September 22, 2015
What Holds the World Together?
What Holds the World Together?
When I met Zyad for the first time, he was registering himself in CARE’s refugee centre in Amman. He asked me whether he could tell me his story. He said he wanted the world to hear it.
He told me that he used to own a small farm with 20 sheep, olive trees and chickens in Syria. When the war started, he built a little bunker under his house to protect his family and himself from air strikes. They lived like this for more than a year. Then his house was destroyed, half of his sheep were shot and the chickens killed. He collected the rest of his sheep and made it to the next village, sold them and bought bus tickets for him and his family – bus tickets to safety and out of Syria.
“For 22 years I have worked every single day of my life to build my house, send my children to school, and make my wife happy. Now this is all I have,” he says as he points to his clothes and his broken sandals and starts to cry.
Maybe it is wrong to write this down; maybe it reinforces stereotypes and gender roles. But to see this grown man cry makes me feel like the world is turned upside down. It is as if Zyad’s tears sums up this entire refugee crisis with one feeling: no one should have to suffer this way.
A few days ago I met Zyad again at his home. He lives with his wife Njood, his daughters Fatima and Njood and his son Mohamed in a tent outside the capital Amman. Zyad and his wife make a great couple. Like him, she is very keen on telling me something straight away. Her brown eyes are impatiently sparkling, almost mischievously, while my colleague Samah translates from Arabic to English and waits for my reaction.
“I know it sounds strange that I am saying this now. But I want to say that I really love my husband.” Indeed, I am slightly puzzled. She continues, “Yes, we have lost everything. But I cannot change this now. It is like it is. We need to try to make the best out of it. And the best things for me to be happy about every single day are my husband and my children.”
Zyad and Njood have been married for 20 years. When they got married, they would have never imagined having to spend so much time in a confined space together. Their 17- and 18-year-old daughters are working in a market close by to earn money for the family. Mohamed, 13, goes to school in a small tent, where he’s learns from a former Syrian teacher. Sending Mohamed to the closest Jordanian school would cost too much but Zyad and Njood do not want Mohamed to miss out on an education either. With the other parents, they contribute what they can to the teacher’s salary.
Zyad and Njood tell me that they invite their Syrian tent neighbors over at night to drink tea and talk. They laugh a lot together, and then they cry together.
We have to go on. Life goes on, either with or without us.
It might sound corny, but while I am sitting on the floor of the sparse tent a line from Goethe’s Faust crosses my mind: So that I may perceive whatever holds the world together in its inmost folds.
If you ask me, the Syrian refugee crisis has at least two sides to it. On the one hand, unfathomable suffering that causes men of stature, such as Zyad, to cry. On the other, unwavering strength and power that drives people to come up with the idea of “shopping” memories, building their own tent schools, fighting for their futures and refusing to give up until life gives back to them what they deserve. Maybe Faust would have received an answer to his question, if he had met Zyad and Njood.