In Part I of this blog, Schoolyard Graffiti: The Beginning of War, I told the harrowing story of one family and their journey to escape death. They were lucky to make it out alive, but “life” in the war-torn borderlands is extremely difficult. Ripped from their homes, families, communities and everything they’ve known, they survive on the very outskirts of society. As they face this “new life” of suffering on the fringes of civilization, most are confronted with incomprehensible choices in their struggle to survive. They endure in tents constructed with bedsheets and plastic surrounded by open sewers that breed disease. Life by the trash river is not what they expected when they fled the horrors of home.
Disabled by his torture during captivity and out of money, Abu Mohammed could no longer feed or protect his children. He faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life the day a wealthy man asked for his teenage daughter’s hand in marriage.
In conflict settings, and especially where Abu Mohammed lives, the risk of sexual violence against young girls is extremely high. Some families feel that marriage to a good husband will offer not only escape from the grueling hardships of camp life, but protection from harm. Regrettably, the family agreed to the marriage proposal.
Not long after the marriage, the man decided to move to Germany with his young new bride. Her family was sad to see her go, but were thrilled she had the opportunity for a better life. However, this was short-lived. Her new husband had failed to anticipate the complications of having a young Syrian bride in Germany. He quickly abandoned her on the streets; leaving the teenage girl destitute. She could not speak the language. She didn't understand the culture. She knew no one. Her father’s greatest fear had been realized, and he could do nothing to help her.
A German family thankfully took her in, taught her German and helped her study at a university. All the while, she was desperately homesick for her family and culture. Nearly two years later when she turned 17, she made the bittersweet decision to return to her family in Lebanon and be reunited with her mother, father, brothers and sisters. This is where I met this amazing young woman for the first time.
Being reunited with her family was a tremendous joy, but re-adjusting to life in a plastic shelter was an arduous process. Additionally, she was now considered a disgrace in the community because of her divorced status. A short time after her arrival back in the camp, her former husband returned to reconcile with her. Raised with the firm belief that husbands and wives should work things out and remain together, she willingly accepted his apology; only to be discarded again a few months later.
I know the empathy I feel for her situation is nothing compared to that of her father. It’s clear in talking with Abu Mohammed that his deepest sorrows came after he escaped his war-torn homeland. While he’s upset by his circumstances and worried about how he will feed his family, he is even more distressed and saddened by his daughter’s situation. I see no sunrise on the horizon to clear away his grief. As the dreary rain beats the plastic tarp above our heads, I realize this family has been pelted with more heartache than most; yet they persevere.
As I end my time with Abu Mohammed and his family, I try my best to encourage them and leave them with a little less pain than when I arrived. I speak of how strong and brave they really are; how one day their difficult trials will come to an end, how the food we deliver will sustain them for yet another month. I know they are grateful.
We hold out hope that life will soon get better, that others will hear their story and be inspired to Walk With Me in finding small ways we can make life a little bit better while they wait.
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