“What I miss most from Syria? My kitchen! And the neighbourhood where we lived.” Um Malek doesn’t have to think twice about her answer. She clearly recalls her nice kitchen, the parks, the lakes and her neighbours.
Um Malek comes from the Syrian city of Homs. Her husband Mohammed fled from the government, and she followed him with their kids to the capital of Jordan, Amman. In Homs they lived in a nice villa and owned two factories. They lived a wealthy life. Here in Amman, we meet them in a shabby apartment with a bed, a few mattresses and a tiny kitchen. “When my kids sleep on these mattresses at night, I’m afraid bugs will creep into their mouth or ears, since we cannot close the apartment.”
The life of Um Malek and Mohammed is all about one thing: the happiness of their kids. The older three go to school a few hours a day and are full of big dreams. Malak likes to speak English and wants to become a teacher, Abdul dreams of becoming a pilot and little Tuqa hasn’t made up her mind yet.
But you can see the twinkle in their eyes. It’s hard to believe how they can be so happy in these circumstances. But it’s contagious.
Mohammed understands how crucial it is for his kids to get a proper education. But it’s not possible in Jordan and Syria. “I hope I can go somewhere where my kids can go to school full time, so they can make their dreams come true. Where? That doesn’t matter. As long as I have my family with me, I have all I need.”
The kids proudly show their latest school report, and Tuqa surprises us with a poem about the beauty of Syria which she completely learned by heart. I just hope and wish that these little heroes can keep their hopes high and one day realise their dreams.
My colleagues also visited a Syrian family in Amman this afternoon, and their story is in sharp contrast with mine. The father stared blankly ahead; one of his children has a mental disability and he had visibly lost all his courage.
The impact on the rest of the family is huge and support doesn’t exist. The other children also stared blankly and had no plans for what to become when grown up. The whole family was just waiting for the day to pass by. No expectations, no dreams.
I realise that here, just as in Belgium, you have happy people and unhappy people. “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” Oscar Wilde once said. I hope the dad will soon see some stars again.