Our oldest camper at Camp Rafiqi Tripoli is Muhammad Ahmed Loubani at age 21. But if you call him “Muhammad” around camp, everyone will look at you strangely; he is known only as “Maestro”. As his pseudonym suggests, Maestro is an incredibly talented musician. I learned this on the first day when the afternoon session turned into a dance party because of his improvisational Arabic music on the keyboard. At this point in the post, I realize that I left out necessary information to convey how extraordinary Maestro is: he was born completely blind.
A rising senior in high school, Maestro is torn between a couple ambitions for the future. First, when he grows up he wants to be a journalist. As he said, “I want to cover everything, society. I want to go other societies and study them.” I joked back, “So, you want to be an anthropologist, right?” He replied with optimism, “Really? Can you help me… I want to go to college. I don’t know where. I want to leave this country because it’s limited here. Outside I can go farther.”
On the other hand, Maestro wants to continue to study music at a conservatory. He started learning piano about 9 years old, and now he can play the flute, piano, and ood (a predecessor to the guitar). As you can see from this clip, Maestro is much more than a camper to us because has taken the role of music instructor to the younger campers. He teaches them songs such as “Shater, Shater” (in the clip above), and accompanies other campers and counselors as they use the drums. Here you can see our volunteer Henry trying to keep up.
Maestro is also a camp favorite because he has a very witty sense of humor. He kept cracking jokes throughout our interview. For example, when we asked him if he finds it difficult to be a blind person in Lebanon, he told us a story about when he once accidently stepped on a man’s shoes in the street. The man got so angry about his shoe that he threw Maestro into a cake store and he fell on a brand new cake!
On the other hand, some of his stories didn’t have that silver lining of humor. He explains:
Sometimes people think that I can see because I open my eyes, but I can’t. I went through a military checkpoint and they asked for my ID card, and I gave them the card that said that I was blind, but they didn’t believe me. They shouted “are you lying to us!?”, and they told me to put my hands up and put a gun in my face. For two hours they interrogated me like this. I look sighted, and that’s why I keep getting into trouble.
All of our blind campers could tell you stories like this, and this is why many of them look to the United States for refuge. He’s very curious about how the blind do things in America, asking Mona how she lives alone, if she lives close to home, how often she gets to see her family, etc.
At the end of our interview, Maestro expressed his appreciation for Camp Rafiqi. When we asked what he liked about the camp, he replied:
Everything I have no negative comments. It was a positive influence. I like meeting a lot of people, I like the concept, and more than that, I like meeting people who are more open to the world. I like the microcosm that was built here—I don’t mind meeting blind people here, but outside it’s different. There, if I meet other blind people, it’s not the same, I wouldn’t fit in with everyone else. I would like this duplicated in Lebanese society, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Inshallah.
“Inshallah”, which translates to “God willing”, permeates conversations in Lebanon. The Lebanese have such great hopes for themselves, hopes that keep many living in Lebanon despite the fact that their lives could be much better—much easier—in America. Unfortunately, the systems and politics of Lebanon circumscribe the lives of disadvantaged citizens into a very narrow frame. At ETI, we are frustrated by these limits this society imposes on the blind, but we also wish that our campers will be able to transcend limits without crossing national borders. It’s a long road ahead, but we hope we’re moving in the right direction together. Inshallah.