art of resistance, Jordan, Syria

The Champs-Elysées in Zaatari Camp.

cover1loresj/photo by Toufic Beyhhum/

The photo pretty much says it all. The following is a photo-essay by Toufic Beyhum and Nadim Dimechkie. You must be wondering about the connection between one of the world’s largest refugee camps (which is gradually evolving into a permanent settlement) and the famous boulevard (the paradise for dead heroes) in Paris? Well, read on, and find out all about it – thanks to the work of Beyhum and Dimechkie, titled What remains when all is lost?

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“The salesman on the Champs-Elysées displays the shiny black shoes in neat, even rows. Each time the wind picks up, each time a truck roars past, they are drowned in billows of fine desert sand. And each time, the salesman dusts the sand off each shoe, wipes it down and places it back in line. Another cloud of sand may come along any moment, but the shoes will stay clean.

Named by French aid workers, this Champs-Elysées is the main high street in the Za’atari refugee camp, a three year old Syrian city in Jordan where 130,000 refugees are trying to make a living somewhere they do not wish to live. Most have left their homes, trades, families, and material possessions behind and they want to go back now. But until they do, they must manage with what they have left. And what they have left lies within.”

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“Atallah has revived the family bakery here on the Champs-Elysees: the bread is delicious. Mounib has established an impressive perfume shop—which he insists is nowhere near as good as the one his family ran in Syria for generations. Rashed, 14, leaves the camp to buy furniture from Jordanian merchants and comes back to sell it, much as his family once did back home. Where tradition fails, resourcefulness steps in. There are no cars here, and law and order is the preserve of the UN. So Abdul Mansoor, once a policeman in Syria, now makes phenomenal falafels. Omar was a car mechanic; now he sells second-hand clothes.

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“Some jobs have been invented before anyone’s come up with a name for them. What do you call the kids who use wheelbarrows to help people with their shopping for tips, or to resell UNHCR blankets and tents so they can buy what they really need? What do you call the welder-joiners who fuse impossible things from impossible combinations of materials, or the makers of custom-made flat-bed trolleys designed to shift shipping-container homes between buyers and sellers?”

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“A combination of good governance and the opportunity for dignity has quelled many of these less desirable elements, while providing opportunities for the better instincts to grow. For some, there is even excitement here—in the relative law and order, in the electricity (which some Syrian villagers had never had on tap before), in the entrepreneurial opportunities. But nobody wants to be here. For all their ability to survive the present moment, no one can build lasting happiness here, for that would mean accepting their fate. Still, there is enough tradition and resourcefulness to make life bearable.”

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“And there is always pride – another resource from within. Pride keeps the streets tidy and the wedding dresses moving. Pride keeps the homes orderly, the teenaged boys groomed and fragrant, the barbershops busy. Pride keeps the shoe salesman in business.”

/all photos © Toufic Beyhum/

• • •

This is not the full story and these are not all photos. Please read & see it all on Toufic Beyhum’s official website.

For more on Zaatari refugee camp, you can see some previous posts:

Inside Zaatari: Being a Teenager in a Refugee Camp

The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp

The World(s) of Refugee(s)

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