Desperate. That is how I would describe Da’ed and Manar’s lives now. The two sisters living in a basement flat with not only bars at the window but also boards up so they can’t see out. Presumably also so people cannot see in. Maybe it is the lack of natural light in this room that makes me feel their situation is desperate, I don’t know. But their lives now are unbearably hard.
Da’ed’s husband died from a stroke eight years ago, leaving her with with a 9 and 3 year old. Those boys, Hamad and Abdul Bazeer are with her in Jordan but we don’t get to meet them. Hamad is out working, illegally of course as refugees are not permitted to work legally. He earns £3 a day washing dishes in a hotel kitchen. Now 17 life would be very different for him if he was still in Syria.
Manar’s husband, Rashid, tells us that he used to work at the port in Homs where they lived, driving a truck but that he is also a trained mechanic. Skills he is no longer allowed to use for fear of being deported or having their meagre food allowance cut if he is caught. It is Rashid that apologises for his son, Mohammed being silent. Mohammed is 9 and has never spoken a word, they blame a lack of oxygen at birth though the word autism is also used. As we chat Mohammed wanders round, looking at us, clutching the sweets we brought as a thank you. Occasionally passing one to his two sisters, Amar aged 7 and Malak aged 6. He places a foot on each of camera bags before coming to lie on the sofa next to where I am sitting listening to Manar tell us her story.
Manar has hepatitis B and depression. She didnt have depression in Syria she says. Life was good there, though it as colder than it is now in Jordan. She said the shelling and bombing, along with the frequent random arrests are what made her, and her family finally decide to leave for Jordan.
They arrived at Zaatari camp first, by car, and after spending time there arrived in Aljoun, where we meet them today. They came here as Rashid’s sister also lives here, married to Jordanian.
I asked Manar if she could talk about her depression with friends, I suspected there were no trained counsellors as such but that maybe chatting with friends, as we do in the UK, might be possible. She shook her head “we don’t talk about it outside the house”. This seemed unbelievably tragic to me. She takes “relaxers” she went on to explain. But these are given to them by a doctor who lives nearby for Mohammed to keep him calm and she also takes them. They can’t afford a proper diagnosis or specific medication.
They live on £15 a month each for food and so on such a tight budget their diet consists of lentils, potatoes and rice. Once a month they have a frozen chicken as these are £3 each.
We can’t afford fruit. We can only afford vegetables.
It is then that we realise we have been bringing the wrong things. These kids don’t want sweets, chocolates or crisps as we think all children will. They want a bag of oranges. The kind of stuff that our children would just turn their noses up at.
As we leave I feel more desperate about the plight of Syrian refugees. They have nothing. I feel that they have no hope for the future.
It’s a desperate situation to be in and whilst all they want is an education all I want to do is give them the contents of the bowl of fruit that sits on my kitchen table at home.