For the Sake of Life and Peace

“How to find a few moments to write these lines and forget, for a while, about the air strikes and massacres…”

This is not about death, destruction and war which has been happening night and day for nearly three weeks. It is about the families, children and individuals trying to live and go on. It is about the small farmers and producers from all over Lebanon, who gathered and formed Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon‘s first farmers market, over two years ago, beyond their religious, regional or political beliefs. They all had a dream, a vision and a reality of respecting, loving and producing the best of their land. Souk el Tayeb means the Market of Good. In Arabic, the word tayeb translates as good tasting, good as a person and more importantly good as alive ‘ an attribute so difficult to maintain these days.

Today, the Souk el Tayeb community is scattered and wounded. Ali Fahs and his family are stuck in Jebcheit, a village near Nabatyieh, completely cut off from the rest of the world and in constant threat. Nelly and Mona ran away from Majdel Zoun on the first day of the war. Their village is on the border and was one of the first to be hit. Their lands, crops, harvest and life’s work were there, but a few days ago, we heard that the whole village was completely destroyed.

Nelly and Mona’s project is the one most dear to my heart. They were trying to transform the whole region, known for its fertile land, into an organic village. They were working on rediscovering and conserving old crops and recipes, such as kechek el fouqara or jebnet el burghol, a vegan cheese made by a fermentation of cracked wheat and water. Two days before the war started, it was selected as a Slow Food presidium.

Earth & Co is the name of their project ‘ like real partners of earth and land. Now they are paying with their life for earth and land. Gilbert Aoun is from Jezzine, another village in south Lebanon, cut off from the rest of the country. He is in charge of a project that supports land mine victims ‘ those of the last war ‘ helping them raise chickens for free range eggs and bees for honey. Gilbert and some of the farmers, chickens and bees are still in Jezzine. Others have gone, leaving everything behind them. World Vision, one of the world’s leading relief agencies, supports more than 200 farmers working in organic agriculture in the fertile lands of South Lebanon. Some fled to Beirut away from the attacks but many of them remain in their lands. We know that some are safe, others wounded and there is no news of many.

Hoda el Zein is 65 years old. She used to come from her small village to Souk el Tayeb every Saturday and sell what she could pick from her own garden or the nearby forest. She called me on the first day of the war to find out if I was safe and tell me she was coming to Beirut.

After two weeks of air raids and attacks, cut telephones, cut electicity and fuel shortages, some of us decided to act for life and do Souk el Tayeb again. It was obviously impossible to set up in Beirut where it used to be, so we have taken it to Faqra, a safe mountainous area where many of the wealthy Beirutis have found refuge and still have some ‘buying power’.

At first, it seemed like a bit of a crazy thing to do ‘ to hold a farmers market again. But, thinking about all the farmers, the peak season of vegetables and fruits that would be lost if not picked, as well as the importance of every penny in such times, I felt it was my responsibility to act and set up our market again. Friday 4th August was the big day. We held it from 3 o’clock in the afternoon until 7 o’clock in the evening. Preparations were hard ‘ getting in touch with the farmers who were still able to come, in spite of some cut telephone lines, preparing proper space and structures for the market and finding a truck to move all the necessary tents and tables ‘ trucks do not dare to move anymore on the roads as they are considered to be carrying arms and hit by air raids. That Friday was a long day but a happy one ‘ happy to meet up again. Each time someone arrived, we all kissed and hugged. We were glad to meet those alive.

Youmna and Tony came with their best seasonal vegetables. Maissoun and Walid, from Kfarqatra, a remote village in the Chouf mountains, came without their two boys, who usually accompany them to market, because they thought it safer this way. They brought baskets of delicious freshly baked bread. Maurice just picked the season’s honeycombs and was busy extracting honey. Fadi lost a lot of this year’s harvest, but joined with his valley’s goods. Nada was in Beirut and joined with what she had. Abou Brahim came from Rachaya after a five hour drive, which would usually have taken no more than an hour and a half but cut up or unsafe roads and destroyed bridges made the trip much longer and harder. For a few hours it was life as usual and smiles again ‘ like as if nothing had happened. But by the end of the day, it was back to reality, planning which road was the safest to take and if everyone should go back home or drive the next morning.

A simple action as proof of life, a reaction to war, destruction and death. Act by life to erase death. Learn a lesson from every experience for a better step each time. Who is right, who is wrong? No one knows. As in every war and every conflict, each side thinks they are right and tries to justify their actions ‘ even the massacres of children and mothers ‘ considering ‘the other’ as wrong and vice versa. But who is paying for their life, health and wealth? This we all know. And who is trying to go on, living and working? The crazy experience of the mountain Souk el Tayeb is not unique. War relief is not only for ‘sensational’ disasters, but also for small actions like Masrah al Madina, the city theatre, who initiated workshops for refugee children creating activities and fun for them.

We promised ourselves to go on with what we are doing and repeat our mountain souk every Friday, for the sake of life and peace. We hope that we will continue to have some safe roads to get there, enough fuel, products from our gardens… and life to do it all.

When I think of what we have all achieved together, I smile again. When I remember the laughter coming from the kids’ corner in Souk el Tayeb, or the students’ curiosity at [email protected], our educational programme, or the caring consumers and Souk el Tayeb co-producers, coming every week to ask about each other’s welfare, and still calling, when possible, to enquire about each other. When I think of the three regional markets we had to begin with. When I think of Dekenet Souk el Tayeb, our first shop for all the producers, located in the Old Souk of the biblical Byblos.When I think of Souk el Da
iia, the younger brother of Souk el Tayeb in Lattaquieh, Syria. I smile again and I think that a lot has been done and if the end comes then I’ll go with no regret.
And if I am to stay, there is a lot more to do … in peace.

Contact: Kamal Mouzawak
Souk el Tayeb
Address: displaced
Website: www.soukeltayeb.com

Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon‘s first farmers market
Photos: ‘ Souk el Tayeb

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