The Shatila refugee camp in Beruit is not how one may imagine a camp. Instead of tents there are buildings, tightly packed together, some perpetually unfinished as they grow to accommodate the rising population. There are cafes, schools, community centres and bakers. It is populated by people who have escaped oppression and violence in the countries they were born in, and by those who have only ever known the camp. Nine of its residents have worked together to create Shatila Stories.
The novella follows Adam and his family, as they arrive in the camp. A series of interlinked stories follow Adam as he comes to term with his new home. His sister looks back at her marriage and re-evaluates her life. A father, not known for his kindness to his family, makes a drastic decision to save his only daughter and a drug dealer makes his mark on the camp. One day Adam walks into the community centre and meets Shatha. His life is changed irrevocably.
This is a short novel, only 120 pages, but nonetheless impacting. There is a sense that the reader is walking down the narrow alleyways of the camp. The sights and smells are almost within touching distance. The faint buzz of the live electricity cables can almost be heard overhead. All of the authenticity is brought about by the fact that the various authors all reside in Shatila. It is eye-opening to read about a refugee camp that, I’ll admit, I didn’t know existed. And it has existed for years. The sense of limbo, perpetual estrangement with the rest of the country they reside in is inherent in the book.
This book is an informative, first person glimpse into a little known world and a worthy one.
There is tragedy in Shatila Stories. But there is also resilience, love, tenacity and hope. All of which are a necessary part of humanity. And if they can be found in the most trying of circumstances there is hope after all.