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Love and other demons in a Palestinian refugee camp

Love and other demons in a Palestinian refugee camp

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Tuesday 5 March 201908:22 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"المطر خير" في كلّ مكان... إلّا في شتاء المخيّم

Everything around us drives us to always advance and work. Even the idea of death drives us toward life. It was a hard day at work, though I had exerted less effort than I had on other days. It was raining heavily. It pelted down relentlessly and it may have been the primary reason that impeded the movement of the people inside the camp, because the rain water mixed with the sewage. Right here in Joura al-Tarashha were looking at a polluted sea similar to our Mediterranean sea in Lebanon. Rain is usually a good thing. That was what I thought before I lived in the camp and worked in a pharmacy inside. And I haven’t changed my mind because I live in a fairly warm house. I can cook anything I like besides lentils because I am the one who cooks, not my mother. I also have a nice and affectionate family of colleagues inside the pharmacy. I also use services that deliver fresh water for homes, not saltwater like others in the camp. I can even turn on the water heater whenever I want, and I do not have to compete with anyone to take a shower. For all these reasons rain is still good. Since I started working in a small pharmacy inside the Burj al-Barajneh camp, I have seen new things that I did not pay attention to. I mean in terms of living conditions. Winter rains redraw the map of life in the camp. It’s an everyday sight to see people busy avoiding the swamps of water. Electric lines overlapping above passersby. Open trash containers, one of which seems to explode once a week. I worked two years outside the camp and I have never seen such diseases in my life. I can’t propose a way to get rid of these diseases, but many factors combined have led to a deterioration in the health conditions of camp residents. Overcrowding is a factor of great importance, the vertical construction that obscures the sunlight from entering houses, the badly constructed sewage system and countless other reasons. I have seen lung diseases in children as young as one simply because of the humidity inside the camp houses. I’ve become accustomed to having at least a child a day coming in needing cosmetic stitches for various wounds. But to this day I can’t look at someone’s burns, clean them or change their dressing. This does not mean I'm afraid! But I always remembered a girl I knew who burned her body and face and had a lot of cosmetic surgery, but the marks of the burns were still clear. Well, maybe I should be more courageous and admit that I fear burns and am afraid to see someone bleeding and am even afraid of many diseases ranging from flu and leading to heart disease, but my relationship with these diseases has become a little better because I have memorized the names of many medicines that can treat them or at least learned how to cope with them. Although I learned here that there is no place for fear, no time to think inside the pharmacy  or even space to breathe for a few minutes and run away from all the diseases that are pursuing me, this feeling never quite leaves me in many situations. There is no time now to run away from the drugs’ names, or from the signs of anxiety that dominate the patient's face  as I read him a blood analysis. There is no time to escape my commitment every day to give an injection to a pregnant patient who has been waiting a long time for treatment. No time to run away from the fact that the pharmacy is located next to the hospital, which means that I not only see the disease with my eyes, but I can at any moment see death also. In the camp, I learned to shake hands with death every day and not to ask more questions and to accept his sudden visits to many loved ones who greeted me in then morning and then I prayed for mercy on their souls in the evening. This small community has accustomed me to welcome every visitor, and to adapt to the idea of ​​absence. Death has become my friend here – I am used to seeing him. I am even used to hearing the discussions among the patients about the camp’s cemetery being full, and that they did not know where they would be buried if they were to pass away. Imagine that you have to think about your burial place when you don’t know when you are going to die. Life here is harder than death, but I forgot to tell you something else I’ve learned. People here are kinder than we think, love life more than we can imagine, cling to joy more than us. Despite all the difficulties and circumstances people face here which drive them towards death there is still something that drives them towards life. People in the camp, my friends, are the first to celebrate  any occasion, Valentine's Day, a marriage, Christmas or New Year's Day. They even celebrate the return of electricity after an outage for a few days. They just love life. I will remind you that nothing will change after every celebration. The sale of drugs for diabetes, blood pressure, blood de-coagulants  and even antidepressants will not go down in the pharmacy. The doctor will not dilute the medication for this small child who has epilepsy. This elderly woman will not be able to run behind her grandchildren without feeling the pain in her joints. Colicky babies will not stop crying.  Nothing will change, but there will be a greater number of celebrations and love for this camp. I also have to reveal a secret that I  discovered recently. A few weeks ago it was Valentine’s Day in the camp, and on this occasion there is no time to buy medicine. Abu Mohammed, a 70 year old, bought a cake for his family like everyone else in the camp at the cost of a box of his diabetes medicine. He wants only to meet family members to celebrate Valentine's Day, which he knows nothing about, and to celebrate a day without medicine.

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