Burj Barajneh, The office.
We work in the wild, wild west of the Middle East. The day starts with a crazy taxi race through bazaars and boulevards down to south Beirut. On the city’s outskirts, Max and I meet Ahmad and hail a mototaxi who is willing to do what the police won’t; enter Burj Barajneh. The office.
I can’t describe the vibe. Real, that’s the best I can do. Everything feels more real; the fragility of life, joy, pain, hope, suffering, pride and love. Life’s invisibles are illuminated. Everything’s still raw; the housing, infrastructure, the war. Emotions are stronger here, there’s more jeopardy, higher risk but more reward.
It’s crowded: 30,000 people live in just 1 sq km. There are many areas the locals don’t allow us to go, too dangerous. But we want to earn the trust and respect of the entire camp; it would be nice to have a few more lunch options.
Classroom and pitch,
We head to the classroom. The kids who are too young for our school gather outside, eager to chat. Except we don’t share a language. So we say footballers names at each other until the older kids are sat down and ready to learn. Boys and girls sit together, it’s the only time they share surroundings and an important tool in promoting gender equality amongst the next generation.
Then we move onto the pitch, using the new vocabulary learnt in the classroom in our training exercises so the two sessions complement each other. Ahmad, a Palestinian refugee who now plays professionally in the Lebanese Premier League, leads the coaching. This gives the kids a real life look at what they can achieve with dedication and hard work.
Max and I stand on the sidelines, helping out when possible and joining in if necessary.
We’ve travelled together over fifteen years, twenty countries and visited thirty plus stadiums to find the one we now call home. When we’re somewhere mad he’s by my side but if something goes bad he’s got my back.
Apart from when he’s filming. Then he’s chasing angles through alleyways and flying drones over the pitch. We’re always filming something in the camp, spreading awareness is the only way for this project to succeed.
Too soon, darkness fell and Ahmad escorted us to the camp’s border where shared taxis zoom you back into Lebanon. As we battled into rush hour Beirut, the chaos of the camp faded into a serene pink. The taxi driver flicked his head towards the sunset. “How is it in there?”
I smiled. “Pretty wild.”