Amy Christian is in Lebanon meeting Syrian refugee families supported by Oxfam’s response to the Syrian crisis. She meets a 90-year-old grandmother and her granddaughters, desperate to go home and fearful of the approaching winter.
To the left of the Barsa settlement in Qualamun, I see a group of women huddled in a doorway. They’re laughing and chatting and beckon for me to join them. They make space for me on one of the cushions and offer me hot sweet chai. In the middle of the group sits an elderly lady telling tales and grinning at the young girls around her. She points to them and tells me that they’re her granddaughters.
“I have over 20 grandchildren now. So many I can’t count them all. Most of them are here with me in this settlement but there are some still in Syria. We left them seven months ago and came here and I haven’t heard from them since. I worry about them all the time.”
I ask her what her name is and she smiles at me. “Well my name is Anazwiya” (which I learn means Goat). “I don’t know why they called me that.” Her face is covered in tattoos, a Bedouin tradition she explains. “Before you are married you get the tattoos on your chin but once you have a husband they complete the pattern.” The ink is black and faded, making patterns with the creases in her skin.
“I’m 90 years old and have always lived in Homs. That’s where all of my family are from, all the family you see here. Homs was badly bombed and so we had to leave. We were afraid we would die whilst we slept.Homs was badly bombed and so we had to leave.We were afraid we would die whilst we slept. The day we left I was visiting my son and couldn’t even go home to get any of my things. When we came here we thought it would be for just a month or so but we have been here nearly seven now and I don’t know when I will go back.
I miss my home, I miss Homs, and I miss Syria.”
Everyone we’ve met here in this settlement has been so positive despite the obvious challenges they are facing and the trauma they have just lived through. It’s clear that they are losing hope but somehow they still manage to smile. Sitting with Anazwiya and her granddaughters I realise that she has seen a lifetime of difficulties and struggles, but this is surely the worst of them all.
“Coming to live here has been especially difficult for me as I can’t walk and I’m also diabetic. I find it hard when there isn’t enough food to eat and I can’t fast during Eid. If I think about the things I’m not able to do anymore and that I can’t walk I just sit here and cry. A few days ago this shelter where I live flooded and everything was wet inside. Thankfully it was okay in the end though as it was just a little rain and afterwards we were able to put everything out in the sunshine and it all dried. In the winter
it’s going to rain, and it will flood. There won’t be as much sunshine then to dry things out.”
Determined to return
Despite the fact that she can’t walk and is over 90, Anazwiya is determined to return to Syria. “If we go back we can rebuild everything we once had. But if we stay here we have lost everything.” She shrugs her shoulders and clasps her grand daughters hand tightly.
Oxfam has provided Anazwiya’s family with a water tank, toilets, showers and cash grants for their rent. Oxfam has been working with Anazwiya’s family for several weeks now, supporting them with a water tank, toilets and showers. They have also received three cash grants to help them with their rent. Even though they are living on what appears to be wasteland and have built their shelters themselves they are still required to pay rent and this becomes increasingly difficult as winter
At the moment some members of the family have been able to find casual work, which is helping them get by, but as the weather gets colder the demand for casual labour is dropping and Anazwiya and her family worry about how they will continue to survive.