Whether Syria or New Jersey, Home is Home
5:30: We return home from a day in the mountains lining the Dead Sea.
6:15: We’re on a bus to meet with Syrian families for Iftar.
Once off the bus, we grouped ourselves into sets of 10, each of which would be having Iftar with a different family. Armed with boxes of food, plastic plates, and even face paint, our 45-man cavalcade marched through the streets to our respective destinations. Once we made it to my stop, past the onlookers that had gathered to watch us, we were welcomed by our host family for the night.
Twelve of us filed into the sitting room, which doubled as the children’s bedroom. As we sat down on the mats lining the walls, the two toddlers napping on the bed groggily rubbed their eyes. As they came to, their parents started unpacking the food we brought, laying four platters of chicken and rice on the ground. We accompanied the main course with yogurt, french fries, nectarines, and cucumber— not to forget liters of juice to wash it down.
The relationship between our host mother and father struck me as something truly genuine. Sitting on opposite sides of the room, they laughed as they lobbed the bottles of juice over the food at one another. After, I noticed them spraying one another with a makeshift spray bottle. There was something youthfully innocent about their interactions— a ray of sunshine in light of the hardships they endured.
After dinner, we began to speak about those hardships. With our friend Aya as our translator, the students gathered on the patio to listen to our host mother speak. In 2013, the family became refugees; in a situation she described as “funny enough,” fleeing Syria was a game-time decision. Five years ago, she was visiting her brother in Jordan, who was a refugee being housed in the Zaatari camp; while visiting, siege was laid to her neighborhood, and she decided that staying in Jordan was the only option. All she had was what she had brought for the trip; her family left everything in Syria, including their comfort and opportunities.
Now, the four kids are enrolled in school, the oldest of which is 17. Education was something we spoke about a lot— the Syrian and Jordanian education systems are vastly different, and the oldest child ended up staying back a year. Aside from the nature of schooling, entering the Jordanian education system brought social issues. The mother described the bullying experienced by her children, an ordeal that is unfortunately common amongst refugees all over the world.
If I were to outline the hardships that the family endured, from one fitting six people in a one-room home to struggling to find steady work— I could write for hours. Indeed, hardship was no stranger in Syria either; but, they all described the same longing to return to Damascus. Even the daughter, who wasn’t more than 13, described a life in Syria as “more beautiful” than one in Jordan. In fact, the mother cited her children as her main motivation for staying in Jordan; as much as they all wished for a life in Syria, it’s just not possible. In order to ensure that the children have a life, period, Jordan is the only option.
No matter where you’re from, home is home. I’m lucky to have one.