English Lit.

Posted By Scott Campbell
May 8, 2016
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“To be or not to be, that is the question.” – Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Act III.

When I woke up this morning in the ancient town of Saida (we in the West know it as Sidon from our reading of the Old Testament) I was not expecting to discuss English Literature, let alone Hamlet. But by noon I was eating pizza and thinking back on my undergrad Shakespeare class.

After spending the night in a very old stone Inn overlooking the relics of a crusader castle, we hopped onto a bus and headed for another Palestinian gathering. Today we are being hosted by Rita, one of the Founders of Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD) and the current General Director. PARD was formed in the mid-1980s and has been working with Palestinian refugees for over 30 years. Peacebuilding is important to PARD so they’ve expanded their mandate to work with any refugees, especially when there is an opportunity to create relationships across sectarian, social or gender divides.

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We arrive at Jal Lal Basha, which means “piece of land and sea.” The population of this gathering has doubled in the last couple of years. As we walk down a narrow alley to meet our hosts, I see the bright blue of the Mediterranean straight ahead. As I get closer, I realize this is no paradise. The beach is littered with trash, washed up by the waves. There are not resort buildings but rather, more concrete boxes like those we experienced yesterday in Beirut.

A group of women is waiting to greet us in a covered common area. These women represent families that receive monthly food vouchers from MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. They are quick to thank us and clear with their message that they cannot feed their families without this help.

These women share something else in common. These women represent families that receive monthly food vouchers from MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The women are quick to thank us and clear with their message that they cannot feed their families without this help. These women share something else in common. They are all members of this Gathering’s Woman’s Committee initiated by PARD. This committee works to advance childhood education, women’s health education, safety measures, and vocational training — all at a grassroots level. PARD provides training and resources, but it’s these women who are leading the movement. They are strong women, powerful women, and confident women.

One of the members of the group differentiates herself as soon as she starts talking. She is a Syrian refugee and her English is impeccable. She’s answering many of our questions, not waiting for the translator. I’d guess she’s in her late 20’s. She has a three year old daughter and her husband is in Germany.

Her English is so good because she’s a university graduate having majored in… wait for it… English Literature. “I fell in love with English in grade 5”, she says. “My teacher loved English and I wanted to be like her when I grew up.”

She has a job interview tomorrow, in Beirut. The first job opportunity after a year and a half of trying. Her salary for full time work would be $300/month. That’s not a lot of money in Canada. That’s not a lot of money in Lebanon either.

“These women represent families that receive monthly food vouchers from MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. They are quick to thank us and clear with their message that they cannot feed their families without this help.”

What’s the difference between the two of us, me and this educated, articulate woman?

It seems too easy to make these people somehow other than us. Had a war broken out on Canadian soil, my family could very well be in the exact same situation as this woman. She wants a better life for her daughter. She wants to be reunited with her husband. She wants to go back to Syria. I can understand this.

In the afternoon we visited a kids program run by PARD. We are welcomed warmly. As the children eat their snacks, one of the adult leaders and I start talking. She points out two girls sitting on the floor at the end of the room eating bananas. One is Syrian, the other Palestinian. “They are friends”, the instructor tells me. “They’ve learned they can be friends.”

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“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.” – Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Act IV.

These refugees have experienced a battalion of sorrows and continue to. It seems too easy to make them somehow other than us. Whatever our reason, conscious or not, it’s easier to keep this crisis and these people at a distance. We refer to it as “the refugee crisis.” But that’s the easy way out. A young mother’s life was turned upside down through no fault of her own. Now she struggles to survive, stuck in a country, alone with her daughter and few options.

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