The Difference Between

Sabra. Beirut, Lebanon. 8 August 2019. Photo Credit : Shelby Mathis

Sabra. Beirut, Lebanon. 8 August 2019. Photo Credit : Shelby Mathis

After a very long day of work, I returned to my Airbnb and had my very own happy hour – Lebanese wine and my favorite Lebanese nuts. Shortly after I commenced the festivities, I had a grit in my mouth. Later I found a part of my tooth missing. I was pretty sure cracking that pistachio loosened a filling in one of my problem back teeth. 

Then I panicked. I only had 3 weeks left in Beirut and I had to go to a dreaded dentist in Beirut?? In 15 years, I have never visited a dentist in Beirut. Because, Beirut. Isn’t pulling teeth used as a method of torture? Does that seem like something that would happen in Beirut? While that might be my vivid imagination running wild, I don’t like going to the dentist in my own country, why would I want to try that in another country? 

It also makes me feel vulnerable. You are at the mercy of someone with a drill while you sit there with your mouth open and wait for the pain. I hate everything about it. Now, I kept thinking about trying to talk to someone in Arabic…with a drill in my mouth. The thought terrified me and add in Arabic and the fact that the Lebanese are way tougher than Americans. Would they even numb me up???

I only had to wait for two days to get an appointment. The receptionist spoke perfect English, so I felt pretty comfortable. When I arrived, the dentist was a SHE and SHE was Australian and spoke perfect English. My fear of allowing a Lebanese man to drill into my head was all for naught! 

My bad tooth was fixed in 45 minutes for fifty bucks! 

In contrast, two days before this, with a hole in my tooth, I got lost. But I get lost a lot. In Bourj, I get lost every single time I enter the camp. I knew where I was going...until I didn’t. I walked past the checkpoint, straight, right (past other assorted checkpoints), and then right. But Bourj is like a maze and that last right felt like a mistake, I looked up and was at Haifa hospital. Which is a good landmark for me because I knew where I was and where I wasn’t. I was lost…in a maze of wires, trash, and traffic. So, I admitted defeat, placed a phone call, and waited to be collected by someone. 

It was actually a left I was supposed to make, not a right. Dammit. 

As I waited, I noticed a car patiently snaking its way through the narrow, crowded streets. I moved out of the way, as the hospital was its obvious destination. I noticed a young man in the back seat, passed out, his head laying on (what I assumed) his mom’s lap. Two men jumped out, opened the back door and one slung this young man’s limp body over his shoulder and carried him into the hospital which looks more like a rundown clinic. I averted my eyes after a few seconds because it felt like I was invading their privacy by watching. 

The woman sat in the backseat for quite some time, staring blankly. 

I wondered what happened, my suspicion was a drug overdose, but I quickly thought that I was unqualified to make that assumption. I did wonder if he would receive the care he needed at this UNRWA hospital and if he’d be alright. I feared he wouldn’t be. 

I thought about the effort it took to get him there, friends taking him in their car, his mother holding his head still while the car jostled all of them around. There was no ambulance, no paramedics, no urgent care. 

Quality healthcare is not a given in the camps. Other basic human needs such as electricity, water, trash removal, and civil defense are not basic rights for refugees. What happens if your house is on fire? Or you need urgent medical care? 

I have been haunted by the image of the young man. I have wondered what the difference is between him and I. I received good medical care in Beirut recently. I have received good medical care in America because I have health insurance, I pay a lot for it and I complain a lot. But, I have it. Can you imagine your life without the basic infrastructure that I mentioned above? Or do you only think about it when you grumble about the bill? Can you imagine how much mental space it must take up to worry about your basic needs?

It’s always funny to me when Americans comment how much people in the Middle East hate us and think of destroying us. Yes, comical to me. Because it denotes our privilege. They are too busy figuring out how to survive their life – worrying about the electricity and how they will afford to feed their families. They have to think about how to take their unconscious son to a rundown UNRWA hospital in a refugee camp without an ambulance so he can maybe receive somewhat debatable adequate medical care. 

We’re the ones with the mental space to think about such things.

What is the difference between the breath in that young man’s body or my body? Or the little children I saw fidgeting in their preschool class two hours later? Or the jerk of a Lebanese taxi driver I had on my way home? Or the lovely young lady that blew me a kiss and served me coffee this morning at my favorite coffee shop? 

Why do we afford rights and privilege only to some? 

Why do we act as though there is a difference?

Suzann MollnerComment