Welcome to the Nabaa. The Nabaa is the poorest neighborhood here in the already working class district of Borj Hammoud.
Trash blows down the cluttered alley filled with a crisscross of power lines. Clothes are hanging from the windows of the humble buildings, marred by dust and pollution, peeling paint and graffiti. I am here after following Miriam down through a maze of crowded roads and alleyways not far from our ministry.
I only see Miriam, a Syrian refugee, around the Life Center from time to time. I first saw her and her daughters last fall. Her young girls took an immediate liking to me. Especially the youngest, Aaliyah. She stared at me in complete captivation while I took her picture. Fast forward 3 months. The people here never forget anyone they ever meet here. No one does. Never mind that I had only seen the girls once before, the youngest lit up when she saw me at an event in January andwas eager to climb up in my arms and nestle her head in my chest for a quick nap.
Next time I saw them would be another 2 months. They were delighted to see me and clamoring for my attention. Finally, the mother was ready to speak with me. She wanted me to come to her house. A few days later we were walking to her house while she was letting off a volley of words too fast for me to understand everything. Fortunately, I had an interpreter so I would not miss the details of her story.
The narrow staircase in their building was one of the smelliest and filthiest that I have yet to see in my life. It was filled with rat droppings and a random toilet cast aside in the stairwell, among other things. I just remember the toilet while being amazed at the decay and filth.
Like many refugees, their room is barely bigger than a small area for sleeping and a semi partition separating a tight and tiny area for sitting. Their rent is $450 a month for place that was barely livable. Miriam lived there with her 3 daughters and a son. It was impossible to tell how old Miriam is. She looks middle aged to me, but life doesn’t treat you well here and people do not age well at all. She did say she has heart problems and is unable to move around too much. She seems to have had little education herself. Like many refugees in this area, she cannot read or write. Her son was a young adult and was the only source of meager income as her husband had left her upon arrival into Lebanon and was living with his second wife. “The children know that he doesn’t want to be a part of their lives.” Was the matter of fact statement translated to me in front of the young children. Her statement makes me glad that I have chosen to tell the girls how beautiful, smart, and precious they are every time I see them. I may have a limited vocabulary but every kind and flattering phrase I know in Arabic I unload on them to remind them of their worth in a society that has them cast aside with little value and knowing that their entire world is filled with suffering after having been torn apart by war.
Miriam tells of life in Syria before ISIS overtook their village. She was “rich” she says. They had a house, traded in their car every year for a new car and she had everything she wanted, including someone to help with the housekeeping. She never had to do household chores, which worked well with her heart problems. Her Syrian life may have been humble by Western standards, but rich to them is far more than they have now. In fact, she wishes that she had stayed in her village and died as ISIS hands. It would be better than the life she leads now. She is having a very hard time coping and adapting to the new reality, as are many others.
Miriam is currently very desperate. She tells a story of how someone she thought was the police muscled their way into their house and stole their rent money and some jewelry. Now she was concerned they would be out on the street in days. Unfortunately, I cannot help her. There is a long list of people that come through our doors that are utterly desperate for help and at their wits end. There are so many stories every day, it just so happens that this is the story that I am listening to right now. I know Miriam goes among many different ministries for assistance and, given our dwindling funds, we have been trying to focus on those that know no one and have received no help at all. I do not have help for her, even if I am afraid that her beautiful girls will be on the street in days.
Soon we have to go, over an hour is past and we are in dire need of returning to the office. As I am walking down the alley to their house, women and children start flooding out of the buildings and following me. They want to talk to me. My heart is in my throat that I cannot right now and that empty handed to meet their physical needs have I come today. All I have is love and a prayer….. I can only imagine that they see me the Westerner and wonder if their savior has come. Surely I must have money for them!
A lady comes to our church service a short while later. I could understand her well enough to know that she saw me when I was visiting Miriam and that she lives below in that same filthy complex. She has a baby in her arms and her 3 other children seem enamored with me. I note their clothes are particularly worn and they look particularly filthy. If I understood correctly that they live in that horrible complex, I can only imagine that they don’t have water. You see, you have to buy water around here, especially if you have a terrible landlord. The lady is from Syria and has only been here a month. Her little baby doesn’t have diapers. She is just asking for diapers. That is all she can muster to ask for and we don’t have any. We are out. Our refugee relief account is already overdrawn for the month and completely in the red. Again…. This situation has been getting increasingly worse every month that I have been here while the need rapidly expands. But we cannot even give her diapers. The Pastor’s wife was holding the baby and ended up with poop all up and down her arms. Something she is both used to and tolerates with a smile and infinite grace and patience.
No one understands cloth diapers here. I am not even sure they sell them. Instead, they use plastic bags and rags tied to the child’s bum. This is very uncomfortable and the child usually breaks out in rashes. But, given the lack of available water, it is not a surprise that they haven’t ventured into the world of cloth diapers, even if I am wondering how they even wash the soiled clothes.
You have to understand these are simple people without maybe even a grade school education and they are barely coping and surviving here. There is infinite work that we could do to try to help them survive. In the process, it would be nice to at least give mothers diapers and formula and we cannot even always do this.
It is easy to ignore when you are on the other side of the world. It is easy to ignore when the mother’s aren’t looking at you with pleading eyes begging you for something for their undiapered babies or desperate for rent money, terrified about their future.
We cannot save everyone. We don’t even want to try. But we must do more. We must not sit with complacence in our comfortable Western lives and think that we don’t have a responsibility to do something. We must do something. We must do more. We must not just help out one month, we need to open up our hearts and our wallets month after month. To donate quickly, without a tax deductible receipt go to: http://lifecenterbeirut.org/product/make-your-donation/ If you need a tax deductible receipt, go to: https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=a143d3 Please select ME Life Center Beirut and you MUST put “Refugee Relief in the note field to ensure it goes to the correct project.