Diary by Enrico Porfido
Beirut is a huge building site. Everywhere you can easily recognise the hundreds of influences that characterised this awesome melting pot of cultures. Walking in Geitawi reminds me the colourful paths in Santa Teresa, Rio do Janeiro, while Solidere brings you through a quick tour of Europe: Parisian rooftops, Italian facades, the small Big Ben in the main square and so on.
All around me people are speaking in Arabic, French, English and sometimes you can also listen to Portuguese and Italian words. This is simply awesome, the best start for a new adventure.
Almost two hours of traveling and here we go to the Bekaa Valley, our home for the next twenty days. The landscape is completely different to Beirut. The earth is yellow and green, you can feel the warmth. Mountains all around. We are 20 km away from Syria; I never thought before how close we are to the war. But it’s not about being scared, it’s just to realise on my skin there’s a war on and that it’s real. From here I can hear it, feel it.
8.30 am. The team is ready to go. Ten minutes and we have stopped, a check point. Turn down the music, open the curtains and at night switch on the lights. Soldiers who have been standing for hours under the sun look at you for few seconds and decide if you can pass straight away or you need to stop for a control. Ya3teek el-3afyeh, the drivers say. It’s a polite way for thanking those men for their job and wishing them the best. The more we drive the more tented settlements we see. Informal settlements, sometimes a few isolated tents, other times big areas completely covered. Finally I can see with my eyes what a refugee camp is. And suddenly I feel completely lost.
Al Nahriya School. The CCECS- AUB members explain to us how the modular schools that they designed were built, how much they cost and the time they took to construct. Their system is really simple and it works easily. It just missing something, an equipped space where children can play. This is what the CatalyticAction team noticed upon their first visit and some months later here we are; about to build a playground. Enthusiasm is spreading, everybody just wants to start working.
Drilling holes. Drilling, drilling, drilling. Thank God, Ronan “the big boy” is here. 128 holes to dry seems an impossible mission for a normal human being, but not for him. In the meanwhile the team prepares all the materials to use in the next days. Daily jobs: varnishing while singing and dancing, cutting timber, painting metal soldiers.
The sun is high in the sky and everything is simply perfect.
Working on a building site lets an architect understand how the structures he designed stand in real life. On a building site, you feel the materials. Suddenly a hope crosses my mind: “I wanna do it for all my life: designing and realising with my own hand”. Architecture belongs to people, both the ones who designed and realised it and the ones who are going to use it. Coffee break. Sugar needed, but the spoon is missing. Why not a screw? In emergency contexts, wheres you cannot have all the things you are used to, the brain works better and in few seconds a screw became a spoon. Everywhere cut-burned wood smell, love it.
The playground structure starts to be more and more clear. Pillars are on and the roof absence makes everything more romantic. The sky as a roof; amazing. It reminds me the Igreja do carmo, Lisbon, Portugal.
At the end of the day, almost all the beams are on too. Kids are coming to check out what is happening. The word is spreading quickly and suddenly we are invaded. The children were already able to play with the playground as it is. And this just makes you heart smiling.
Roof elements are on. This means that the first workshop is ending and we accomplished the mission. Sun is going down and satisfaction is tangible. What was just a skeleton at the beginning of the week is now a real structure. We already played with it, the kids did the same.
Some days off for the CatalyticAction team to discover the wonders of Lebanon. 30 mins away from the camp there are the Baalbeck ruins; one of the most well preserved archeological sites in the world. Roman architecture is mixed with local cultures and everywhere you can breathe history. I love this country, because they know how to make spaces that feel alive. In these days music festivals are organised all around the country. Baalbeck ruins host the jazz festival, where you can sit in the Roman Arena listening to good music. This is just amazing and lets me think again about the conservation principles they taught me at school. Respecting a place doesn’t mean letting the dust simply sit on it, but letting those spaces live and breathe with awareness of their value.
Tripoli and the north coast brings you back to the Mediterranean reality. Walking around in the small village of Anfeh reminds me the Greek islands, the south of Italy, the Spanish south coast. And I thought about how similar the countries facing the Mediterranean sea are in terms of peoples behaviour, food, traditions, smiles. In these moments, it hurts a lot to think about our sea that is no more just a life resource, but now too with a more deadly side.
Countdown for the next workshop. The CatalyticAction team are back to the site to start preparing the final days. The second workshop is mostly focused on the children interacting with the playground, so everything about the structure needs to be done. Sun is shining and melting on the road at midday sounds like a great idea. Nothing will stop them.
Sunset with friends on the mountain to recharge our energy before the final round, watching from the top of the holy valley. The wind is blowing fast and cold, so the panorama is more and more breathtaking.
Dima explains to us the workshop modality. During the morning we will all work on the playground equipment in order no finish. By noon, a group of around 20 children will come to enjoy it and the activities we organise. Children are used to playing in different way: acting, running, jumping, sporting, singing, using everything they have around. We all know it, everyone has been a child and luckily some of us are still a kids; at least inside. The colourful panels are on and the kids are painting pasta necklaces with their names on, in order for us to know them. They’ve never been used to having a special particular space where to play, so they are enthusiastic and nothing can stop them.
Just let the kids inside. The first game is on: the climbing wall. Few seconds and all the children want to check it out. But the first try is by Ronan.
Reaching the top, let them smile, laugh. Climbing the wall is a challenge for them and while one is trying, all the others are cheering on, shouting his/her name, helping with the hands from the bottom. We can just stand up and learn from their humanity.
While the playground is getting built, kids follow the activities organised by the CatalyticAction team. Dancing brings a feeling of jubilation. Running fast, running after, running for playing. Motion is the game.
Painting for dreaming. Drawing is a way to develop the imagination and it’s the first step to transform it into something real.
Ropes and wooden seats, time for swinging. Swings remind everybody of their childhood. Dangling legs, while looking at the sky, trying to get as high as possible, this is what a swing is.
Swinging is a dream, a way to escape the reality and fly, trying to reach the sky. Our children, because after two weeks we all started to use possessive adjectives, scream, laugh, smile. Swing effect is on.
Another element is on: the car. Odysseas is dealing with it.
The car panel is on and also the steering wheel. Children will sit in front of it and pretend to be driving. But something is missing: the car is facing a grey wall. Where are those kids driving to? A destination is needed. A black and white vortex suddenly appears and attracts the kids imagination. In this way they’ll drive wherever they want.
A few details are missing and the area surrounding the playground starts to be part of it.
The project starts to expand its perimeter. New CatalyticFriends are coming today, the students of the Agriculture Faculty will teach the kids how to take care for plants and at the same time make the school greener.
This experiment is a demonstration of humanities synergies. We met them randomly and they soon wanted to get involved. Thank you guys.
Today the playground is complete. The last panels are on, the safety rope took two days to be pulled, but it’s ready. Children are playing and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep them far away, just the time we need for finishing.
Before our departure, the children invited us to their place. They wanted to introduce us to their families, they wanted to thank us for the playground, they simply wanted us to be part of their life. We entered the tent, they look so different from inside. A family of six people is living inside and i’m looking around trying to figure out how they sleep.
The main room is approximately 6sqm with a single bed where I suppose the parents sleep and two small mattresses on the floor for the 4 kids. Then a wardrobe, a small tv, a fan. In the back a small room for the kitchen and the services. I cannot see inside, the lady entered quickly without letting me watch inside and came back with a warm sugar tea. They all smile and ask us about the project. The dad used to have a construction company, so asked us about techniques and materials. A normal conversation in a normal house, but this is not their house. It’s temporary accommodation that lasted four years. None of us can figure out how they manage to live there during the winter, but they do it.
They smile, they keep going, waiting for a visa in order to come back to work and build a new life in a new place. And it just makes me feel so small.
“the smile on you face,
let me know
that you need me.”
Twenty days are officially finished. The playground is there, complete.
I don’t wanna leave this place. I hope I can come here again, as soon as possible, just to check out how those kids are and I hope I won’t find them. I hope they’ll be able to go far away, start again. But it’s not time for hoping, it’s time to react and remember we are all human beings. It’s not about charity, it’s about being human. And while we are here, in Europe a wave of racism is killing the common sense. I don’t want to go back home, I don’t want to face it. I want to stay here and learn as much as possible from their energy and love.
Back to Beirut. Final days in Lebanon, a country where I spent one month and it simply flew away. I will come back, I swear. And I’ll share my experience at home, so everybody can get what is a CatalyticAction project.
CatalyticLove for the CatalyticTeam,
Thank you Lebanon,
by Enrico Porfido