Remembering my Syrian friend; Orchid*
I had never met a Syrian with ginger hair until Orchid* introduced us to her boys. Harry* (10) and Hector* (6) were the most adorable little children I think I’ve ever met. Their fiery red hair and gorgeous ginger freckles complimented their beaming smiles. I knew the minute I laid eyes on the cheeky pair that I would never forget them. 🐒🐒
The boys knew we were coming and were waiting on the street for us outside their dusty ground-floor apartment building. When we arrived, they helped us bring our food parcels and gifts inside, politely setting them down for us in the corner. I was surprised they didn’t even try to rummage through the big bag that was so obviously filled with toys and clothes for them. Instead they went and sat cross-legged in their lounge room (or the room with 3 flat cushions and a small television).
Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend very long with Orchid, but the short hour we sat together and talked was enough for me to form an incredible bond with her. While the language barrier was definitely an issue, we shared countless moments just smiling back at each other. Even just writing this and picturing her warm brown eyes and sweet smile makes my heart ache. I miss her so much.
Orchid (26), was married at 13 to her cousin. As well as being mother to Harry and Hector, she also has a little girl, Azalea* (9), who we didn’t get to meet, and a young toddler, Billy* (2), who was sitting patiently in her lap. Unlike the other boys, Billy had dark brown hair. I couldn’t help thinking how odd that was at the time…
I would later find out that Orchid and her husband had been forced apart by the war for more than 3 years. Before she left Syria, one of her brothers had been shot dead. Another had been killed by Assad’s bombs. I can’t even begin to imagine…
When her entire village was massacred by the Syrian Army, Orchid became so afraid for her children that she fled in the night to the Jordanian border. This journey took her more than 3 days on foot, and when she arrived at the fence, she had no choice but to set up camp next to it.
Orchid told me about all the checkpoints she saw along the border, and shared why she tried to avoid them for so long. But eventually she was caught by the authorities anyway and she and her children were sent to the Zaatari camp, near the Jordanian city of Mafraq.
Spread over 3 square miles of desert, Zaatari is an over-crowded camp-turned-city with a population of around 80,000 Syrians and Iraqis. Refugees cannot freely come and go, and life was very difficult for Orchid in there -
“Everything was dirty and there were gangs that controlled each section of the camp. I was so scared all the time.”
After spending one cold winter month there, Orchid managed to pay a people smuggler to help her escape to the Jordanian city of Zarqa illegally. That was 3 years ago, and I can only imagine what might have happened to Orchid along the way — especially given that her youngest, Billy, is now only 2 years old… 😔
Immediately after Orchid had finished sharing her story with me and my translator, a visitor appeared at her front door. It was Lily*, Orchid’s cousin, and she came and sat with us on the lounge room floor. Lily was instantly comfortable with our presence, even unwrapping her hijab to expose her long, thick, black, wavy hair and a beautiful pair of dangly earrings. Lily briefly shared with us about her 7 children, one of whom she had with her and began nursing. 👶🏻
My short encounter with these two women was one of the most memorable moments during my trip to Jordan. We shared tea (or yerba mate), stories, smiles, but when we parted it was incredibly difficult to find words to say that would somehow comfort them, or at least demonstrate to them that the rest of the world had not forgotten them…
I hope that one day the war in Syria will end, that Orchid and Lily can be reunited with their husbands, and that their children can grow up in a world without terror. But until then, I guess all I can do is keep praying for them. And I’d love you to join me in that if you feel led. ❤️