March 18, 2012
The noise of the fighting on the other side of the border has started up again, more a groaning clatter sputtering incessantly than the distant hum we have become used to. The fighting has drawn closer. The sound has been unbearable. The music of the rain and the deafening roar of thunder like a drum roll before a curtain call that has engulfed us. Jaddati says this rain is a blessing. I suppose I would have enjoyed it if it weren’t so cold. The rains have soaked the tents, piercing through our meager covering. The water drips down and we have put saucers where it is worst. I must go empty them outside and replace them every few minutes. It is our third day here, and Ummi is still very ill. Ever since we arrived hidden under the seats of the taxi, there has been talk of aid – yet every evening we go to bed disappointed as no one appears. I am worried for her health. I need her to stay. Jaddati says that if she dies then she will give Abi company, but I am sure Abi can get along fine. He was a brave man. Aaminah and I need Ummi very much, and if she goes back to Allah, then I am not sure I can take care of Jaddati and Aaminah on my own. The elders of the settlement have promised to call for a doctor, and we are expecting him today. It is lonely here. I am the only boy my age, and there are still very few people who have entered our refuge. I must go now, for dawn has come in and I have the responsibility of waking the muaddhin. Soon, the sound of the adhan will fill this settlement, bringing a twinge of familiarity to us who are so far removed from home.
May 4, 2012
The sounds of battle have not changed. Sometimes they are near and sometimes they are far off in the distance. At intervals during the night, the background noise lapses, but just when sleep finally falls upon us, we are startled out of our beds with a distant boom and the piercing screams that follow. The camp has transformed though. Newcomers arrive in truckloads every day, seeking shelter and protection offered on this side of the border. I heard from one boy that his family was smuggled across the border in boxes aboard a meat freighter. They were all severely dehydrated when they reached the camp before dawn, and the relief workers are working to nourish them. Ummi recovered, with the grace of Allah, giving me time to resume my duties as the messenger boy of the camp: carrying information from the leaders to the refugees or from mothers to their children. The large dusty land that is right at the edge of our camp near the barbed wire fences is the playground for the children. We run around barefoot, playing games that are from our Syrian heritage, and sometimes, games the relief workers teach us. Twenty tents have been put up so far, and as I write, the relief workers are busy loading material for another ten from a helicopter. Tomorrow is Friday, and there are likely to be many more people coming in. The women of our settlement are always busy washing laundry or preparing a meal out of the rations of water and food we have been provided. We expect our meat rations for the month tomorrow. The thought of eating an appetizing meal puts us all in good spirits.
Muhammad, my new best friend, is running towards me from the direction of the elders’ camp now, and I presume I am needed to carry a message to the inhabitants of our little town, a home away from home.
Salaam for now,
June 1, 2012
The news from Syria is grim. Over 75,000 people have been killed, and many are children. The greatest number of casualties is among men – men who must have gone through the same feeling my father did as the bombs exploded over them.
There is something that goes off inside me every time I hear of the casualties. I remember what they did to the men of my family and what they are doing to us now. Ummi will always be a widow, Aaminah and I left as orphans, and Jaddati with no sons to take care of her as she grows old. They killed all of my father’s brothers in that explosion as well. I heard from one family who came from Kafr Shams, where my family once lived. They said there is nothing but crumbling buildings and the strong smell of human remains. There is not a speck left of the middle school I attended. It seems that everywhere the government comes in, destruction follows.
Yesterday was the first janazah at our camp. Umm Suleha died of dehydration, the relief workers said. Ummi is extra careful about making sure Aaminah, Jaddati, and I have water often now. Dehydration is a big problem here. Some of the men of the camp are becoming restless and talk of going back and serving with the rebels. I too would like to do so, in honor of Abi. Yet, I know Ummi will not likely let me leave. Muhammad is also talking about going. He has no mother or father and will leave his siblings in the camp with Ummi if he goes. Perhaps I will have to leave in secrecy. I just don’t know. But with every passing moment, I feel unrest. I long to join my brothers in fighting for our freedom. For if we do not achieve freedom then will we stay here forever? It is coming close to Ramadan now, meaning that we have been here for six months. I dream that one day Ummi, Aaminah, and Jaddati will be able to return to the comfort of the life we once lived, and if I must not return with them, then at least I will have helped. Innalillahi wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’oon. We are all from Allah and to him we return.
June 28, 2012
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! The words of the adhan mirror my happiness. Allah is truly great. We leave for Damascus, Syria on the Jumuah before Ramadan. The men say that battle at the time of fasting is a great honor and to be killed then is even more so. The elderly men are not leaving with us. They will take care of the women and children we leave behind. Ummi has given me permission, asking me to always remember my family and to fight for the sake of Allah, for justice, for freedom, and for the memory of Abi.
They tell us we will leave in a food truck that makes regular crossings to Syria. There will be 60 men of the 100 at the camp. Every able-bodied man is going. We are not worried The women and children are in a good, safe place, and will be taken care of. The settlement is bustling in preparation. Styrofoam cups and ditsy plastic bowls so misplaced from the moment are arranged for the long journey, everyone giving up a portion of their rations. Muhammad and I will make the journey together behind one of the cartons. Should we be caught, God forbid, at the border, all of us will be killed immediately. But the men say we will not be stopped, not this truck. It has been making the crossing since before the war started and is driven by a trusted man in both countries. SubhanAllah! I can hardly wait to begin. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Hear the beautiful sound of prayer, calling me, urging me, as urgent a sound as the desire in my heart to be a mujahid.
July 13, 2012
Allah! The sound of crying women and children began as we made our way into the truck. It is not likely that we will meet our loved ones again, even if we survive the war. Aaminah clung to me all day, but at last, I had to kiss her unruly curls goodbye and say salaam to Ummi and Jaddati I kicked up dust in my new Nike shoes, a gift of the relief workers before my departure, delivered my last message, and sped back. Once again, I went through the farewells, climbed aboard, and at long last we left.
Now I sit, writing by the dim light provided by a hole in the side of the truck. The air is musty, there are boxes of food everywhere, and some of the fruit have a particularly strong odor. The driver was thoughtful to place a small tree at the back however, and so we have enough air to survive the fifteen-hour drive. I think I will continue to write here. Yet, regardless of whether we survive the border, survive the war, or survive the end of the world itself, these pages are testimony to my life as a refugee, and who knows, maybe someday someone will use it to learn the history of Syrian war refugees.
I settle my eye against the solitary hole in the cold, hard walls of the truck and watch as my family’s silhouette dims and fades into a sliver. My hands unconsciously clasp my journal tightly. My fingers roam the juts and slants of my writing, so much like my sister’s curls and my mother’s crooked, toothy smile. My ears grow numb as the dull thump of the wheels against the dusty road fades into a background track.
My diary will speak louder that the roar of the bombs, the cries of the children, and the suppressed silence of the settlement. I pull out a red, inky pen and use the last drops to scribble a few words onto the faded, maroon surface: Diary of a Syrian Refugee.
Until the end, salaam,