The name Tyre was one I remembered best from the days of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 when the city was bombed and that standard war-map would appear on news reports. While in country this past December, when I was offered a chance to go down there and speak with someone who lived in a refugee camp- I immediately said yes. But what I didn’t realize until I got there, was just how many people not only live in the camps, but were born and have lived their entire lives there. In a situation that has existed since 1948, there are stories that would be hard for some people to believe and too much for others to think about.
This podcast features a conversation we had with a young artist by the name of Ashraf. After taking us to see the city and some of its amazing history, he sat down with us to answer our questions about his life, the situation for residents of the camp, and what the prospects are for people who have been referred to and treated as non-citizen “guests” for over 60 years.
Over the course of my week in Beirut I had the good fortune of spending time with teacher and performance artist Raghda Mouawad. Through her I learned a great many things about the country and its people, including details about the education system and the harsh reality for artists during an economic crisis in a country that offers little support. We also get back into that now familiar topic, the contradictions of Beirut when it comes to identities, ethnicity and beyond.
The following podcast was recorded in a car late at night in Beirut on the eve of my departure last month. Special thanks to both Raghda and our silent passenger in the back seat, Krystel Khoury, for taking the time to explain and show me their city. Friends like these in far away places make doing what I do, not only possible, but a pleasure.
Kamal Hakim grew up in an era of reconstruction after the civil war in Lebanon. As the son of a Greek Orthodox – Sunni Muslim marriage, he recalls eating sour-kraut cooked by his protestant grandmother. His life was marked by all the struggles of a city of contradictions, contradictions which he recognizes in himself as well. As an illustrator, Kamal has a dream, a dream he must reconcile with the financial demands of life during an economic crisis in a country that lives every day not knowing if there will be a tomorrow.
This podcast was recorded on one of the exciting days I spent in Beirut last month, as Kamal and I met for the first time in the 1 and only city park. We quickly moved from the details of his personal life and professional training, to the big picture questions of life, art, the shadow of war, and the things that happen in between in such a fragile country. Meanwhile all around us children chase pigeons, old people occupy park benches, and men yell greetings at each other. All in a days work while getting to know Beirut with the help of a wise new friend.
Check out more of Kamal Hakim’s work on his blog Kamatopia. And remember his name, so you can say you knew him way back when…