"My Name Is Not A Refugeee": Story #9 from #200students200stories
A piece, "My Name Is Not A Refugee", written by ACS alumni student, Tracy Jawad, which was shared at the second annual Nour International Dinner in 2017.
When your child blows out the multicolored candles at their fourth birthday, you expect them to know their ABCs, their double-digit numbers, and how to identify which headache inducing animal noise belongs to the animals at the zoo. By the time I celebrated my fourth birthday, complete with a PowerPuff Girls piñata, I knew that my parents came from rivalrous religious sects, that the strange man living across our apartment was the leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and that I couldn't visit my grandparents' home because their neighborhood was susceptible to violent outbreaks.
I don't know what the children at our Burj al-Barajneh camp knew by the time they blew out the candles at their fourth birthday - that is, if they even celebrated it - but I know there is nothing I can do to retract those memories or patch up the holes where the wounds of war will forever settle within them.
I'm Ms. Privileged. Nothing I say can reduce or belittle the degree of privilege I obtain. I am not the spokesperson of benevolence, but I want to be the voice of the children at the Burj al-Barajneh camps until they're given their own platform. They're escalating deaths and the high-definition photos of their agony were not enough to alarm us that we're losing a generation. Up until Junior year, I dodged all invitations to visit the camp every Saturday. It wasn't fear that paralyzed me, but my mother's disagreement. She saw no reason as to why I should visit a camp that had its electrical wires hanging so low I'd have to crouch to get past them, or why I was determined to teach young women and children their ABCs and their double-digit numbers.
But it was exactly that.
It's unusual, and improper grammar, to announce that we know our ABCs - because, in a literal sense, the ABCs are not ours. But they are. When I teach the children all twenty-six letters of the Alphabet, it becomes their intangible possession; from then on, they will use these letters to read their first Roald Dahl book, to write a simple sonnet about their dreams, and to articulate the words they want to say to their oppressors. These children now have something they cannot lose.
It's been almost a year since I first visited the camp. I knew what to expect because I was addicted to awing at the chaos of my country through the barrier of my computer screen and my four pink walls. Lebanon's poverty is second-nature to me; after twelve years, my morning's are greeted by the groans of famine and relentless calls for money.
I'll tell you about the children. I'll tell you about how they couldn't even pronounce my name before they jumped at me with hugs and kisses and drawings of blue flowers and sunny skies. I'll tell you about how they showed up every week, boasting about their homework or their abilities to articulate L M N O, and told me I reminded them of their teacher in Syria or Palestine.
I'll tell you about Jihad, a nine-year-old boy who took the word rain and made it into a wrestling match between a grey cloud and a vibrant sun that was refereed by a child whose tears became raindrops. I'll tell you about Hour, an eight-year-old girl who wrote my name on any platform she could, and locked her arms around my neck once class was over. I'll tell you about Hdeyeh, a nineteen-year-old woman who adores Justin Bieber and shows up to the tests I administer even though she didn't have time to memorize the required vocabulary.
I could tell you about every child, every women, but I'm not going to narrate their lives. They should.
The attack on Burj al-Barajneh on November 12th introduced me to a numbness and hysteria one is only familiar with in times of helplessness. I was protected by the four protruding walls of my bedroom, but my children were not. I did not read articles, mourn the dead, or mumble accusations - I sat dumbfounded on my bed because I was baffled by how anybody could call Burj al-Barajneh a Hezbollah stronghold. In this camp there is a miracle that has sprung from the hope within its children, and the explosions were robbing their right to peace with every fire that it ignited and with every life that it stole.
There may not be one culprit behind my use of 'them', but they have deprived the children of their voices, taken their right to an education, and have banned them from seeing what lies beyond the mounting garbage swarming their grounds.
With every word Alaa and Hour learn, and with every Bieber song Hdeyeh analyzes, I become the student. I watch as hope becomes tangible, and Hour's toothless smile assures me that she will be okay as long as she always remembers how to curve up the Y in my name.