Lucia C. Mock, 27, daughter of West Falmouth residents William F. and Carmina Mock, has been teaching English in Burj el-Barajneh, a refugee camp in the heart of Beirut, Lebanon, since last October.
The camp, which measures one square kilometer, is home to an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people, mainly Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
Lucia Mock recently described her first walk into the interior of the camp.
“I could feel my anxiety level rising,” she said. “The deeper we got into the camp, the less sunlight we could see. You could feel the spaces closing in on you.”
The camp is a jumble of stacked makeshift housing and cramped alleys. There are “huge electrical and sanitation issues,” she said. “The electrical wires sort of run like cobwebs, like a roof, over the alleyways. It’s very unsafe. There’s a lot of deaths by electrocution.”
It was a Wednesday morning in late March, and Lucia Mock spoke about the camp via Skype from a laptop computer placed on her mother’s dining room table.
The group huddled around the computer consisted of Pamela D. Pelletreau, wife of a former US ambassador to Egypt, Mary G. Swope, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, and Lucia’s mother, Carmina Mock.
Carmina Mock visited her daughter in Beirut in January, and accompanied her to Burj el-Barajneh.
“I could not believe it, shocking beyond words,” Carmina Mock said of the camp.
Lucia Mock teaches English to a group of women at the camp’s learning center on Saturdays and Mondays.
She said that when she visits the camp “the most overwhelming emotion is—and this sounds corny—but amazement.”
“The camp is a city, there are shops and mechanics,” she continued. “They’ve created lives in the middle of absolute destitution and poverty. Conditions are appalling, and yet every Saturday and Monday we have these women show up who are so eager to learn and place this automatic trust and love in us as English teachers.”
Carmina Mock met one of her daughter’s Syrian students, a 27-year-old mother of triplets named Ansam. Lucia and Carmina recounted a poignant exchange among the three women.
Ansam asked Lucia, “Do you love your mother?”
“Of course,” Lucia said. “Do you love your mother?”
Ansam replied, “My mother died last year—here.”
“That broke my heart,” Carmina said. “Dying is bad enough. But dying here in this ugly place, away from home. I was moved to my bone marrow.”
Burj el-Barajneh began as a Palestinian refugee camp in 1948, but has recently absorbed an influx of Syrian refugees, fleeing violence in their home country.
In Beirut, Lucia Mock said, “The streets are filled with beggars who are Syrian refugees who back home probably had a house and a job and now they’re living seven to a room.”
“The country is unable to do anything with these people,” and, in the absence of “a strong political infrastructure,” Lebanon’s “economy is sputtering,” she said. There are also suicide bombings in Beirut, which are linked to the war in Syria.
Lucia Mock said that when she took a recent flight to Abu Dhabi, the plane took a detour to avoid flying over Syria, which is “crazy to think about.”
“Whatever you have to do to still be alive,” her mother responded.
Lucia Mock volunteers in the camp, but her main job in Beirut is as a guidance counselor at the American Community School at Beirut. She has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
When asked why she sought a job in Lebanon, Lucia Mock responded, “Because I think it’s our responsibility as Americans and world citizens to understand the culture and what’s happening here.” The Middle East is a part of the world Americans are constantly hearing about in the news, “But really we know so little about this place,” she said.
“Exactly, exactly,” said Ms. Swope, nodding her head. Ms. Swope and Ms. Pelletreau organize the annual Middle East summer talk series at the Fisher House in Woods Hole.
“It’s our little effort to try and inform people better,” Ms. Pelletreau said.
The two women invited Lucia Mock to give a talk this summer; she accepted.
Carmina Mock has begun teaching a yoga class on the last Sunday of every month at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church on Main Street from 2 to 3:30 PM to raise money for the Burj el-Barajneh learning center. There is a $10 minimum donation; only checks will be accepted, made out to Church of the Messiah.