Tuesday April, 7 - Aida Camp

Monday 4 January 2010
popularity : 90%

Morning atmosphere in the Refugee camp of Aïda : muezzin’s calls and bird songs...

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Today some of us go and attend Issa’s theatre workshop again. The kids know us now and are less shy than yesterday. As for us, we better assess what is at work and at stake in this workshop : building one’s self-image and self-confidence, control one’s emotions, learning the ability to channel one’s violence into creative activities.

Enfants et Issa 4
Enfants et Issa 5
Enfants et Issa 6

In the afternoon Diane, Tanguy, Laetitia and Anne-Claire climb up to the floor-still-under-construction in Al-Rowwad centre : that’s where the game activity is taking place under the kind leadership of Tarek, a young man of 29 who is obviously devoted to the kids he is in charge of, all 6 to 12-year-old. The older ones (Oussama, Samira and Salaam are there too) and the little ones have such fun playing together , seeing the others (and more especially the big ones) be wrong, forgetting the rules, being caught, getting in a tangle !

First game : everybody stands in a circle, a person goes to another and takes up his or her place, that second person does the same until everybody has changed places. Then we do it all again, but more quickly : we must of course remember who we changed places with on the first round !

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Second game suggested by Laetitia : everybody in a circle again but this time holding hands : without letting go of them, we pass over and under each others’ connected arms and create a big knot... which the 2 persons sent outside while we were getting tangled will have to undo : guaranteed headache !...

Another game : everybody moves about and on the agreed signals kneels down, jumps twice,... If you are wrong you are out, and this goes until there is only one person left... Diane is the winner!! Applause and then the kids leave, happy to have played and managed so well. Don’t think it was easy, it required memory, concentration, being quick at repartee, good at analyzing and understanding the situation and reacting properly to it... Actually, just like with Issa this morning, it was self-construction work for all these children...

End of the afternoon : our hosts (and already friends) have invited us to a film show in the large room on the ground floor of the Centre. Next to Mazen (19), there is Youssef (23) a big, stocky young man with a shaved head and a limp, and Mourad, handsome as a Sicilian. We all settle down on the plastic chairs and face the white sheet-screen. Mourad wants to show films he has shot himself. We don’t know what to expect exactly : the first pictures catch us immediately, we feel deeply moved by what we hear and see.

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In one of the films, Mourad lets his own grand-mother speak, an old lady, crumpled as a ripe and sweet-smelling apple. She wipes her tears stealthily when emotion overwhelms her as she answers her ten-year-old grand-son’s questions : he wants to know about her native village, how the family and neighbours were all thrown out of it. He asks her to tell him about the long march on the road with nowhere to go, the nights in the fields, then under the tents of the first refugee camps set up by the UNRWA. And always, in one’s pocket, the key of the house door, because, of course, one day, they would be able to go back home and find their animals, fields and olive trees waiting for them to take acre of them. And they would just go on with their work, what they were busy with when the Israeli troops interrupted them so abruptly, so brutally... And the child promises he will never forget, he will go back there one day as soon as “they” let him.

This film is a simple and sober account of the little simple life of simple people. Little simple lives shattered by decisions made far away from them, above their heads, by people they don’t know and who have not the slightest idea of their existence. No manicheism or over-simplification, no settling of scores : Mourad has simply given a voice to those that "they" would have liked us to forget. Mourad, Youssef and Mazen sit in silence slightly aside from our group. Sense of decency... Youssef has stopped making comments for a while now, Mazen’s eyes shine a bit too brightly in the dark room. As for Mourad, he watches his Grand-mother talking and bites his thumb nail.

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When the film is over, he introduces the next one immediately : : "Bethlehem Checkpoint, 4 a.m.", a testimony of what happens every morning from before sunrise at the checkpoint that all the workers living in Bethlehem and the surrounding refugee camps have to go through.

It’s absolutely terrifying, staggering... The long waiting outside in the night, the coldness around the small campfire, the winging of the turnstile, all these faces in a cage. It’s no fiction, no acting. It is what these 3 young boys’ fathers, brothers, neighbours and friends have to endure everyday of their life... We are totally speechless in front of the brutality of the pictures being projected before our very eyes. From time to time, we steal a glance at our friends… We are sad and miserable, and feel that they are sad and miserable. Ill at ease too : seeing them watch their own tragedy being played to us, « foreigners and strangers », unable to give other images of their history than these humiliating ones...

When Mourad turns the lights on again, we can’t but cheer. Cheer for his work, but also for the courage, the simplicity with which they all bare their hearts and life to us. For their trust in us too... A great thanks, really...

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At night, the Guest House sees us come back, ears and eyes filled with it all, even overwhelmed. It is good then to speak together over a comfortingly delicious home-made meal : falafels, carrots, onions, eggplant, zucchini, and for the most courageous, hot red pepper .

We spend the evening playing cards, discussing gently (isn’t every move a political choice, be it sorting one’s waste or refusing to drink coke?), completing personal notes and listening to Guirec playing the guitar softly. Bed for the most exhausted.

Read the continuation of the trip