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Shatila stories: Marwan Diab

Marwan Diab (Photo by Phil Coomes)

Marwan Diab was born in August 1973 in the family home in Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon. He is the fourth son of Muhammad Diab, born in 1931 in Birwah, Palestine. Marwan is married with four children, the oldest is Ahmed, 12.

My earliest memories are of the fear of attacks on the camp. Wars and killing and blood. I remember hiding behind my mother and father, seeking safety. We didn't understand why, what the political causes were.

If you want to know what I lived through in my childhood up to the end of the War of the Camps when I was 15 it would take a whole book. I never enjoyed a childhood where you could play and enjoy good things. My whole existence was fear.

Inside Shatila refugee camp

I studied until eighth grade at the Galilee school which was in the centre of the camp. It is gone now but it was meant to be a good school and I had many friends there, but the school was always being interrupted by war. We would have school for a week and then have to stay away.

When I was older we had a head teacher who had psychological problems, he used to terrorise the children and hit us. One day I hit him back and fled the school.

Some teachers tried to persuade me to return to lessons but I didn't want to. It was really bad, the teacher was a member of one of the factions, and he threatened to bring in armed men into the school to enforce discipline. In the end he was kicked out, but I was already gone by then.

I never became involved in politics, and never became a member of any armed group. I did what I could for the camp - like cleaning the streets or helping people.

Social life was limited to the camp. We didn't know anyone from outside but we knew everyone inside. Everyone is identifiable as so and so's son, or so and so's son.

I used to play the tabla (drum). We had a group, with a flute player and bagpipes and everything. We did folklore shows and Palestinian dabkeh.

Muhammad, Marwan and Ahmed in Shatila (Photo by Phil Coomes)

Now I have stopped because I have become more religious and the tabla could lead to forbidden behaviour, like women dancing for the entertainment of men. I felt the pressure on me to change my situation. I started thinking of my future. I started working on construction with my brothers.

I made frames for concrete pouring and I mixed the concrete by hand. We worked seven days a week, sometimes until the early hours of the morning, because when you do this job you have to carry on until you finish. When I was working with my brothers, it was like the saying, if you die, you die standing up.

But our business dried up and now I've been selling charcoal for people who smoke water pipes. I have little choice, you have to be patient and be convinced that your life is good. But there is very little profit because I cannot buy supplies in large enough amounts to keep my costs down.

I need money, but I cannot borrow from my family and the Lebanese banks won't lend to Palestinians, so I need to go to a welfare organisation.

I would love to get a visa to go to Sweden to join my brother, but how can I leave? I owe thousands of dollars to people in Lebanon who have already lent me money. I have a wife and four children here and the fifth one is on the way, so it is unlikely I will be able to get away from here.




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