‘What News of the Village?’

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Just a 30-minute drive south of the Syrian border, more than 100 refugees live in tents inside an abandoned slaughterhouse. Most of the Syrians living in this encampment in Akkar, Lebanon, hail from the city of Homs. Life in northern Lebanon is hard: Electricity is unreliable, the water supply is a thin stream from one outdoor tap, and sewage from the two outhouses regularly overflows inside the building. They depend on donated food from a Qatari charity.

These Syrians' only connection to their lives back home comes through their cell phones. Every night, they send text messages to their friends and relatives still trapped behind the front lines of the civil war, searching for news. Photographer Liam Maloney photographed them in the dark, their faces lit only by their phones, sending short messages on matters of life and death. Later, during the day, Maloney photographed their phones and had the messages (if they hadn't been deleted for security reasons) translated from Arabic to English. Everyone photographed identified themselves as a non-combatant, but none of the subjects would agree to share their names publicly for fear of retribution against family members still inside Syria.

Maloney shot these photographs over a series of days and nights in July 2013, after about a week of visits to the encampment. On his final trip, Maloney and his friend (and fixer who also translated the text messages) Firas Abi Ghanem stayed up well into the night.

"We sat up for hours drinking tea, talking about the war, watching videos of the conflict on YouTube on people's phones and discussing the logistics of crossing into Lebanon. As it grew late, we could hear pots clanging as villagers in neighboring towns reminded locals of their obligations to pray and fast. The call to prayer echoed across the valleys and the voices of Imams hauntingly merged together. Somewhere in the distance, I thought I heard the ominous thud of mortar rounds, but it was probably just a summer storm. We finally fell asleep under the stars on mats generously provided to us by our hosts; their hospitality was humbling. I think about them all the time."

(Following each of Maloney's portraits are the corresponding text messages.) 

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