November 6. A memorable day.

This is a memorable day. I wake up on the couch of Mona’s apartment, and we have a short breakfast together. She explains me how to get to the Al-Manar television – the Hezbollah news station. I walk out that sunny morning and ask for the way a couple of times. A billboard is promoting a movie. It says “Is knowing the truth worth living a lie?” like it has always said and will always say. But I read it differantly. I read “Is knowing the truth worth living, [is that knowledge] a lie?” The truth worth living, that is a very serious truth, it’s a truth for the very few. And that very exclusive truth, that makes life worth living, might itself be a lie. That would be a scandal! My scrutiny in reading is not echoed in my sense for directions and I have to ask where I am.

They are working on the roads and the air is thick and dusty. I repeat the name a few times and they guide me to a building behind a highway bridge. They welcome me and x-ray my bag, then let me explain in simplified English what I am doing here. They seems to understand me at Al-Manar television because they pen down an addresse in Arabic and tell me to take a taxi, they’ll know. I ask “really? Don’t you call them in advance to say that Kamiel is coming?” You must know that I take every opportunity to use my name because it has quite a flattering meaning in Arabic and might crack some nuts for me. So I take a taxi and the driver indeed understands the address instantaneously. I get off and a few minutes later I stand in the public relations office of Hezbollah. They ask me to sit sdown on a couch for a while. There is a woman, her hair carefully concealed, who speaks English and could help me. I am delighted when she comes to talk to me and stick out my hand to greet her in a jovial manner.
“We don’t shake hands here” she snaps at me and immediately jerks her hand under her arm.
“What can I do for you?”
I explain myself again.
“I am traveling around the world and helping the poorest on the way, trying in my own humble way to make the world a better place.”
-“Ah, I see. What will you do here then?”
“Well, first, I want to donate some money to disadvantaged Palestinians, secondly, I want to write about what Hezbollah is doing since you guys have quite a bad reputation in our Western media.”
-“I understand. But we are not the section of Hezbollah that helps the refugees. We are just the press center.”
“But showing how they are engaged in humanitarian aid is very good for your public relations, isn’t it?”
-“Well, sir, we can help you as a journalist. You have to fill out this form.”
She gives me a two-page form entitled “application” which I reluctantly fill out. When a form comes into play, there is no real will to help, my life experience says. But I leave my email addresse and thank the press officer for her help. Of course, i never heard of her again.
I am hungry and walk up and down the street, eventually buying a Levante style sandwich at a stand where I ask a random passer-by if he knows and Palestinian refugees. And – voila! – his girlfriend lives in one of those refugee camps. He gives me his number. Then I walk on, taking a few photos of this part or Beirut. Another random person speaks enough English to tell me there is a refugee camp down the road. Of course, I walk there. At the entrance, smiling children and I take photos of them. I show the press relations card of Hezbollah, they bring me in the small phone shop – and the owner speaks German. Are you following the string of coincidences? I have this feeling, something inmeasurably high in the sky is pulling those strings to guide me, a feeling by the way that I want to share without attempting to materialize it in concrete worship. So I speak to the shop-owner in German and it turns out they want me there. He introduces me to Adel, who will guide me through the camp and take me to families that help.

So this is it. I am in the Bourj El Barajneh refugee camp, established 1955. Adel shows me around and takes me to different families. We take photos together and we go to the small camp pharmacy to buy the medicine later. I get some insight in the life of the camp. It is a hard life. The women I help with their medication are so grateful. Hedija hugs me and kisses me. There I have the perfect metaphore for what I mean with bypassing bureaucracy. Remember the Hezbollah public relations woman and her cold distance? That was the world of useless forms and regulations. This is the world of humanity, directness, affection and love.

Adel also takes me to a cancer patient, Ibrahim, whom I support with a donation. I suddenly have an idea: to show a movie in his room and invite some children. So we do it, just like that. A few children come as the sun has set, and I show a movie on the wall, until Ibrahim gets tired. It is too late to go to a hotel, so they offer me to sleep in there place and I feel very happy. I have made friends in Bourj El-Barajneh today, and I am looking forward to visiting them again. After we have made Charity Travel a success.

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Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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