"But don't you want to see the real stuff?"
"I do, but there is lots of work I can do around these areas.. I really wanted to though."
His younger brother Zack, who was sitting in the passenger seat, 15 is supposed to be in 9th grade, but he quit 2 years ago to join the masses of people in Idlib to protest the government.
Idlib was the first place in Syria to stand with the two boys who were killed by the government. Everyday, Idlib residents went to the streets with protests. Everyday, they lost loved ones for it.
"Do you want to stop at our clinic first?" he asked.
"Sure." I said.
We stopped at a little pink house, the oldest house in the city of Rehanliye. Somebody donated the space so that they could take care of all the injured after their visit to the hospital. I walked into the house, which had 3 bedrooms. Each bedroom had 6 beds in it with injured men staring at me. It looked like I walked into a war hospital room. I took a quick panoramic view in my head of what I saw. Huge scary looking needles stabbed into men's legs, men without hands, men without legs, fingers missing, a man with his stomach completely open. These were the images I saw.
We left and went to Issam's house. His mother received me and so did his sisters. I was still feeling sick and asked if I could please lay down. My fever was still going, my face was red, my voice was weak, and my ear infection was worse. The mom said dinner would be ready soon. Dinner was served on the floor. Tastiest meal yet. Salad with lemon wedges in it, lamb kufta with tomatoes on top, rice, green beans and tomato sauce. It felt so nourishing to eat dinner with them. The women ate in one room and the men ate in another, except for Zack, who would come in and out.
The mother appreciated that I loved her food and I appreciated the food. "We came here with nothing but the clothes on our back and slept on this carpet for 3 months. We didn't want to buy mattresses (thin sponges for the ground), because if we bought them, it meant we would be here for a while and we just want to return to our country. We finally bought these little mattresses. When we first came, rent was only 100TL but then when more Syrian refugees kept coming, the Turks kept raising the rent on us. Now we pay 500TL to live here. We have to keep borrowing money from my son who lives in Saudi," she said. Every so often, she would raise her hands to the sky and pray that God take her back to her country soon.
As I chatted with the girls, they were excited to hear about my travels to other countries as they had never left their town before. This foreign Turkey was a first for them. I told them about my days in Bolivia, Argentina, and the good kind people that are out there in this world.
"One day, you will see the world and you will know that its an amazing place and that any town you go to, you will fall in love with the people if you stay there long enough and with an open heart." I said.
As soon as I had finished eating, I excused myself and layed down, and Zack and Sumaya starting talking to me, for hours and hours. Then their older sister joined me. They had so much to tell me and were excited to have a visitor in their house. Once I met Issam’s entire family, I felt very comfortable not just with them, but with the work Issam was doing. Especially when I heard the entire story.
I looked at Zack and was impressed with him. When Zack and his family fled Syria 3 months ago, this 15 year old has been hanging around doctors and nurses and learning how to do be a doctor. Now he goes to the clinic for routine check-ups on the patients. I was looking forward to the next day so that I can see what the story was with all those men in that clinic. Zack told me that he knows how to give shots, stitch wounds, and do minor things.
The problem is that the people who get hurt badly in Syria won't make it to the hospital in Antakya in time to be treated.. So the makeshift doctors on the borders help just enough to close a wound or stop bleeding. Then when they get into Turkey, the hospital won't take them unless they have money or are bleeding profusely. This is why these clinics needed to be set up.
I kept excusing myself for the fact that I was laying down, that I was sick and needed to rest. The mom brought me a comfortable pillow and a warm blanket. Zack excitedly shared his story with me with his 20 year old beautiful sister constantly interrupting him and telling him to first tell me the part before that, or the part where the planes came, or the part where his teacher was a spy. I stopped them halfway through and asked if I could take notes.
One story that really moved me was their older sister, 32 who met a man here on the border who was also from Idlib and got married, without a wedding or anything.
“Life must continue, but we didn’t have the heart to have a wedding or a celebration. Who knows how long the fighting will continue.” She said. She reminded me of the oldest sister in Pride and Prejudice, very poised, and elegant. I could tell Sumaya really looked up to her.