I feel like a huntress. There are two types of hunting, passive hunting and active hunting. Yesterday, when I sought out the family, it was a form of active hunting. Today was passive hunting. The Syrians came to me.
Sanaa: Refugee Family 1
I was supposed to meet a guy at 1:00 pm so he could give me the rundown details on the camps and the situation down South. On my way over to him, a lady came up to me, wearing a black abaya.
"Exuse me," she said in Arabic. "Do you speak Arabic?" she asked.
"Yes" I said
"Do you know a place where all the Arabs hang out? I need to find a job."
"Where are you from?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"Im from Aleppo," she said. I just came 3 months ago. My owner is going to kick me out because I can't pay the rent. He already threw my stuff out. I really need a job but I don't speak Turkish and I don't know where to start looking." She said.
"Okay, come with me, please." I told her.
She followed me through the Hagia Sophia Square and over to where the guy was waiting for us. I introduced her to him and told him her situation. He took down her address and info and said he will come and visit her and try to help.
"Do you have any family left in Halab? I asked.
"No. My husband was killed and so was the rest of my inlaws. I have my mom with me here and she is in the hospital now.. luckily, the hospital is not making us pay," she said, with thankfulness in her voice. "I fake it in front of my kids that we are okay, that we have food.. But they are not stupid. They can see what our situation is."
"Please, give me a moment to finish my meeting with him and then I will try to help you." I said to her.
I got the details I needed from Jawan and told I will call him if I need his help down South.
I then told the lady to walk with me. "How far are you from here?" I asked.
"Im in Bechavalier," she said. "Please come to my house?" she asked. "No, its far and I have to be back in time for the bus, I said." Thats as far as the family from yesterday. It will take too long. We kept walking.
"Where are we going?" she said. "To a market," I said. "I will get you whatever you need from the grocery store."
We went shopping together. I asked her if she needed olives. No she had some. She kept trying to justify which of her kids needed what. I told her she didn't need to justify anything, that she just needed to get what she needs.We left the store with the following:
and 3 chocolate bars for the kids, because I made her get them for her. She didn't want to take advantage... The entire time, she was so grateful. I handed her 400 to cover her rent for the month and then recharged her metro bus card.
"Today I went to the mosque and prayed for help, and then God sent me to you," she said. "Thank you! Please come visit me, please." She said.
"This is not just from me, this is from lots of people in America who care about you. The world cares about you. I'm so sorry that you have been through war, Im sorry you lost your house, Im sorry you lost your husband. This is the least we can do."
Tears filled her eyes. She embraced me with a hug that emanated gratitude. Off she went with her groceries and her charged metro card and her rent back to that far away neighborhood.
I sat down to recover and absorb what had just happened. I soaked up the Istanbul sun and just sat, deciding what my next move would be. I forgot, I don't get to make decisions, your next move is usually made for you if you let it.
HALEEMA: Refugee Family 3
While absorbing the sun, another lady came over to me and asked to have a word with me. She sat on the bench with me and then said that she is from Syria. She then proceeded to tell me what is happening in Syria. This thin 25 year old woman, who looked and acted like she was 40 (War refugees often look like this), took out her Syrian passport and showed me she is from Homs.
"My home was destroyed. My husband was killed. I came here with my dad and 3 kids. My renter will kick us out if we don't pay rent. We don't have milk. My son is sick..." she went on and on, me just listening.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
"Not far from here, 25 minutes maybe."
"Okay I will come with you to your house." I said. "Let's go."
Off we went to a poorer neighborhood, being sure not to trip on the uneven cobblestones, or get hit by a car in the busy alleyways of Istanbul.
"Here," she said pointing to a small corridor leading to a room underneath a supermarket.
I walked in and it was literally 4 walls and scattered carpets on the floor. Her kids came and I met all of them. They were in tattered clothing, and had dirty blankets. All 5 of them slept in what was intended to be a supermarket storage room. She sent one of her kids to fetch water from the Mosque and another kid to fetch her father.
"Shay?" (Tea?) she asked me.
"Yes" I said. "I would love some."
She pulled out a propane tank to the center of the room and put the kettle on. Her dad came back. He sat in the corner of the room, the one lightbulb protuding from the wall cast sharp shadows on him. It reminded me of a National Geographics photo, with the uneven white wall behind him, and the huge shadow casts. I didn't want to be obnoxious though and ask for a photo.
"We were humiliated," he began. "We came with nothing on our backs."
Haleema pointed to the foam rollout mattress on the ground. "I got that from the trash." (It looked that way) "That carpet I got from the trash also and that other carpet, the hotel owner, God bless his heart, gave me. My Dad and I sleep on the floor and the kids get the mattress.
Wow. They really had nothing. Nothing at all. I asked if I could take a photo with the kids and with her. She agreed.
"We have God, We have God." The father said.
After drinking tea with her in the hole in the ground, I told this family from Homs that it was a pleasure meeting them and asked the lady to come show me her landlord. She walked me to the supermarket and I met him. I asked her to please get whatever she needed from the supermarket (mostly milk and oil), and picked up some candy for the kids, and then walked with the owner and Haleema to the ATM so I can pay her rent which was roughly $200 for the month.
Everything she described to me was true. EVERYTHing. She was in such a bad situation. My heart felt crushed for her.
Again, she cried and said that she never thought in her life she would have to ask people for help on the streets. "I am forever indebted to you." She said.
"No, this is from American people and the Syrian community that care." I said, then hugged her.
I felt like crying but not in front of her. I had to be strong. What a simple family.
Im glad I got to do that today. THanks to all of you for supporting this journey and being the behind the scenes helping hands. Look at these lives you are changing.
THe SYrians who didn't need help:
I returned to the square and approached a Syrian family and asked them if they were okay. They lost everything in Aleppo also.
"Do you need help?"
The husband said "No, thank you. We are better off than most families that are here. Please go help the people down South who need it most. Even here in Istanbul there are hundreds of families who are worse off than us. THank you so much though."
This was my day.
Now to catch the bus down South to Gazientiep.