Mahmoud: Business as usual in Lebanon

03 November 2009

Meet Mahmoud Najem.

Mahmoud is 70 years old and a displaced refugee from the Nahr el-Bared camp (NBC). He used to own a small shop selling food and stationery inside the camp, which was destroyed during four months of fighting between the Lebanese army and an extremist group within the camp. After the war’s end, Mahmoud had lost everything and was forced to start again. A $2500 UNRWA grant sponsored by the EU helped Mahmoud reopen his business: "This help enabled me to stand on my feet again," he explains.

6:00: Open the shop and prepare for the morning rush. Mahmoud organises the items in front of his shop and cleans the dust off them. His early morning customers come to buy dairy products and bread. During the school year, students stop by for stationery. Things start to get busy a little bit later, though. "From 9am onward, the number of customers increases," Mahmoud explains. "Many women come to buy different food items to prepare for lunch like salt, tomato sauce, rice and lentils. Some children come to buy some sweets."

10:00: Take stock of inventory. Mahmoud looks if there are any missing items in his shop. He gets in touch with his stock provider and orders a delivery of items he needs: "Before the NBC conflict I asked for more items, but [these days] because the economy in the camp is limited to the local customers with most breadwinners being jobless, I order a smaller quantity than before," Mahmoud says.

1:00: Lunch break.  Mahmoud eats lunch on the job. Like many families in the adjacent area of the camp, he lives in a garage he rents with rent cash subsidy he receives from UNRWA. He has divided his living space in two: the front is his shop; the back is his home. "My wife prepares the food while I am at the mosque," says Mahmoud. During that time most customers come to buy refreshments and bread. After lunch, his wife takes over sales while he naps.

7:00: Early end to the day’s work. Closing his shop, Mahmoud says that before the crisis in Nahr el Bared, he would keep the doors open until about 10pm. It used to be a place where people came together to catch up on local gossip and news. But since the conflict, recovery has been difficult. While Nahr el-Bared was previously an important commercial hub for the area, the access permits required for the adjacent area to NBC and the checkpoints have hindered freedom of movement and thus trade.

UNRWA-EU: A Partnership for Development and Humanity