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July 23, 2018

From Istanbul to Bekaa | Sara Naja | MArch ’19

by snaja

Having completed the first part of my internship in Istanbul, leaving was bittersweet. I was eager to get to Beirut and start the second phase, but I had gotten accustomed to being in Turkey. I will be back in Istanbul in a couple of weeks though. I have gotten used to the people in Turkey and getting around not on the subway as it still confuses me. I did some more sightseeing and visited the Grand Bazaar that contains shops of all kinds from clothes to furniture to souvenirs. Part of it is the Spice Market famous for its various teas, herbs, and spices and filled with Arabs. The shopkeepers are persistent and try to convince you to buy from their stores. I could not stop too long at a shop and browse through before walking away to avoid someone attempting to convince me to buy. Moreover, I also walked along the Bosphorus that is always overcrowded with people taking walks, fishing, eating, and all sorts of activities.

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As for Karam House, the modifications on the building in Istanbul began last week and have been going strong. After meeting with contractors, suppliers, and potential mentors, a contractor was hired to oversee the modifications. In addition to that, a mentor was hired who also an architect and helping out with designs and planning. We are working together on finalizing details for the modifications as well as custom items that need to be designed. Moreover, we have collaborated on educational details such as potential studio topics. Topics are in the process of being brainstormed and assessed from playground design to prosthetic design to robotics.

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Arriving in Beirut, I could see the familiar skyline of my hometown from the small airplane window. I have been here for about a week and have continued working on Karam House Istanbul. It has been a hectic week in terms of keeping up with Turkey and starting the new project here. A playground for refugee kids living in camps in the Bekaa valley is nearing completion. There are discussions concerning another playground for the kids in Lebanon as well as one in Turkey. I have been meeting with the local team and visiting the existing playground to assess it through casual conversations with children. It takes some prep for the children to get comfortable enough to talk to someone they do not know. Moreover, the weather is very hot and humid currently in Lebanon and not as much children are playing outside during the day. Some children are in school as well, but unfortunately a lot of them do not attend school and work to help support their families. It is saddening to see children so young being forced to work and living in such bad condition. The playground acts as a space for them to be children and act their age.

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The circumstances of refugees in Turkey are different than those in Lebanon as living conditions are worse in Lebanon. Refugee camps are rare in Turkey, but very common in Lebanon mainly in the Bekaa area due to the higher living expenses in Lebanon. This affects the refugee culture as a whole making them feel more displaced in Lebanon without really fitting in the country and seeing it as their new home. It has been enlightening to use my skills as an architect in such diverse ways especially socially. My experience has been going smooth and very eye opening to the severe problems the Syrian was has caused. Reading about refugees and even watching the news does not compare to seeing firsthand the so called lives they are living now.

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