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?


“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.”



“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.



“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?”



“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.”



“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)

art of resistance, Jordan, Syria

Inside Zaatari: Being a Teenager in a Refugee Camp.

Zaatari refugee camp is the world’s second largest refugee camp, a home to about 150,000 refugees (Fall 2013 estimates). Couple of months ago, I wrote about Rena Effendi’s project The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp, and today I am happy to present a lovely initiative from Zaatari I stumbled upon this week. The tumblr site Inside Zaatari is run by teenagers living in the camp:

“We’re teenagers living in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, seven miles from the border of our home country, Syria. We’re using iPhone photography to document our lives.”

The site was created following a visit to Zaatari refugee camp by Magnum photographer Michael Christopher Brown. Brown spent a week in the camp in August, teaching iPhone photography skills to ten teenagers displaced by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Everything on the site is their photos, and their voices – a new and unique portrait of life as a teenager in a refugee camp.

Here are some of the photos together with their thoughts about this project.


“In the future, if I become a good photojournalist and if I become famous, I’ll get the chance to leave this place to take pictures.”            ► Khaled ◄



“When I hold the camera up to take a picture of someone I see things through the lens that can’t be seen with the naked eye.”             ► Samar ◄



“Being a good photographer does not depend on the kind of camera you have but on the way you take your pictures.” ► Nour ◄



“Photography gives me a space to express myself. It allows me to follow my dream to become a journalist.”     ► Hiba ◄



“The iphone project allowed me to move around the camp more than usual and to go to places I did not know.” ► Rahma ◄

tumblr_nel020Ducd1u1loybo1_1280/all images via Inside Zaatari/

For more on this lovely project supported by Save The Children, visit the Inside Zaatari tumblr.


art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Jordan, Syria

The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp.

I already posted about Rena Effendi and her project Pipe Dreams. She is definitely a photographer to follow, with many great projects behind her.

One of them is The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp.

Artist statement:

“Of the 124,000 people living in Zaatari, Jordan, the world’s second largest refugee camp, 54% are women and 42% of the families there are headed by women. The life of Syrian women in Zaatari is harsh and potentially dangerous – harassment is a reality and rape a nighttime possibility. The refugee women I encountered there told stories of death, deprivation, suffering and sacrifice. All of them went through major trauma of losing their homes and family members in the war. However, they refused to be portrayed as victims. As they struggle with the stigma of being refugees and cope with a loss of place and belonging these women showed remarkable resilience, definite dignity and an astounding ability to hope. They each had different ways to achieve some sort of normalcy in an inhumane situation – some by opening businesses, others by serving their community while always supporting each other. One woman I met there had even recreated – to the best of her ability – her kitchen from Syria in a small shipping container, where she lived in cramped spaces. It was the act of remembering that gave her the strength to survive.”

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o1_1280Schoolteacher Amal Hourani, 28 in Zatari refugee camp in Jordan. Hourani turned her volunteer teacher position into a paid job and now earns $310 a month. The first thing she bought with her paycheck was a washing machine.

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o5_500Zeinab Dagher, 20. “I came here with my family, there are six of us. I used to study, to read, then I stopped and started doing this work.” She works in a tailor workshop from 8am to 6pm, five days a week. She gets paid $4 a day. “I didn’t want to do this in my life, I wanted to just continue reading and studying… Our house was hit 3 days after we left it. I wish I brought so many things with me, I wish I brought everything. I left everything behind and came here.”

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o6_1280Hadiyee Malak, 27, sits in a beauty salon, waiting to have her eyebrows threaded. She used to be a hairdresser in Syria but is not working in Zaatari. “It takes a lot of money to set a place like this up,” Malak says, explaining why she isn’t working in her trade. “It’s for financial reasons, to be honest with you.”

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o7_1280Em Odai, the owner of a beauty salon in the camp, with her two-year-old son, Odai. “Here, there is nothing,” she says. “We try and recreate some things from our past, we try, but it can’t be done. It is not the same. It’s just that when you remember, when you think back to Syria, everything about it is better, even its air. That’s enough for me – just to breathe its air again.”

MCX030114_341Rana Mokdad, 24, works as an assistant in a beauty salon run by a fellow refugee.

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o10_1280Asil, 22, Nada, 22, and Siba, 24. The friends are Syrians who have been living in Jordan for years. They are university students, part of a group of 90, who are helping Syrian refugees living outside Zaatari adjust to their new lives. They rely on donations from family friends, and they also contribute $10 a month from their own pockets. They offer rent assistance to some families, gather and donate clothes, blankets and other essentials, as well as organize day trips for children to parks.

// all photos © Rena Effendi/INSTITUTE //

For more on this project, go to the INSTITUTE.

For more on Effendi and her work, go to her official website.