Yesterday your aunt Wafaa and I took you to your two-year-checkup. Next to the doctor’s office is a spacious playground for children, one of many around the city and of course, we had all the sandbox toys with us in preparation.
While you played in the sand, baked “cakes”, kept random toddlers from your toys and pestered me about wanting “fafee” (coffee, we got ourselves two cappuccinos to go), your aunt and I were getting seriously depressed about our home city, Beirut. In all likelihood, you will never live there for any significant period of time but it is a city that had so much potential, and achieved (almost) none of it.
It is the city of concrete. Any greenery is limited. Your aunt, noticed just as I did when I first had you, that what we take here as self-evident in Germany, is non-existent back home.
If you are a mother in Aachen, and don’t have the benefit of a large garden or space (or abundant cash), there is a children’s playground every few blocks. Open space, trees, swings, slides and sand boxes for kids to run, be wild and get messy, as kids should be. You don’t have to own a car, you don’t have to take a bus and you don’t need to pay anything. Free space for kids to be kids.
And if the playground is not up to par, there is a number to call and they’ll have it fixed in a very reasonable time (I can’t tell you how impressed I was when I called about loose bricks in a sandbox and the problem was taken care of in a few days).
If you are a mother in Beirut, and don’t have the benefit of a large garden or space (very few really do in Beirut), well, tough luck. The concept of children’s playground is unknown. Unless you live in the fancy areas near downtown or the Rawshe (the promenade by the sea), for most people there are no playgrounds to be reached by foot. You will have to drive or take a cab to these places to have some space for the kids to run around.
The only place where I have seen a children’s playground in Beirut was at the American University of Beirut. So if your mother or father is a university employee, lucky break but in all likelihood, you still have to drive in the horrible Beirut traffic to get there. Sorry, my bad, there are a few playgrounds at the different malls but it is still a nasty drive.
It made us sad and frustrated. It also made us loud and animated (and attracted a few stares). I keep wondering about how do the lower income families in Lebanon, particularly Beirut, manage. I do know they are not thinking/worrying about playgrounds; mostly likely their big issues are affording food and rent. I wonder about all the pleasures of childhood you will grow up with taking for granted, and those poor children will never know. Playgrounds, petting zoos, affordable swimming pools, parks, biking lanes, etc.
But so far all I do is wonder, lament and go on with my daily life. I’m just clueless as how to help.