Statelessness: a 22-year-old with no Identity or home

Statelessness: a 22-year-old with no Identity or home

The UN defines as “stateless” as someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law”. But does a simple definition mirror the true nature of being stateless?

Mohammed Moustafa is a 22-year-old Lebanese. His mother passed away when he was just a child, and his father does not recognize him as his own. Lebanese law states that a person can only get citizenship through his father and therefore, Mohammed cannot gain the Lebanese nationality.

Being stateless doesn’t just mean you don’t have a plastic card with your name on it. It means that you are not eligible to work any job and you cannot even apply for a passport which means you cannot leave the country. You cannot enroll in any institute of education. Being stateless means you have no access to the health care system, means you cannot get married or register your children. It basically means that all the civil rights we gain by birth are non-existent to people like Mohammed.

He’s been living on the streets ever since he can remember. Eating whatever he can find, sheltering wherever he can. He says: “People sometimes pass by me, spitting on me and shouting go get a job. I wanna scream back and say that I’ve been trying to get one, that I’ve spent the last three years roaming the streets of Beirut trying to find anyone that would hire me.” Mohammed sings for a living. He uses the sidewalks of Beirut as his own personal stage, and he also mimes from time to time. He says that he loves doing it and that it keeps him fed, and so he never has to ask people for food or money.

Living on the streets isn’t for the faint of heart: Mohammed says he’s always bullied, people sometimes beat him up for no reason, just because he’s homeless.” He also added that earlier this evening he was pushed down to the floor and kicked in the stomach by two bouncers just because he was standing in front of a club. He said: ” they asked me what was I doing, and I said I was just standing. They asked me to move away and I said that it’s a public sidewalk and I could stand here. One of the guys approached me and slapped me in the face, and then the other one joined him and they started beating me up.”. Mohammed says he passed out for about 5 mins.

He only asks of people to be nicer and more humane. And when I asked him if he has lost faith in humanity, he said: “Lebanon was a beautiful place, people were kind, people were friendly. But now, it seems like everyone hates each other, people killing each other, stealing from each other. Why could they not love each other, why is everybody so filled with hate?” He adds that not all people are bad of course and that some are very nice, some buy him clothes, let him stay at their place.

Mohammed has a message he wants me to send.

“I wish someone, anyone would adopt me. I want to leave this country, get a job somewhere, start a life. I want to settle down. I would love to go to any newspaper now and tell them my story. Everybody’s going to Germany now. I want to go as well. I can’t take it here anymore, I need to leave.” He said this with tears in his eyes. I almost cried.

Mohammed Moustafa is one of more than 1500 kids living in Lebanese streets without citizenship. His voice will hopefully reach people all over the world. Just remember, his life could have been yours if the cards were dealt differently.

The strong will always prey on the weak. Life is always gonna be unfair. But to you, Mohammad and to others like you, we say, hold on. Change is coming. Your voice was heard today.

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Olive Picking: A dying tradition?

Olive Picking: A dying tradition?

“How Long have you been picking olives?” I asked B. a 68-year-old retired architect from Zakrit, Mont-Liban.

“I’ve been working olive lands for as long as I can remember, it used to be a family thing back then. We’d all gather to pick olives together: my parents, my siblings, my uncle and his family. We would lay down ground cover sheets that would later serve as a net for the olives and then climb the trees to start picking. We would grab a twig with both hands and then gently scrape the olives off of it. All you would hear was the sound of olives softly hitting the net below you and the breeze in the trees.”

Looking around me, I asked him to tell me a bit about how this area looked before. He smiled and said: “Those mountains were filled with olive trees.” I followed his finger and found immense amounts of concrete covering the mountain’s slope. Right behind us was the main road leading to the town. He added: “you see that road? well, that road didn’t exist, we used to walk down here. Do you see the bottom of that valley? well, that was full of orange trees, all the way to the seaside.”

“Everything was different,” he continued. “Everything had a different feel to it, an honest feel. Church bells were the only loud noise you would hear in town. People were different, they even spoke in a different manner. Many of the elders still spoke some Syriac, tradition still prevailed. Even food tasted different since we only used olive oil in cooking.”

“What did you like most about olive picking, aside from the family gatherings?” I asked. His reply was something I experienced myself. B. said: “After the harvest, we would head down to the pressing factory, where my father would greet a bunch of men and women. They would then invite us for coffee, traditionally boiled on coal. My father would sit me next to him and I would gaze at two huge granite wheels rolling in a circular motion while he spoke to his friends. I don’t know what, but there’s something about those wheels and the smell of crushed olives that always made it mesmerizing to be there. The whole factory smelled of this sweet acidic scent mixed with the cool air of November.”

“Every time I pick an olive, I remember my family. Even though my land is now surrounded by buildings and roads, I can still see my brothers on the trees and my mother shouting after them to be careful, while my aunt makes a traditional bread called Tannour on a stone stove. I know you might take me as oversentimental, but this is one of the main reasons I would not want to leave my country as unstable as it can get… where else on earth can I relive these memories?”

He then looked at me, smiled and added: “I would love my kids to share my memories, and to help me with the land every olive season. But I guess you would prefer writing a story about this than actually helping out. Get your ass off that bucket and spread those sheets over there”. He laughed and continued picking olives.

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A refugee’s Story

A refugee’s Story

Found this interesting fellow hitchhiking  at the edge of my town, and knowing that there wouldn’t be any taxis and that it would be a long way through a poorly luminated valley to get to the highway. I decided to stop and give him a lift.

He was surprised and immensely grateful for my deed, saying that he’d been standing there for quite a while. It was natural for me to stop, considering that not long ago I too had my share of waiting on that exact same spot, and often ended up walking to the highway. To his delight, our routes turned out to be the same.  He then introduced himself as Mohammad from Damascus and thanked me again. I shared with him the fact that I have many friends from Damascus in Moscow and Beirut, And that’s when he started reminiscing about the prewar good old days:  he said that he’d been living in Jounieh for the past 3 years and that he loved that town as though it were his own, but his heart still lay in Damascus. He also mentioned that he had a brother in Germany, one in Turkey and a Sister in Jordan. When I asked him “why don’t you join your family in Germany?” his reply was brief but meaningful. Mohammad said, “I would like my kids to be born in a somewhat similar culture to the one  in which I grew up, but at the same time I would like them to be a bit more occidental, while retaining their Oriental values, and from what I’ve seen so far, Jounieh seems like a great candidate for that.”. I was honestly surprised: while most Lebanese were leaving the country in hopes of finding a better future somewhere in the world, this guy migrated to Lebanon even though he had the chance to go to the heart of Europe. I asked if he would consider returning to Damascus, and this was his reply: “My dream is to go back to Damascus, I played in its streets as a kid, I worked in its shops as a teenager, I fell in love for the first time in Damascus, I lost a friend for the first time in Damascus.” so I naturally  asked him what was keeping him from returning, and he said: “You’re asking the wrong question, you should be asking what made me leave in first place.. I had to leave, you see, my home was destroyed, what’s left of it are debris and a bunch of hanging doors. My friends died, some family members did as well. I would love to go back to Damascus, but right now I have to earn enough money to be able to build my home again.” I told him that I understood his agony, although I honestly do not, but I could feel it shivering in his voice. His timbre then switched to a happy tone once he started sharing his quotidian activities in Jounieh. He said: “I would wake up everyday at around 5 a.m., head to work and finish at around 4 p.m., then came the fun part, I would call my Syrian friends, we’d go to the seaside, install our rods and hookahs and spend whatever time we could together, talking about the past and sharing work stories, talking about Lebanese women and some other stuff, if you know what I mean, haha.” I laughed and humored him with some stories of my own.

Just before arriving at our destination, Mohammad turned to me and thanked me dearly, then he added that if I was ever in need of any furniture or wood work, I should pass by his workshop and he’d give me a handsome discount. I thanked him myself and wished him luck.

Mohammad is one of many Syrians suffering in Syria and around the world. Just 4 hours earlier, I was nagging at my brother about the situation in my country, thinking about every possible way of leaving  and then I meet him… and  I remember that just because I’m not in direct contact with refugees every day, it doesn’t mean that those people aren’t suffering. But what is more important is that even though they’re suffering, they’re still trying to create a good life, and happiness is most appreciated when you’ve tasted the true bitterness of sadness.

Good luck Mohammed, If I ever need any furniture I know who to turn to first.

 

Future posts will be accompanied by a photo of the narrator if he agrees on letting me take one. 

The Voices Of Mont-Liban

cropped-o-lebanon-5701.jpgMarhaba everybody

Growing up in a small town, I got used to the stories told by men and women of all ages and especially the older ones, it always seemed like everyone had a story to tell, all it took was a cup of coffee and your willingness to hear them out, although the last part wasn’t always necessary 🙂 The thing is, I wish I could recall 1% of all the stories I’ve heard since those days and till my present ones… That’s why I created this blog, for the sole purpose of saving and sharing the many stories of a Beautiful historic province and its people, Mont-Liban. Located in the heart of Lebanon and the Fertile Crescent, this ancient Mediterranean province has been taking part in shaping world history for more than 7000 years and still holds an important ethnographic trait that some people would describe as dire for an area in constant instability.

The stories I’ll share with you in my coming posts will be told by locals of Mont-Liban. I’ll Leave the choice of tale to the teller, and the joy of reading to the reader. As for myself, I’ll try my best to embed every single emotion and memory supplied by my narrators in the following posts.

They have a lot to tell you, if you’re willing to hear them out.. although the last part isn’t really a necessity  🙂