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Falafel Stands and Beauty Salons: Creating Glimpses of a Normal Life in the Domiz Refugee Camp

23/05/2013 14:07 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST

"I don't like it so much here," 10-year-old Ahin told me at Domiz camp the other day. Her house in Damascus was big, and had a kitchen and a bathroom, she said. Now she lives in a tent with her parents and two little brothers. This week her uncle and aunt who have just arrived from Syria are squashed into the tent as well.

I met Ahin at a kiosk in the camp, and she took me to meet her family. Back at the tent, her mother invited me in and chatted with me for almost an hour, offering me coffee. Despite everything, hospitality prevails.

This past week I've had the chance to meet and talk with a lot of people in Domiz camp. Adults at the camp are rarely as blunt as the kids, and nearly always tell me things are okay, and services are alright.

This positive outlook is reflected in the number of small businesses growing at the camp - people are determined to make the best of their situation. At lunchtime here I can choose from a range of shwarma and falafel stands. I've seen a videogame tent, with a handful of young boys paying a few cents each for a turn on the Playstations. There's also an Internet café - operational when not even all the UN Agencies and NGOs working at the camp have Internet yet.

I also met Avin, who runs a beauty salon, though she told me that as the refugees have very little money she gives makeovers very cheaply or for free. She also rents (or lends) out clothes for special occasions, including a wedding dress that she says gets used once, or even twice, a day at the camp.

One more person I've met at the camp who needs to be mentioned is fellow Australian Mageed Barwary, a community mobilization office with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Mageed grew up in Dohuk, and worked there as lawyer for many years. Then moved to Australia for 12 years, becoming an Australian resident. But last year he returned to his hometown. Despite being busy with IRC work, he has found time to help out a newcomer like me - and several of the people I've written about so far in my blog are people he has introduced me to.