Saturday, November 2, 2013

Le Za'atari's Champs-Élysées

The first time you hear the impoverished residents of Za'atari Refugee Camp refer to their main shopping high street as "Shams-Elysee" you could be forgiven for pausing and raising a questioning eyebrow.
For in fact Syria is colloquially known as Bilad Al-Sham. But such is the self-deprecating humour of the refugees that they are happy to wittily name their main shopping street after the prestigiously famous location on one of the world's most expensive strips of real estate; and one cannot but be amused at the irony of that sarcastic nod towards their former colonialists.
And never has a name & its name-sake been so disparagingly different for naturally Za'atari's Champs-Élysées bears absolutely no resemblance to the French original be it in location, consumers or goods. Yet it depicts the life-blood of Syrians; for it is in their very genetic makeup to earn a living through trade businesses.
Whether you are looking for a butcher, an oriental perfumerie or a mobile phone retailer you will find it here. Nestled in the unforgiving dust of the desert some in shacks, others in tents and the more affluent in caravans. There are over 680 shops catering to the 160,000 of the 4th largest 'city' in Jordan.
In fact, according to the merchants of this desertified Champs-Élysées, the street is not long enough to meet their shopping needs. So, naturally they want to build up! By stacking the caravans above each other, they are intent on creating 'malls'. Then they can have cafes over-looking the 'high-street' so that they can smoke argeelas in the evening and thus attract more business. It is hard to tell from the huge grins and twinkling eyes whether they were just pulling our legs. I almost hope they are not; for that would truly be a unique sight to behold.