Refugees who lived in a former jihadi stronghold near Damascus have stories of pain and solidarity to tell. A woman talks about life under jihadi rule, without food or hope for the future. Today she is taking care of her family as well as an orphaned disabled nephew. However, with the feared winter coming, she wants to return to her home village.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Refugees from Eastern Ghouta, a town on the outskirts of Damascus, have long and sad stories to tell. For a long time, they were under the control of anti-Assad rebels. As tragic as their tales are, they contain kernels of hope and solidarity, like that of a mother who welcomed as a grace the military call-up of her eldest son, which she considers a better fate than living under jihadi rule.
This is part of Caritas Syria’s work to support displaced people, most of them Muslims, whom Caritas Syria communication director Sandra Awad met and whose stories and views she collected. In recent weeks, the charity handed out aid – basic necessities and food – to thousands of people. Here is the third part of her report. For the first and second parts, click here and here.
“Thank God that my son has joined the army. Although he is now in the middle of the war, but his situation is much better than the black days we had been through during the siege of Ghouta; fear, hunger and misery. Believe me, his situation now is far way better. I pray day and night that God protects him, and soon my second son will join the army, too, like his brother...".
Lina started to cry with such grieve, so I placed my hand on her shoulder and tried to calm her down, and I asked her: "Where does your eldest son serve?"
After I asked my question, her weeping became even more while saying: "Idlib".
Everyone in the room became silent, and although that silence hit me in the deep, yet a very low voice came out hardly from inside me: "May God protect him".
She pulled herself together and said to me, as if she was trying to convince herself with an idea: "Believe me, ma'am, his situation now is better. During the past years, we were starving. The days on which we slept hungry were much more than the days on which we ate. My children and those of the neighbours used to move around in the landfill to look for something eatable between the garbage. The barley bread that we used to bake was a torture itself. I thank God that we are so much blessed now."
I looked around me to find "the blessing" that Lina had just mentioned, a house with no doors or windows, shredded curtains with which the wind was playing, few mattresses were spread here and there on the bare floor, her children and husband were wearing old, dirty and ragged clothes. Their feet were inside ragged plastic slippers, and their faces and hands were covered with dust.
Lina carried on: "Now, at least, my children are wearing something in their feet, and now they have beautiful clothes to wear, and what matters most is that now we eat real bread. I thank God thousands of times for the bread for it keeps us full, and my kids now know what potato chips, apples, biscuits and money are. Imagine that my seven-year-old daughter was keeping a Syrian five-pound note for many years, dreaming that she would buy a piece of candy after the war is over, but she was too disappointed upon knowing that this currency is no longer in use, and that the smallest piece of biscuit costs ten times more than this piece of paper that she owns.”
The little girl drew close to me and gave me the little piece of money. I asked her: "What is your name, beautiful girl?"
She answered: "Assinat".
"Your name is beautiful yet strange. What does it mean?"
"It means the moonlight", Lina answered.
"Oh my! How beautiful it is!", I said, "How many kids do you have, Lina?"
"I have five; three boys and two girls", she replied, "I am also raising up Abdulrahman, my husband's nephew, his parents were killed during the war, he is paralyzed and he can't walk, and he can barely move his arms.
“During the siege, I used to hide some of the barley bread for him to eat as he is the weakest of my children".
I said to her touched by her words: "You really consider him as one of your own children?"
"Of course, I do ", she replied with her eyes full of love while looking at Abdulrahman who was sitting on the ground, holding a pencil and a sheet of paper trying to write his name on it with his weak fingers.
"His parents were some of the dearest people to my heart, and he is no different. I pity this boy, ma'am, during winter. As you see, we live in this apartment which we don't own until we are able to go back to our village.
“No windows or doors to protect us from the cold of the winter, yet we can all move around, the thing that provides us with some warmth, but Abdulrahman sits during the entire time which makes him feel the cold more than we do. I used to send my kids to collect plastic pieces to light some fire with them in front of him to provide him with some warmth, yet sometimes we find nothing to light the fire to start with."
I felt pain squeezing my heart, for winter is coming very soon, and the tragedy of this family will start again with the cold like every year, yet Lina said with such optimism: "I thank God that now are eating and drinking from the humanitarian aids which we receive, but my husband and I want to go back to our house in Al-Abbadeh since we own a piece of land full of olives over there. My husband will take care of it again so we can live with dignity and go back to like we used to be, farmers that plant and reap of our own sweat."
At that moment we heard a woman calling from outside, and Lina invited her to come in, and said that she was her neighbour Um Hussain.
She said: "I invited Um Hussain to come and live with us in our village, for she raises the kids of her daughter who was killed alongside with her husband during the war, and she carries a very heavy load. There in the village, we can assist each other in everything"
"Is she one of your relatives?", I asked.
"No, she's not" she answered, "and I have only known her for few months."
"Lina noticed that I lived on the street with my sons and grandchildren after we had cleaned many of the destroyed apartments to live in, and every time the owner used to come to tell us to leave the apartment, so we decided to stay on the street at the end of the day, but one day Lina approached me and invited me to live with her and her family. We lived with them for a few days until we cleaned one of the apartments on the same block, and moved to it, we became neighbours, and now she wants me to go back with her to her house in the village"
I asked: "Is your house there suitable to be inhabited, Lina?"
"No, it's not", she replied, "and it was robbed, but we will clean it and hang the curtains just like we did here. My two sons will be in the army, as for me, my husband and the rest of my children, it is better to go back there to our house in Abbadeh. I pray that God protects my sons in the army, but believe me ma'am that their situation now is far way better than the dark days we had been through."
I left the borrowed house as Lina called it, and as the thousands of families who live in Ghouta call the houses they are living in, too, due to the displacement and the cruelty of war, and a great feeling of love, appreciation and pride was filling me toward that mother whom the war was able to destroy everything around her and steal everything she had, yet it couldn't touch her extremely good spirit at all.
Blessed are those whom the cruelty of war couldn't leak into their hearts, and remained loving, forgiving and giving to the final extent, for with such people our Syria is still alive.
* Communications director for Caritas Syria