Jaramana, 17 March 2017 - They lived not far in Rural Damascus and had a comfortable life: a young couple with three children. He with a secure job, drawing a salary, which was able to provide for his family more than the basic amenities of life. She looked forward to a career in law, once the children had completed their schooling.
Suddenly one night in January 2012, their dreams were shattered. There were bombs and shooting all around them. Unprepared, they fled their home, and their village Babila, not knowing where to go nor what to do. They spent the cold night out in the open. Their little boy Muhammad was just five days old. The next morning, with great difficulty they found their way to another village where some of their relatives lived. There, they found shelter there for a short time but found that they had to move on again, because their relatives could not support them.
The trudge, the struggle to survive was their lot for several weeks. Ultimately, they landed in Jaramana, a city around 10 km east of Damascus. When Majeda narrates what she and her family have gone through, there is pain in her words, but not the rancour or bitterness that could legitimately be hers. Instead, there is a gleam in her eye as she looks at her three children who huddle next to her.
The apartment they now live in is dark and dinghy. They were ‘fortunate’ to rent it from one of the unscrupulous builders in Jaramana. Buildings like theirs have mushroomed everywhere in the vicinity, housing thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the northern areas of Syria and from villages around Damascus. The windows are covered with polythene sheets, and there is no electricity, water or sanitation. However, Majeda and her husband are satisfied that they now have at least a roof over their heads.
When they first came, it was JRS, she says that helped, providing them with blankets, food kits, and other essentials so that they could move on. Fortunately, her husband Ammar was also able to get a secure job with the JRS. Life is a bit more bearable now, but Majeda looks towards tomorrow with hope.
“I always wanted to be an advocate”, she says, “I completed my ‘baccalaureate’ – and well then, I had to get married. When I meet other women, and hear what they are going through, I wish I could fight on their behalf legally. It is perhaps too late for me now. Maybe my daughter Amal (8 years) will become a lawyer”. However, Amal coy as she is, vehemently shakes her head and says “no”. “Okay” replies Majeda, “then I will go back after some years to study law”. Omar (11 years), their eldest son, is a bit more circumspect when he is asked what he would like to become in future.
“A doctor”, he says, “because I would like to help the people who are sick or wounded”. Muhammad, now four years old- only smiles through the conversation; having been born in the height of the conflict, he has never experienced a ‘normal’ childhood so far.
For Majeda, living in Jaramana is not easy. The city is crowded with refugees: Palestinians, Iraqis and others. It is estimated that the six-year civil war in Syria has created almost 4 million IDPs and a good percentage have sought refuge in Jaramana. The newcomers have fallen easy prey to the old-timers for almost anything. People are generally suspicious of one another. The IDPs are resented by those who have been living here longer. There are separate queues to buy bread: one for the residents the other for the IDPs (theirs is much longer).
Whether it is standing in the line to buy bread or taking her children to the study centre, Majeda takes it all in her stride. You can see the scars of war in her face but in between there is a glow: a conviction that the embers of hope, which she gently fans, will suddenly burst forth to a new and better tomorrow.
- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj