Last week we visited the three schools again which the organization I am currently interning at has built in the Bekaa region east of Beirut. While I was sitting in one of the school yards waiting for my ride back to Beirut a girl came to me and asked what my name was (my Arabic is by now just good enough to have a very basic conversation). I told her my name and asked for hers. Then she asked what my Mother’s name is and she told me the name of her Mother. Then she said something I didn’t understand, so I got someone to translate for me. She had said “my parents are both dead now.” Later she told us that she is living with her uncle in the camp now but he always comes home very late. In moments like this I wish I would be fluent in Arabic and could actually talk to those children and especially to this girl. Now I could only give her a sad smile and say that I am sorry and rub her shoulder. She kept sitting next to me for a while and then left to join some other kids.
My task that day in the field was a rather simply one; to take new pictures of the schools and children and think about ideas for new posts on social media and our newsletter. It was the first time I really came in close contact with so many kids and they were all more than interested in me and the big camera I had with me. Generally my internship here in Beirut has been good so far, I sometimes wish I would have more responsibilities than I currently do. Many of my tasks are rather basic and I often don’t feel very challenged. I however don’t really want to complain, the work here gives me a lot of time to be able to work on my Master thesis idea which I greatly appreciate and some tasks are truly interesting and fun. Moreover I really like my colleagues and the work environment and that’s worth a lot. I enjoy the field trips since it usually gives me the chance to talk to and listen to people and their stories. Generally I learn a lot here simply through talking to the people I work with and through meetings or conferences I can attend. I, for example, attended a conference at the ministry of education and a meeting at the UN which was very interesting. Most importantly the cause my organization works for is more than important; making education and humanitarian aid accessible for children living in refugee camps and thus targeting a whole generation at risk. (If you want to read a short summary about the organization I work for, you can click the picture above to make it bigger, and that by the way works with every picture on this blog).
I have talked with quite a few people now who currently do an internship at a NGO and it seems to be a very common phenomena that people feel that they are not particularly challenged. However, I think often it is what you make out of it. You can propose own ideas for potential tasks or research from which you and your host organization can benefit. Taking own imitative takes some energy but is quite often very rewarding. Hence I decided for my final internship paper I will write a think-piece (basically an article which includes own experience and opinions) on the concept of education as a cultural and social tool. I plan to explore the connected challenges and issues when it comes to educating Syrian refugee children living in camps in Lebanon. More specifically I want to talk about the challenges between the theoretical ideas and their actual practical implementations. Everyone has ideas and wants to be involved and wants to help this good cause but many don’t think about the challenges which come with implementing ideas in such an environment and thus unfortunately some ideas or planned activities help little or have little valuable effect. So hopefully if I succeed on creating a good piece of work and publish it, not only I will benefit from it but my organization as well.
Talking about challenges, learning Arabic is for sure a big one! Since my last blog post I have been taking classes for 4 weeks and have done quite some progress. The classes are twice a week and each lasts for 3h. They are split in to two blocks. In the first one we learn to read and spell the Arabic alphabet and in the second one we learn how to talk and have a conversation. In the beginning I was quite frustrated as I felt I am not fast enough, however, slowly but surely I got the hang of it. Now the course ends next week and I have learned the whole alphabet and can do basic reading. For some letters I still need my alphabet table but for most of them I actually don’t need it anymore. I am able to have a basic/simple conversation and I know quite a few words in general by now. Now I just need someone I can practice talking with and keep on doing exercises in the two school books I have. Apart from that it is a very useful language to know, I have a lot of fun with learning it so I truly hope I can keep up practicing and using it!
Next to working and learning Arabic life here in Lebanon is good. We still have summer weather here whilst my friends in Sweden start wearing winter jackets. I do miss the Swedish autumn coziness, however, if I honestly think about it, I would get annoyed by the grayness and rain pretty quickly. Well the grass is always greener on the other side isn’t it…? We use the weekends for travelling around the country which has been really great so far. The two bigger trips we did in the last weeks where to Byblos/Jbeil and to Tripoli. It is pretty easy to get around Lebanon with buses/vans and taxis and it’s really cheap as well. The trip to Byblos/Jbeil was really, really nice. It felt like a mini vacation from sometimes rather hectic Beirut. The old part of town is really pretty and calm. You can find many shops and souvenir stores however when we were there what you couldn’t find was tourists! Everything was fairly empty and strolling around was just relaxing. We had very good food at the old harbor and visited a big castle which had a great view over the whole town once you managed to get all the stairs up. Our trip to Tripoli was quite different in comparison.
I saw an event on Facebook about an organized tour to Tripoli and some friends recommended it as well to me. What you have to know, I am really really not a fan of guided tours. I much rather explore places on my own or with someone but not in a large tourist group. I think one reason for that is that I am still traumatized by a class trip to Italy in 12th grade where we had to attend a guided tour in almost every city we visited and well, let me put it this way, it felt like we visited every single city and town there is in whole Tuscany…. But I thought oh well why not giving it a try again, maybe it will be nice. The whole trip in total was nice, the tour, well, the guide had a megaphone… Now imagine Tripoli not being the most touristic town in the world and a group of around 30 stereotype looking tourists following a lady with a very loud megaphone. Yes. Awkward.
Well, we made the best out of it. We tried to walk last and after a while, oh the joy, the megaphone was broken. The good thing about taking the tour was we for sure got to see some corners of the city which we wouldn’t have found by ourselves and we got to know some very nice people in the group. Tripoli is a interesting city, the old part of town is quite beautiful and the food we had was just great. So overall we had a good time. In the evening back in Beirut we went to a wine festival in a big park close by to where we live. We went with one of the girls we got to know that day and a classmate of mine and her friends. You pay a bit less than 25 dollars entrance, you get a glass and then you walk around many, many tents put up by different winery and you can try as much wine as you want. A pretty neat concept I have to say and we had a really great time.
Other things which happened since my last blog post where for example our adventures with the Lebanese customs…. Let me just say that was probably the most ridiculous thing I have experienced here. Rickard wrote a whole blog post of its own on that one, you can read it here . Apart from that we joined a gym here after all. We first thought we wouldn’t since it is really expensive here but then we found a small gym in our neighborhood. All the machines look like they come from the early 80s or late 70s but they work, everything is fairly fresh, the people there are nice and they have a women’s only room which I mostly have to myself when I am there. We also figured out why it is so popular for expats here to go to the cinema. Especially the cinema in the Souks here in Beirut is really fresh and nice, all movies are shown in original title and Arabic and French subtitles. When you sit in there and watch a movie it just feels like being back in Sweden. So if you want to feel like you are home again, just go watch a movie and catch a break.
Lastly our flights to Egypt are finally booked, so we will have a 9 day vacation in November! The plan is to fly to Cairo and then travel around the country, we are currently planning the details and I will for sure tell you about it here on my blog once I am back! Thank you for reading, stay tuned and have a look at the picture series below.
– Children of Bekaa-