This is the story behind my favorite picture ever taken so far in my life.
It takes about two hours by car from Beirut to reach the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border, there’s traffic, you get arrested and questioned by soldiers and you have to stop to get a coffee cause the quality of my pictures is linked to my consumption of coffee.
After a long day visiting different refugee camps with Zeina from Intaliqi without whom I could NEVER have gotten there and taken the pictures I had, we were heading back towards Beirut. It’s hard to differentiate one refugee camp from another and when I’m in “photography mode”, I eventually get tired of always searching for the right shot and always interacting with people. I get drained after a while and I must stop, my pictures and social skills gradually declining in quality.
It was in that mindset that we passed in front of yet another camp but I immediately ask to stop the car when I saw something on the side of the road near the camp. We got out and after a little chat with people in the camp, it was agreed that I could go around taking pictures.
I quickly went to see the little guy who got my attention. There he was, maybe twenty meters from his family’s tent, all alone and unable to move in his wheelchair. I smiled at him and started to shoot when he smiled back. After a couple of shots, got closer and communicated with signs and smiles as much as I could. His smile was radiant and I gave him one of my cameras to play with.
I stayed maybe 5 to 10 minutes with him and other kids eventually arrived and got in the pictures with the usual “sawarini”, asking me to take pictures in Arabic. After a while, I shook hands as I could with my new friend on a wheelchair and awkwardly told him goodbye before exploring the rest of the camp for more pictures.
Sad may not be the best word to describe how I was feeling after this meeting as his radiant smile was more inspiring than afflicting. I think this meeting just changed me somehow and I know this may sound melodramatic but it’s true. Whenever things don’t go as planned (and as an independent emerging photojournalist, that’s quite often) and I get depressed I think of this little guy, alone in his wheelchair, kilometers away from Syria, his home country, cast away from his own home, alone in a field and after all that, he was smiling.