Everyone Has Lost Someone in Syria
We are sitting on an air-conditioned bus on the way to the Turkey-Syria border. The landscape is vast, vast land, as far as my eyes could see. The bus was silent as we really had not much to say. What can you really say when you see with your own eyes the side-effects of war?
In a short few days, we’ve visited 50 homes of Syrian refugees in Kilis, Turkey, heard their stories of escape and horror, and also visited the Hot Food Distribution (i.e. soup kitchen) where I finally broke down.
Seeing that I had a camera and was wearing an official-looking vest, children & women rushed to me like a wave and started narrating their stories. The 2 Syrian volunteer teachers I was with struggled to translate for me as so many voices wanted to be heard. I can’t remember if I smiled or nodded or responded to any of them. I just froze.
A boy lifted his shirt up to show me a scar while another boy said “Bomb! Bomb!” while pointing to the scar. Another boy carried a tiny toddler, unkempt and dirty, and shoved him in my face as the Syrian teacher said “He says the baby’s parents are dead.”
A woman, her eyes filled with misery but voice laced with hope, told me she has been living on the streets since coming to Turkey 2 weeks ago, no luggage, no home, no money. Her husband is struggling to find a job but the Turkish people speak Turkish language and the Syrians speak Arabic. Communication is difficult for the refugees. I nodded and repeated “InshaAllah” over and over again as she begged me to help her.
After the crowd slowly dispersed as their attention was diverted to the food being served, the tears started rolling down my cheeks. “This could have been me,” I thought. All these people had normal lives, jobs and homes just weeks ago and suddenly, they are jobless, homeless and in need. My tears were out of pity, but also out of guilt. Here they are, sleeping on the streets while I know that tonight I have a comfortable bed to myself in a hotel and a warm shower waiting for me.
As if the searing guilt was not enough, the 2 Syrian volunteer teachers started to comfort me. “Don’t cry.” “Read salawat and you will feel better.” “Allah is taking care of us. We will go back to Shams the Blessed.” “This is temporary. Allah will not let this go on indefinitely.” All I could mutter to them was “Please don’t comfort me. I’m supposed to be comforting you.” We all smiled awkwardly for a minute.
The landscape had changed and we’ve passed huge truck after huge truck. The Syrian volunteer teacher, Ola, told me that these were trucks waiting to get across the border to Syria. It must have been at least 10 full minutes of driving past these trucks when we finally stopped near the checkpoint.
Cameras were not allowed and so I left it in the bus as we alighted. What I saw worried me. Hundreds of Syrians crossed over the border in the short 15 minutes we were there. Some with cars, some with luggage, some carrying nothing at all. Whole families walked through, with the father carrying bags of clothes, the mother holding the hands of little boys and girls. I wondered where all of them would be sleeping tonight.
I saw a young man in his 20s standing alone at the corner looking at us with our vests. I asked Ola to follow me and talk to him. After giving our salaams, I asked Ola to ask him if he’s waiting for his family. Before Ola could translate to me, the little Arabic that I knew was enough to understand that he said they were all dead. He had no one left. He stayed in Syria because he still had a nephew to take care of but he died during shelling the day before so today he’s here, in Turkey. I asked if he was going to meet anyone in Turkey. He said, “I don’t know anyone here. But I cannot stay in Syria anymore. There is nothing left there for me. No family.”
No social networking event bloopers that I had been in could be worse than this. I literally had nothing to say to him and eventually told Ola, “Please tell him I’m sorry and inshaAllah he will be okay.” Just as I said that, we heard loud sounds. I looked around, confused. Ola said, “Those are the bombs.” What, now? They’re bombing now?,” I asked. “Yes, every day,” she said.
I turned to see where my other colleagues were. They were surrounding an old man. I walked over to see this old Syrian man holding out his Syrian currency. Our Turkish guide said “He’s selling his Syrian currency. That money has no value anymore.” My heart broke. Not only have the Syrians lost their family, their homes, their jobs and their country. In a weird twist of events, even their life savings meant less than dust. I had no money on me but my colleagues bought some of his Syrian currency, if only for memories.
As we drove off, I watched through the bus window as hundreds of Syrians continued to cross through the border and I prayed that they would get shelter and jobs and safety tonight, that whatever they get in Turkey would be better than what they had left behind. I couldn’t bring my camera with me, but I had a duty to translate the images I’ve seen into words when I arrived in Singapore. I hope everyone reading this realizes the severity of the conditions of the refugees and how much help they need.
Please donate generously at http://aidtosyria.eventbrite.sg. InshaAllah in upcoming articles I would talk about different aspects of the fundraiser and how the money would help. In the meantime, please read & share widely. At the very least, spreading awareness of the situation is the charity on your part.
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Ameera is the Editor of Muzlimbuzz.sg, a chronic reader and a news junkie.