abu Samra, a renowned hill in Tripoli. They sang along, listened to their stories, hugged them and even played with them, such an initiative that would put us in front of huge responsibilities from now on.

I remember a graffiti on one of Beirut's old walls, turned into a masterpiece when an artist beautifully put up a message over there saying: "Make somebody happy today" in arabic, with a HUGE yellow smiley face. What about you then? How far would you go to brighten one's day? What about providing relief to your needy neighbour? What happened to taking away grudges and egos and be humble to other people's trouble? Where did all the compassion go to?

I'm no saint, neither is any of my friends or those who wish to remain anonymous, we just did what we felt like and I would never feel any satisfied until it becomes a common culture to help others and wipe away poverty. After all, if this is not Eid, what is it then?

As my friend Reine used to say, "It is not about giving, it is about doing something better than just feeding a person. We need to teach the person how to fish for example instead of giving them a fish".

شي بيبيّض الوجّ

#Basme_Tayra. Photo by Hassan Osmani

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