19-01-2017 | 09:27
It’s 2:00 p.m. on a Thursday, and I’m caught in a massive traffic jam in one of Beirut’s busiest streets. I turn on the radio to keep myself preoccupied while I wait for my turn to pass through one of the security checkpoints.
The checkpoints had been placed a couple of years ago, after suicide bombers and occasional explosions struck Lebanon a while after the start of the crisis in Syria.
As I tuned into the radio, a boy – not older than 10 years old – knocked on the car window.
“Do you want a CD?” the boy asked. “It costs 2000 L.L. but if you buy 2 CDs, you can have them for 3000 L.L.”
The moment the boy speaks, you’d realize he’s not Lebanese; he uses a North Lebanese dialect but with a Syrian twist.
A long line of cars to the checkpoint was still ahead of mine, so I took the time and had a little tête-à-tête with the boy.
“Shouldn’t you be at school right now?” I asked.
The boy said, “I don’t go to school,” adding that he hasn’t been enrolled in school for a couple of years now since he came to Lebanon.
“My name is Abdullah, by the way,” the boy said.
I was surprised by the young boy’s outgoing personality. It is rare to meet children with such characters – a personality forged and hardened by experience.
Abdullah had met more people than I had in my childhood. Why not? If he roams the streets from dusk to dawn, talking to thousands of people passing by, drivers and passengers, just to sell a couple of CDs.
His family came with some relatives to Lebanon when the war in Syria began.
Abdullah told me that he is the oldest of 5 brothers and sisters, pointing to a 5-year-old boy selling packs of tissue papers at the far end of the street.
The young boy knows Beirut and its streets like none of us ever knew it before.
For him, these streets are the air he breathes; the streets are what keep him and his family alive.
Abdullah said that before they came to Lebanon, his family lived in a farmhouse in their village in Syria. During weekends, he would help in feeding the animals while his father ploughed the farm.
He said he was not that bright at school, but of all subjects, he liked Maths the most.
In his eyes, you’d see the sorrow of an aged man! A boy burdened with the responsibility of an entire family.
Abdullah said he misses his cousin, Yasser.
Both boys strolled the streets of Beirut together; that was then, when Yasser’s family hadn’t left Lebanon yet.
Unlike Abdullah, Yasser was an only child. His parents, Abdullah’s relatives, had fewer mouths to feed. That’s why they were able to save some money and take refuge in Germany two years ago.
The crisis in Syria had torn families apart. It had killed thousands of innocent civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands of others to neighboring countries.
More than 80 per cent of Syria’s child population are now affected by the conflict, which is some 8.4 million children.
Based on a United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR] estimate, the toll of displaced Syrians is 4,862,778 with more than 2.3 million of them children.
According to a UNICEF report, an estimated 3.7 million Syrian children – 1 in 3 of all Syrian children – had been born since the conflict began five years ago, their lives shaped by violence, fear and displacement, with more than 151,000 children born as refugees since 2011.
Providing children with learning has been one of the most significant challenges to the conflict in Syria. School attendance rates in the country had hit rock bottom with more than 2.1 million children inside Syria, and 700,000 in neighboring countries, are out-of-school.
It makes you wonder, what kind of a world it would be for Syrians with a large number of its youth growing illiterate?
In his life, days are running into days that are exactly the same. At least until Abdullah goes back to Syria – the Syria which has changed a lot since he had last been there.
The war-torn Syria. The standing-strong Syria. The persevering Syria. The prevailing Syria.
It was my turn to the checkpoint. I didn’t buy the CD. But what I’m sure of is that I’d always meet Abdullah, or many other Abdullahs in the streets of Lebanon.