We sat in a spacious living room furnished with nothing but the mattresses that had been donated to her by churches in Europe, through a local church… and the space heater that the church had recently given her, thanks to a government grant that, in typical fashion, had been processed much more slowly than God processed the weather: it was laughable that she finally had a space heater in mid-February. But she was pleased to show it off anyway.
When she learned that I had lived in Syria, we swapped stories about Damascus, where I lived, and Homs, where she is from. She told me which parts of Damascus she had visited and liked. And I told her which parts of Homs and its surrounding villages I’d visited and how much I had enjoyed them.
Then she tossed both her arms up in the air, let out a giggle, and said, “Rah.” Which means, “It left.” Translation: her neighbourhood has been bombed to bits and razed to the ground. It’s gone. There is literally nothing for her to go home to.
Awkwardly, I felt like I should change subjects to something more lighthearted, but what lighthearted topic is there for a woman like her, mother of many daughters, all of whom are having trouble sleeping at night not so much because of the trauma of what they’ve seen – which is more than any young girl should ever see – but because they are so bored living in this rented house on the outskirts of a rural town with nothing in it except for four mattresses, a space heater, and a few other items donated by the church. The girls are staying awake all night chatting or flipping channels on the television (TVs are ubiquitous in all Arab rented houses), then sleep the day way.
She flew her arms up in the air again and said, “What can we do? The girls are bored.” And she picked up the teapot to refill our cups. The tea was also donated through the local church. And she laughed as we said we’d had enough tea to drink, then she joked that a combination of Arab hospitality and the fact that one can never drink too much tea, meant that we must drink more! I told her that I had missed Syrian tea, and she grinned ear-to-ear.
As I took a sip from the tiny glass cup, I pondered the smile on her face that didn’t fade. Sure, she might be in denial or trying to put on a brave face for her daughters, but to me, the smile looked genuine. I felt that this was a strong woman, somewhat impervious to the nightmares she’d experienced.
Then she turned to me and asked, “When you lived in Syria, did you ever imagine this could happen?”
I said no, never, not at all.
Then the conversation turned to religion, and I discovered that she is an incredibly devout Muslim. She is proud of her religion. She may never have studied beyond sixth grade, but her husband has procured some Islamic jurisprudence books and she keeps herself busy reading them. Her daughters read them, too. Her brand of Islam does not appeal to me – it feels very rigid and rules-oriented and, well, boring.
But I believe there is a connection between the faith that is in our heart and the joy that shows on our faces, and so as she talked about what she believes, I studied her happy face in curiosity. How could she keep smiling? How did such a depressing-sounding expression of Islam give her hope? What could she ever hope for? But, for her daughters’ sake at least, I appreciated the smiles and the jokes. As we said goodbye, I told her and her girls, with all honesty, that it was a happy opportunity for me to have met them.
p.s. I like including photos in all my CulturTwined posts, but I’m coming up short. It would not have been appropriate, for example, to take a shot of this lovely woman and her family or her home. The next few posts about my time with Syrians in Jordan may be a little less colourful as a result…
linking with Emily and all the wonderful people at Imperfect Prose