Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Syrian Stories: The Second Household

My group has moved on to the second visit of our day, another family with several young children living a few doors down in another apartment carved out of this converted store space.

The woman here, "H," is shorter, darker, and softer. She looks less like a Kardashian than the first mom we met, but her household looks about the same. We settle cross-legged on the thin mattresses lining the room, and H bends over a baby carrier near the TV. I see that there is a small baby, maybe one month old, cocooned in a tightly wrapped blanket. She hands the baby to me! I'm excited to hold such a tiny child, and puzzle over the dark lines drawn around his eyes. Is this month-old infant really wearing eye liner? I don't want to interrupt the conversation to ask, so I just look at him and rock a little while I sit.

H. sits down to visit with us, and our visit leader chats easily with her as I stare at my sweaty little bundle. Soon my visit leader (a middle aged local lady) takes the baby from my hands and begins unwrapping the blanket as she scolds the young mom for keeping her baby too hot.

I can't understand this Arabic small talk, and with the baby out of my hands I turn my attention to the children I can hear playing outside in the parking lot. A couple of the boys in the family keep coming in and out of the house, interrupting their play to ask their mom something or to complain about a sibling, I assume. Prior to coming here I had read articles about Syrian refugee families keeping their children inside due to fear. I'm glad these kids are playing outside. They're laughing and seem healthy.

Our visit leader asks us if we have any questions for H. before we go. I'm unsure whether it's a blessing or a burden to talk about their experiences, but still I'm curious, so I ask: "Why did you leave Syria? How did you end up here?"

She briefly tells her story.

The family decided to flee Syria about three years ago. They came by vans in the night, with headlights off to avoid detection. When the driver told them to, they got out and walked the rest of the way to the border.  However, once they got there, they were denied entry.  There was a pregnant woman in their group, and they thought that if they told the guards she was pregnant, they would be allowed in. However, the guards admitted only the pregnant woman, along with H. and her youngest child, leaving the rest of the group Syria-side.

Now H. was separated from her husband and her other children. She was brought to the large refugee camp just across the border and began desperately trying to contact her husband. Two days later, she learned that the whole group had eventually been given access to the country, and her husband and children were waiting for her at another camp.

They were somehow reunited and are now living here. He works undercover at night for a candy shop. Working here is illegal for refugees, and her husband will be returned to Syria if he is found out.

As we ended our visit with another flurry of cheek kisses and goodbyes, I reflect that H's story is a little tamer than the last family we visited. There was no violent arrest, no internal bleeding, and no very sick child. But there was still a frightening night-time flight from a homeland they will likely never see again, two days of frantic separation, and now an indefinite number of impoverished and uncertain years.

Is there any such thing as a benign refugee story?

This is the third in a short series on my time in the Middle East visiting Syrian refugee families. Read the rest here:
Part 1: Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl
Part 2: Small House, Big Hope
Part 4: Vignettes


LisaM said...

No, I'd say there's not. Does anyone (non-refugee and refugee alike) have a totally benign story? It seems as though there is always something.

Alison said...

That is a great point. It's easy for me to forget as i interact with people every day that i probably have no idea what's really going on in their minds, lives, and holes. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Alison said...

*homes,not holes. :)