SIDON, Lebanon: In Sidon’s Ouzai refugee complex, one Syrian sweet-maker asks that his customers pay only what they can afford for his sugary confections. Qataf Mahanna fled from Syria’s Idlib province seven years ago when the civil war broke out in the country. After settling in Mount Lebanon, he created a thriving business selling traditional Arabic sweets.
He soon decided to sell much of his product at reduced prices to the refugees living in Ouzai, at times giving the sweets away for free. The compound, initially meant to be a university campus, now houses about 1,000 refugees from some 220 families.
“With the intensification of the economic crisis on Lebanon and [its impact on] displaced people, I had to come to this complex in Sidon,” he told The Daily Star.
“I brought my tools with me and started preparing sweet dough for Awame and Mshabbak,” Mahanna continued, referring to the famous Middle Eastern sweets cooked in syrup.
Mahanna is now helped by his son, who says they want give joy to those with no money, especially children. “We are here to make children happy. We give out sweets for free to those who don’t have enough money. We don’t want to make anyone unhappy.”
Mahanna and his son come to Sidon twice weekly to sell sweets at about LL5,000 (just over $3) per kilogram. In the complex alone, they usually sell around 100 kg of sweets every week.
“Most families can only afford 500 grams, due to their poverty,” he said. “And everybody knows that we give out sweets to those who don’t have any money.”
Walid Abu Hafez, one of the complex’s organizers who fled from Syria’s Hama countryside in 2012, told The Daily Star, “We allow [Mahanna] to come into the compound to sell sweets at prices affordable for the poor. There are no preservatives and destitute families can eat them without paying.”
One of Mahanna’s younger customers, 9-year-old Esraa Dabbous, told The Daily Star that she doesn’t remember how sweets tasted in Syria because she was too young to remember. “I was introduced to [Arabic sweets] here. I love them because they are delicious and the seller gives us four pieces of Awame for LL500.” - Writing by Jacob Boswall