A haven within

Almost nine months have passed since I arrived in Norway. I left Beirut in August 2018. A week before I had to leave, I received my graduation certificate from Action for Hope Music School. We, my sister and I, had to leave for another country to continue our education; that and the fact that we had no choice but to leave if we wanted to acquire valid residency permits. Recently, I felt it is rather difficult to finish my education in Lebanon. The same can be said about my sister, who was faced with a number of hurdles that precluded her from finishing her university studies, and so we sought a new life in Norway.

A day before my trip, we had a concert as part of a tour organized by the Action for Hope initiative in Saida, Tyre, Tripoli and Akkar. I was part of the ‘Zhourat’ musical ensemble. The scope of the tour was quite broad: we performed in five concert halls in several Lebanese areas, and the groups would exchange different tours and concerts. Two ensembles played in Saida while we had to play in another place, and then we went to Saida, and so on… When I was performing, and saw the reactions on the audience’s faces, I feel a sense of relief and ease over-washing me. It might be true that we are here because we had to flee the war, and we live so far from our homes, but we managed to bring some joy into the eyes and hearts of those for whom we performed. Sometimes, after the concert is over, they would come to us and present us with flowers. Such joys, no matter how minimal, are immensely precious to me, no more so than when those young men and women, who are of our age, would come to us after we were done, to tell us that they are interested in learning the instruments we played. You feel like you have become a role model to them. I’ve experienced that in the Shatila camp where I lived.

The concerts we would put together generated revenue, and I actually took pride in that. I was only 15 years old, and I was making the same amount of money as my parents who worked as volunteers with an international organization. I followed in my parents’ footsteps and became productive. Many of my friends survived on what money we would end up making, in addition to some bonuses we got during rehearsals. Some bought clothes, others used that money to get luxuries they enjoyed. I, on the other hand, gave most whatever I would make to my family, and the little I kept to myself I used to buy simple accessories.

I have felt an overwhelming affinity for music since a very young age. When I was a student at the Najda Now School in Chatila, one of the teachers asked me to try and join the music program at Action for Hope, after she noticed my passion for music. Action for Hope further solidified this passion of mine and gave me a great deal of confidence. Performing on stage is not as easy as you would think. I’ve also gotten the chance to meet new friends from outside my traditional environment. I have gained new friends and mentors from Palestine, Lebanon, and even Syrians who were from some parts of Syria that I have never heard of before. It was a very easy transition for me, and I’ve fostered a very strong bond with them. I talk to them almost every day from Norway, and send recordings of me playing to my teachers, seeking their advice. 

I’ve grown keener on playing music in Norway. Thanks to the internet, are living in an age where learning music is easily available to all. There is an abundance of means of learning for those who wish to do so. As such, I make sure to keep in touch with my old teachers, as well as trying to find new ones here in the hopes of improving my buzuq skills.

I was supposed to reunite with my old colleagues from Action for Hope last April, in a concert that would pair a Norwegian group with Action for Hope’s ensemble. My friends couldn’t make it, however, because they were unable to acquire visas and because of the residency complications in Lebanon. There was a silver lining, though, which was my old teacher Farah who came, and we got to play with that Norweigan group.

The concert was incredible in every sense of the word. We were able to connect with the Norwegians and found a sense of harmony with them. I can’t say I am not comfortable here on a financial, moral, and social level. But my heart yearns for the friendships and relationships I got to make in Action for Hope. I had a wonderful time there. The thing I remember the fondest was the tour that was organized. It was Eid, and our program was very extensive, between rehearsals and concerts. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun in a way I will never forget. Those memories might be what stayed with me most from my stay in Lebanon. I remember how we went swimming in Saida, the photographs we took with the teachers and the times we played football together. Our teachers treated us as close friends. I wish I could see my friends again, and all I want is to keep playing music. 

I take my buzuq everywhere I go. It’s my closest and most faithful companion: music is my only and true haven. Whenever I am sad, I play music, whenever I am happy, I play music.

Next August, I will be sixteen.

Author: Maha Fattouh

Activity: Music, Buzuq

Story collected and compiled by: Mona Merhi

Date and place: 31 May 2019 / Skype