Welcome to Radio HAKAYA – حكايا the official podcast series of Brush and Bow. These podcasts report stories of the life and displacement amongst Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian communities in Lebanon. By focusing on individual stories, we hope to convey the complex realities of life herein Lebanon: people’s memories, present experiences and hopes for the future.
This interview is with a female Shawisha named Labeeba. The word Shawish – a masculine word in Arabic – was traditionally used in Lebanon to refer to men who managed foreign labour in Lebanon. However, since the start of the Syrian war and influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the word has come to mean the person nominated to act as a leader for each tent settlement. Most Shawish are men and often rule the camp to their own advantage, taking a cut of peoples rent, syphoning off aid and controlling where people work.
However, tucked away just off the main highway that runs up through Lebanon to Syria is a camp run by a woman. Here is our interview with her.
Labeeba: My name is Labeeba, from Hama countryside
Roshan: When did you come to Lebanon?
Labeeba: We came in 2014, me, my father and my sister. We don’t have any work here, we just stay at home.
Roshan: Do you have children?
Labeeba: No, I am single. The people here asked me to be the Shawisha, we were only 2-3 tents [when we first arrived] then our relatives came from Al Beqaa and they made me the Shawisha. There are no men here, or only very few. We are all women in this camp! And as I am single I more fit to be in the
position of Shawish, because a married woman is more restricted by her children. She can’t go to the UNHCR center with her kids and I am here in the camp all the time, whereas the men go to work and so cannot be in the camp all the time.
Roshan: And the men? Where are the men, are they at work, or still in Syria?
Labeeba: Some are in Syria and some are searching for work, but they are not here, they are never here.
Other woman: She is always present here with us in the camp. When we feel sick she takes us to doctor, she brings our stuff, anything we need she does it for us. For example, if we can’t bring water [to our tent] she gets it for us. Not only for me, but for all the camp.
Labeeba: Only the International Solidarity Committee came to the camp once, to install the bathrooms and levelled the camp’s ground with stones. No other organization came to see us. We’ve done everything on our own, providing
medications, going to the doctors, all without aid.
David: There is no organization that provides other supports? The UN or any other?
Labeeba: No, none at all, if we go to clinic we pay 30000 or 50000 L.L according to the medicine the doctor prescribes to you. We don’t have a school here too, it is also on our own expense, some students can go some can’t, as for the journey [to take them to school with local busses] it costs 25000 L.L and some parents can’t afford it, if you have four children how can you afford 100.000 L.L ? Sometimes I call the landlord to tell her there a new family arrived in the camp, asking if they can live in a tent. Also the landlord is a woman here.
Roshan: Really? All women here for real! [laughter]
Labeeba: If there is a woman its better.
Labeeba: Because you can talk and act freely with her. With men, this can’t be done. [Dealing with] women is better.
Other Woman: I’m a woman, you [pointing at Roshan] are a woman. As women, we can feel each other, know each other. Men can’t do that. You know what I mean?
Labeeba camp; Other women: The future will be difficult. Our situation is so bad both here and in Syria. In Syria we have nothing left, our houses are destroyed. If the situation doesn’t get better there, we’ll have to remain here. There is no future in Syria, what should we do? Before the war, things were good in Syria. We had our own lands, we grew crops, had free water supplies and lived in our own houses. Here a tent only costs 50,000 L.L per month, with electricity bills of 50,000 – 100,000 L.L per month.
Other woman: I am in debt of about 450,000 for tent rental and electricity bill.
Labeeba: [The landlady] says if she can’t afford to pay she’s got to move out and find another place.
David: Now in Syria there is [an estimate of] 80% women to 20% men. So maybe women should go in politics, in the army…
Other women: We already have women in the military in Syria, but not a woman president or of high grade in the military, those are only [places for] men.
But to have a woman Shawish here is much better. A Shawisha for example, would never take stuff from other people
David: Who faces more problems living in Lebanon, men or women?
Labeeba: The man are more free, they can move and work, but the woman where can they go? Recently a woman with her husband went to Syria to see a doctor in Damascus, but her husband was arrested at the border checkpoint and taken to the military compulsory service. She is alone now.
Other woman: Who?
Labeeba: Nadra. He’s with the army, and she…
Other Woman: Nadra left?
Labeeba: Really, Nadra left since a month and a half!
Other Woman: For God’s sake, why?
Labeeba: She had to see a doctor because she can’t have children.
Surely the man’s situation is better than womens’.
This interview was taken in the refugee camps of northern Lebanon. For more information: Radio HAKAYA – حكايا
Project Managers: David Suber and Roshan de Stone
Interviews and Editing: David Suber and Roshan de Stone
Illustration: Hannah Kirmes-Daly