I remember the first time I traveled to the Middle East without visiting Syria, the only time I’d been so close to home without actually going home. It was March 2012, my first class abroad as part of my masters program, and what a sad trip it was. Exactly one year after the Syrian revolution had begun; exactly one year after it had gone sour. We were traveling to Egypt to study the aftermath of the revolution. Nothing was more frustrating than being so close to home and yet so far away. Everything seemed to shake me. Because I spent hours a day discussing a country that was so close yet so far away from mine, an uprising that had started so similarly yet ended up so differently. Everything shook me.
It is necessary to understand that I come from a family where non-violence is the only option, I grew up believing that no matter what happened, a non-violent movement would prevail. However, there I was sitting in a class, in the middle of Cairo, in the midst of revolution, and my professor was going on about the values and the benefits of non-violence while my people, a short plane ride away, were being slaughtered by the hundreds. How could I listen to what a non-violent movement could offer when I came from a place where non-violence was not even a valid option anymore? When the Syrian revolution first began it enveloped all things non-violent, but as time passed the Syrian people were left with few options.
Today as I sit on this plane to Jordan, almost three years after my first trip to the Middle East that wasn’t to go home, I am as heartbroken as I ever was.
I have always tried to be the strong one, the one that shines the light on a dark and gloomy situation. But today I need your comfort; I need someone else to tell me it will be all right, because I’ve come to realize that sometimes even the strongest need support. And now, on this plane, as I approach my destination which is Amman, I wonder how deep we’ve gotten ourselves. As I sit in tears, (the stewardess actually came up to me to ask if I was okay) I wonder what my room now looks like, what has become of my nanny Aicheh and driver Abou Ali. I wonder if the house still looks the same, if our street still smells the same, if life still in any way still feels the same at all.
Every time I tell my dad, who continues to live in Damascus, that I miss Syria he replies that it is not the Syria I knew. I only miss a memory. I miss something that does not exist anymore. And even though he assures me that the house is the same, that my room and the family are all the same and waiting for our return, I cannot help but think that he is saying this because I am his little girl and that in one way or another he is probably the most heartbroken of all. He sits day after day in our house all alone most probably feeling abandoned by his family, by his people that left Syria, and by the world.
Despite it all, I sit here yet again on a plane to the Middle East to visit a country that is not mine. As I sit on a plane writing a blog that brings me to tears while I make my way to yet another refugee camp filled with thousands more Syrians who have lost everything, I cannot help but be heartbroken. How could we have let it get to this point?
Thinking about my planned trip to Zaatari Camp on Friday, I feel disappointed, disappointed at the thought of how they feel. How do they feel? I’ve interacted with them so many times and every time they tell me they are still hopeful that we can turn the situation around, that there is still hope that we will return.
One of the most difficult things to observe among the refugee population and among all Syrians that have experienced first hand the disturbing effects of this war is the trauma that they suffer daily and that they will continue to suffer if we do not address this trauma. As the days, months and years have now passed and the refugee population continues to grow, and as I continue to hop from country to country to visit them I continue to wonder what I can offer them, what can we offer them?
Lately I have been swamped with questions about how project Amal ou Salam is useful, how is it more beneficial than giving that money directly to families inside Syria? How is more useful than giving money directly to provide humanitarian aid? My response is that so much money is being spent towards feeding and nourishing peoples’ bellies, that not enough resources are going towards nourishing young minds and creating a generation that believes just as much in the power of nonviolence and interfaith cooperation as my family.
How relevant is it to have a well-fed child that cannot even begin to function because he is so traumatized. We must think of these children as the future of Syria, as the leaders that will rebuild and guide tomorrow’s Syria. We should work to make them the best leaders they can be, and our humanitarian aid should come hand in hand with educational support and trauma relief.