“Is there a grass field available for the kids?” was the first question I asked. And I was instantly met with sarcasm and baffled eyes.
“Of course there’s no grass,” was the response I got.
I had seen pictures of refugee camps before, but honestly, never really looked at them.
My eyes would only glance long enough to see the rubble, wooden houses held together by blankets, and barefoot children.
I wouldn’t look at the tore down and exhausted faces beaming at me. I simply couldn’t.
And so when preparing for a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in the Bekka Valley of Lebanon, I was expecting weary eyed kids and defensive parents.
Surprisingly, I was met with full-blown smiles, contagious laughter, and the energy to uplift the weariest frown.
Before entering the camp, we were ushered into the Malala School for Syrian Refugees where we had some icebreakers with the girls and then asked them to show us around the camp – or more accurately, what had become their home.
At first the girls, aged 11-18, were expectedly shy.
As we stood around in our ‘getting-to know-each-other-circle’ they kept their arms close to their bodies and tucked themselves in.
The first icebreaker was to walk into the middle of the circle, say your name and something you like.
At their turn, the girls would run in, excited to introduce themselves and eager to meet us.
Across the entire circle I could not see a single frown.
In the middle of Bekka Valley, in a school with rubble instead of grass, and a refugee camp for neighbors, the girls radiated nothing but positive energy.
They were more than happy to show us around the camp, taking us by the hand and leading us down a path of rubble.
Walking through houses made of sheets even the residents came out and welcomed us.
Warm smiles everywhere, in the midst of a dusty, exposed and isolated living arrangement.
That is when I asked myself how much strength is needed to put a smile on your face after you’ve survived a war, displacement, and relocation to what was basically the middle of nowhere.
How is it that such young girls find the will to carry through, move on and find happiness in an area full of sorrow?
How can we, blessed with numerous privileges ever complain?
That same day, I had not slept well and was fighting a few frowns myself every now and then.
Hearing continuous laughter whilst playing, speaking and getting to know the girls, slapped me right across the face.
If they can wake up, go to school, live through the hardship of being displaced, I can get over one night’s bad sleep.
And so I quietly admired the flowers that grew from concrete. Amazed by their strength, astonished at their will, and proud of their endurance.