While the world’s attention is focused on Iraq again, with the Islamic State being the commonly agreed evil to be destroyed, the civil war in Syria is far from being over. The fight is in its fourth year and has entered a stalemate type of situation where none of the waring factions can win or lose.
In many conflicts in the Middle East, Palestinian refugees suffer particularly from conflicts forced upon them. In Syria they risk being crushed between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the many groups opposing him or battling each other.
How does one live under these circumstances? How does one survive? I was able to conduct an interview with Wardeh, a Palestinian student who lives with her family near Damascus. Here is what she told me.
Voix magazine: who are you?
Wardeh: I am 22 years old and I study journalism at Damascus University. I wanted to study „media“ since I was 14 and I had plans for a career in radio or TV.
In 2009, the Damascus University established a new college, the media faculty, and I signed up for their program. The faculty had a fully equipped building; however the building was soon taken over by a national TV channel, leaving the students with no tools. Therefore we didn’t have any practical training at all. Many lessons were also cancelled because of a national holiday or a supporting march for the regime.
What are your interests in life?
I love reading long novels, they help me to get distracted from reality. Nowadays I don’t read a lot, and if I do it’s mostly borrowed books or pdf files. We left our home in July of 2012 because of the war. Back home, we had a great selection of books, but we had to leave everything behind. It’s hard to find a good book now.
I love to try out everything. I took music classes, then I started to study Spanish, I completed six courses. However when the crisis began, the Instituto Cervantes closed and I had to stop studying.
There is a shelter nearby where I live, with IDPs (internally displaced people). I go there every now and then to give English classes, for the kids, for the teenagers and even for the men.
Where do you live?
Until 2012 I lived near Yarmouk. The Palestinian refugee camp was only a seven minutes walk away from my house. Everything I did, everybody I knew was inside the camp. You would find everything that you needed at Yarmouk, from the needle to the fridge. People from all over Damascus came to Yarmouk to do their shopping. Yarmouk was full of life. In hindsight, Yarmouk was like heaven then.
One day in July of 2012 my dad told us that we had to leave our house tomorrow and move to Yarmouk. He didn’t say why, but then we realized that everybody in our building already had left, except us.
I spent all night walking around the house, looking at every corner of it. I never thought that this would be my last hours in this house. I felt so much hate inside me and I didn’t even know what to pack. I expected that after a couple of days we will find out that nothing had happened and that we will return.
My dad picked us up at 3pm, we only carried a few bags and we went to my grandfather’s house inside Yarmouk. Two hours later a military operation started in our neighborhood.
one day, some day, nothing will remain the same: Yarmouk Camp
How was life in Yarmouk in 2012?
I only lived in Yarmouk for five months. After that we had to leave and we moved out of the camp again. During the five months, Yarmouk had its own share of bad times; there were many mortar shellings and many lives were lost.
Many people were staying inside the camp all day long. They were afraid to go out. I left the camp almost every day to go to university. It was my way of escaping. It was very emotional to see Yarmouk in so much pain and nobody could do anything against it.
Why did you leave Yarmouk after five months?
On December 15, 2012, I posted on my Facebook site, „one day, some day, nothing will remain the same“. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I posted it. It is really strange, because what happened the next day changed everything and nothing remained to same.
On December 16, the situation in Yarmouk got worse. Suddenly, without any previous warning, the Syrian regime started to strike Yarmouk from the air. They hit a street near the UNRWA school and a mosque was also hit.
The reason for this was the Free Syrian Army that had entered the camp. They said that they would only stay for a few days, all they needed was a passage to Damascus. The few days became 18 months and they are still here!
But your family was able to leave Yarmouk, right?
We left on December 19, 2012, after three days of air strikes and fighting. We left by running under bullets.
When I left my house for the first time, I wished that my bag was as big as my house so I could carry everything with me. The second time, when we had to leave Yarmouk, all things had lost their values and I didn’t feel like I wanted to carry anything with me.
During the three days that we stayed in Yarmouk under the bombs, my mother gave us „the talk“. She said that we had to be ready for everything. Whatever happens, we should keep going, even if one of us gets hurt. It’s okay to leave this person behind and keep going.
That talk… that talk gave me that feeling in my throat… and now I am feeling it again… I cried alone and cursed the Free Syrian Army and the regime for making innocent people going through all this hell.
How do you live now?
After Yarmouk, we rented a house in a good, peaceful area. The house was in a very bad condition, so luckily after three months we were able to move to a better house.
Everybody here survives day by day, we spend less time thinking about the coming days and the future. I stopped watching the news on Syria long time ago. We are living the news, right? When something happens you will hear it from the people around you or you will see it on Facebook.
How do the Palestinians deal with the civil war in Syria?
They deal with it according to what happens in their area. Not all the Palestinians live in Yarmouk camp. Many people believed that they would be safe for ever as we also believed when living in Yarmouk. But many people have fled now, to a safer city or a safer area, or even abroad when they had the chance.
From day one, my dad was very clear with us. Don’t let anybody know what you really think, he said, don’t trust anybody, and pray to God to protect Syria.
The Palestinians look trapped between all fronts in the Middle East. What are your thoughts on this?
As I grew up I learned that nobody is on our side.
Palestinians never did anything wrong to be treated this way. I don’t know why these Arabic countries don’t facilitate things for us. Why can Syrians go to Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey during the war while the Palestinians haven’t access to anywhere?
The whole situation gives me pain, a lot of pain. Why do the Palestinians have to go through this all of their lives? Wherever we go we are faced with many obstacles.
Only a small example: 1 kg of sugar costs 150 Syrian pounds in Damascus. When food aid gets into Yarmouk, 1 kg of sugar is sold for 700 Syrian pounds. And once the food aid stops, shops in areas around Yarmouk will sell 1 kg of sugar for 1700 Syrian pounds!! Why this treatment? I don’t know.
What are your dreams for the future?
Future? I guess that this question should be asked in the past tense. We all had big dreams: to get the best education, the find the best job, to make money and to get married.
When the war started, when people had to leave their houses, you forgot about all of your old dreams and you lived with one dream and one plan only. My dream is to go back to my house, I am curious to see what is left.
My plan for the future is to leave Syria and go somewhere where I can get a better education, where I will have more chances and where I can live the life we deserve.
This post was first published at Voix magazine, here.