Travel

A cafe where young people from rival neighborhoods of Tripoli learn to live together

“Kahwetna” (“Our Cafe”) unites young people from the neighborhoods of Beb el Tebaneh, mostly Sunni, and Yabal Mohsen, mainly Alawites, who for years clashed in the city of Tripoli (north of Lebanon) and now learn to know each other and overcome their differences.

The coffee is located on Syria Street, which marked the “border” between the two districts during the clashes that left hundreds of victims in the past and a destroyed and marginalized area.

Lea Barudy, founder of the NGO March, devised this meeting point after having united the young people in a play, “Love and war on the roof: a story of Tripoli”, an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare with local protagonists of the two rival neighborhoods.

Barudy explains to Efe that, during that first project, he realized that “young people took the path of violence not for ideological reasons, but because of poverty, marginalization, lack of hope in a better future and the feeling of injustice. ”

In addition, “there was no space where they could meet (in the city) and learn to know each other and themselves,” as well as having a trade and participating in cultural activities, which is what March offers them.

The organization employs groups of 70 young ex-combatants, who carry out temporary projects and contribute to the repair of commercial establishments on Syria Street, formerly known as the “golden street” for its flourishing businesses.

One of them is precisely “Kahwetna”, opened a year and a half ago and that, little by little, has been attracting more people with its cultural activities, photography courses, languages, dance …

The girls have also started coming to this cafeteria, which mainly gathers customers who come from the capital, Beirut, as many in Tripoli still fear sitting in it.

“They manipulated the young people of both neighborhoods, who are vulnerable, telling them that their miserable situation was caused by the other,” says Barudy, who reveals that they have received threats on some occasions or people who “cause problems.”

Four waiters work at the premises, two from Bab el Tebaneh and two from Yabal Mohsen.

One of them is Ali Hames, 23, who took up arms at age 16 to feed his family.

“When a friend died, I was like a brother, I began to reflect and I realized that 80 percent of the conflict is political and when someone dies, nobody asks for him, more than his family and friends,” Hames relates.

Another bartender, Ahmad Chaabe, 29, married and the father of a 3-year-old, believes that local politicians played with them: “I was wounded several times and I realized that we were hurting ourselves first ”

Now, he affirms that he is aware that the people of Yabal Mohsen are the same as the people in his neighborhood and, thanks to the NGO March, they can work together.

Among them are also two young Sunni Lebanese who went to Syria to fight: Wasef Menad and Abdel Rahman Seided.

“We saw what happened (in the neighboring country) and we returned, thanks to March we are now having a life”, they declare to Efe.

Shortly after noon, the coffee is filled with people that March helps and offers free food and drink.

There is also a group of ten girls who attend a drawing course and whose creations adorn the premises of the humanitarian organization, with which people from other parts of Lebanon collaborate.

The drawing teacher, Joan Nassif, comes every day from Beirut, about 80 kilometers away, to teach her classes and support these people who lived in “an unacceptable precariousness”, according to her words.

“It is a great satisfaction for me to see their finished and exposed projects,” he says.

And he adds that these young people could do “many things”, but “unfortunately the politicians of Tripoli think only of their personal interests and not those of the people”.