Selling Roses and Desperation on Lebanon’s Streets
By: Amal Khalil
Published Wednesday, February 6, 2013
The story of Hassan, a 12-year-old street vendor who peddles bundles of herbs and fanciful tales on the streets of Tyre in South Lebanon. Fashioning himself as a war orphan, Hassan’s actual life is far sadder than any of the fictions he would tell passersby to evoke pity.
Two years ago, 12-year-old Hassan joined scores of other children working the streets of the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. Hassan’s peers eke out a living by selling gum, begging, or anything else that can bring in a few extra cents. But Hassan was more ambitious.
Whether in winter rain or the blazing summer heat, Hassan could often be seen working a corner along the seafront promenade, selling bundles of thyme, asparagus, or sage. Hassan is not a pesky seller, but the sorrow in his green eyes would be enough to make passersby pause and purchase his goods out of pity.
Hassan told us that after his father was killed in the 2006 July War, he was forced to leave school and work to support his mother and his four young siblings.
When we sought aid for Hassan in Loubieh, where Hassan said he is from, we found that there was little truth to his story.
Al-Akhbar queried Loubieh’s mayor Ali Matar who explained that Hassan is the son of a Syrian worker who has been living in the village for many years. The father is married to a local woman and they have a total of five children.
We tracked down Hassan’s home. To get there, we had to go to the outskirts of Loubieh, then walk a long distance along an unpaved road. Before arriving, we passed a log cabin, which turned out to be the family’s old home.
Their new home was built two years prior with assistance from Matar, who helped Hassan’s parents obtain a permit to build on a small plot of land donated by his mother’s family.
The house has makeshift doors made of wooden planks and windows covered in plastic sheets. Inside, the furniture is sparse: a straw mat, a floor cushion. Clothes and belongings are packed away in boxes. Hassan’s mother said that she could only afford to furnish two rooms, but when finances permit, she intends to furnish the rest.
The mother said that Hassan has had a speech impediment since birth. He remained nearly mute until he was eight. Instead of being sent to a special school, Hassan attended the village’s public school where he was bullied and beaten.
Matar, who is also a teacher at the same school, admits that the school staff did not give him the protection he needed. Feeling alienated, Hassan ran away from school.
His parents, who are absent from home most of the day collecting firewood and herbs, did not learn of his truancy until it became a fait accompli. After that, he worked with his father, helping him sell what he gathered.
Hassan was pleased with what little money his hands held for the first time. He improved his trade and started buying what his parents collected to sell it in the village and its surroundings. Recently, he started peddling Damask roses.
Hassan stayed close to the streets of Tyre. Often, he did not return to his family’s home, and slept on the pavement. Sometimes, the owner of a small cafeteria would let him stay the night with another boy who sold chewing gum.
Soon enough, Hassan was arrested after he was found lying on the pavement inebriated. His father took him back home and violently beat him, chaining him up to prevent him from leaving again.
Yet the boy managed to escape more than a month ago, never to return. His parents would receive news that he was roaming the streets in the company of older youths, smoking argileh. Then, they received more alarming news.
Last Thursday night, Hassan was struck by a speeding car on the outskirts of Tyre. He suffered from cranial hemorrhaging and had numerous fractures.
Hassan was taken to hospital where the car’s driver covered all medical expenses. On Sunday evening, the boy was no longer in critical condition. His mother said the doctors ruled out paralysis, but said that his recovery would be time-consuming.
Hassan’s mother acknowledges that she and her husband bear part of the responsibility for what happened to their son. She avers that she will embrace him as soon as he is discharged and will never let him leave her sight again.
But these are promises that his mother may not be able to keep. For one thing, she has to leave the house and her children all day long to provide for them.
She insists on securing a better future for them. She is keen on them completing their studies despite her lack of means. But she will not be able to fully protect them from the streets.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.