Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Soup for Syria


        Today is the 25th of December 2013. Looking back at this year in a glimpse, I can say it’s been hard—all is relative of course. In my bubble, there’s been turmoil. I’ll spare all personal details and explain my objective for this next project "Soup for Syria". When you feel imprisoned in your own country, something is definitely wrong. It’s been building up for a while—two years precisely, but who’s counting. During that time, I did have the opportunity to finish my third book on foods of my country, but still have not felt a great feeling of accomplishment. As one grows older and wiser, the focus of one’s life diverts. I will explain. I am a free spirit who needs to roam, to look for adventure, to seek humanity, to leave a trace, to help others. I’ve missed this for a while and it’s eating me up inside. Today, on this special day, on the day of the birth of one the most influential person, the man we call the son of man, the son of God, I’ve made an important decision. I shall liberate myself from the psychological fear and prison I’ve set up for myself, in spite of any danger I may encounter. I’m not scared, I’m always guided by the ultimate being—he leads me to wonderful places, where people smile, eat, love and pray. I’m free. I have the courage. I will start my journey tomorrow.

I call my son from his sleep. We must not be late. I’m so excited to take my car and leave far from Beirut and meet those who are suffering from this terrible war in Syria. I want to be their voice and shout, “HELP”! Why the Syrian refugees, for they are the poorest and meekest in our country today. I am apolitical—never think about this leader or another. I’ve never been involved in any political party here or anywhere in the world. I adhere only to good people with good intentions who live for others instead of for themselves.

I want to photograph children and give them a light of hope. I want to make a difference somehow. Today, my girls have camp with their friends in the Girl Scout movement at school. They will sleep in a camp for two days. I take them, kiss them farewell and head to the Bekaa valley. I’ve always had a weakness for that specific region in Lebanon. My son is sleepy in the car, but also excited to share this adventure. I call the woman whom I have been referred to—she will bring me to the refugee camp sites. I feel a bit scared. Will they kidnap me on the road? Will they take away my camera? God forbid I’ve saved up for years to get all this equipment. What if they hurt my son? All doubts vanish as I head towards my destination. I call Maria, a sweet woman from Nabatieh who has been working as a social aid for years in a NGO called Beyond. Her voice is very hospitable and reassuring. We have never met. She tells me to meet her at Mc Donald’s on the main highway in Zahleh. I start joking with my son, the irony of it all—Mc Donald’s! Oh well Mc Donald’s it is.

She arrives minutes later with a man called Turkey, a war refugee. Maria and I hug and kiss and immediately head towards the first camp. My heart aches, it’s not easy to witness such conditions of life. The people are welcoming. The children laugh, sing, joke, scream—like all children all over the world. I understand their language, I’m one of them. They know that, I’ve always had complicity with children. It’s a gift. I intend to use it to make a difference. I speak to Maria to explain my intentions. My aim is simple, “I want to send a message to the world that this is WRONG. People should not endure such conditions of life in 2013/2014.” I want to be their voice, to photograph their soul. It can be done, I know. I’m introduced to a university student from Baalbeck whose name is Fatima. She has been coming to the camps for months. She knows most of the families. She shares their worries, she shares their pain. She explains to me their conditions of life. It’s hard to listen and not cry. I won’t. I hide my pain. My son jokes with the children and photographs them. I’m proud of him. I listen attentively to each one. There are so many complaints. The water is polluted. Each child has a medical problem. The weather does not help. Lebanon is going through a tough winter. They heat themselves in tents with a “sobiah”. Instead of wood for fuel, they use plastic to burn. It makes a terrible stench, polluting the environment and makes children and adults even sicker—many suffer from bronchitis. Medicine is scarce. One little girl opened her mouth to show me her two cavities. It’s a lot to take in. I’m overwhelmed. How can I help all these people?

We head to another camp. I follow a van full of clothes that UNICEF is distributing to families. I see the look of mothers as they receive their packages. It’s rewarding but makes you want to cry at the same time. The children don’t understand what is happening. They are scared when they see so many foreign people all at one. An elderly mother cries the death of her son, while she shows us his passport with the photos of his children. They look like little angels. It is surprising to see how many Syrian children are blond with mesmerizing light blue eyes. I continue towards the other families. I must hear all their stories. I promise them no money, no food, no products—I promise them only to portray their pain through words and pictures. That’s what I know. I explain to them had I been a barber, I would have given them all a free haircuts. They smile. They start to understand.

I leave late afternoon satisfied. The road will be long—not the one I’m taking home, but the one to accomplish some sort of documentation which will make an impact. I won’t give up until it’s done. Too much is at stake. Proceeds from the book will help to build the refugees a kitchen so they can cook healthy meals for their families. Maria warns me not to get involved emotionally because it affects one’s life. I’m willing to take the chance. I’m heading back tomorrow. I will hear testimonials, words, take plenty of photographs. I’m not imprisoned anymore… I’m free.

Children of War

Beauty

I exist

A Father's Suffering

A Grandmother's Struggle

Blue Eyes

Maria's  Philosophy

Shy

Almost a Woman
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. - Ralph Waldo Emerson from "Self-Reliance"


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