This delayed us tremendously. I decided to wander the streets of Garagoz. I sat absorbing the sun near a fountain just watching passers by for a good solid twenty minutes. I noticed people constantly throwing left over rice for the pigeons, motorcycles that were parked on the curb getting sited, and that if you wear a cowboy hat, you get funny looks. The latter is not a new thing though. Abu Saleem finally told me that he was almost to the office. I walked back the busy streets and made it back to the office. He was still not there so Yaman, his partner in charity, took me down to get baklava. Gazientep is known for its warm, savory, baklava. I told him all I could eat was one little slice. He talked to the guy in Turkish and out came icecream and 3 slices. I ate the icecream with ground pistachio on top and one piece. I saved the rest for later. Its good I did, because I tell you, at night when we made the rounds to visit families, walking miles after miles, the wrapped up napkin of baklava became a highlight snack. Although this wrapped up baklava became a bit of a task, since I ended up carrying around in a little napkin all day. We went back up to the office and still no Abu Saleem. I taught Yaman how to make origami. I chuckled inside at his color choices of beads when he was ready to put his crane on the earring backings. Everyone one in the office raised their eyebrows when I kept pulling out plyers, earring wire, origami paper, and acrylic sealer out of my backpack. They kept looking at my backpack waiting for a sheep or a horse to possibly come out next.
Finally, Abu Saleem came and it turned out he was waiting on the ticket stubs to still be printed. Yaman took me instead. We went on foot, and started walking to different neighborhoods. Very much like Syria, Turkey has two styles of living.. The old alleyways or the high-rises. This area we were in were high-rise buildings. The difference between Turkey and Syria is that in Syria, there are maybe 2 or 4 flats on each floor. Here in Turkey, they fit 12 on each floor, which means each rental space is the size of a tiny studio.
VISITING FAMILIES IN GAZIENTEP AND ASSESSING THEIR NEEDS
The first family we visited had 6 people living in the one house. They are from Aleppo and they lost their home there.
"First we went to our aunts house in another part of Aleppo when we lost our home. Then, I will never forget, it was Ramadan and we had just broken our fast when we saw a bomb drop on our neighbors house in front of us. We threw our slippers on and fled the country. We found out my aunts house got bombed too. What are we to do? We have nothing. Praise God, at least we are alive." They said to me. They had thin sponge mattresses about an inch in height on the floor and only 4 blankets.
I was warned not to promise anyone anything until we had visited all the families. One of the girls, Lamia, told me to please also go see her uncle's house. She put her slippers on and her and her little son accompanied us to a mile away. The living conditions there were even worse. There were 7 living in there with only a few blankets.
"I give my kids the sponge mattress since its warmer for them and my husband and I sleep on the floor. What else are we to do?" the mom said.
I went into the other people's house next door and they were EVEN WORSE than this other family. There were 12 people all living and sleeping in one room. 2 families all sharing one bathroom. One family was from Aleppo and the other family were Turkmans from the mountains of Latakia. One girl specifically in this family struck my attention. She seemed strong, beautiful, and spirited, polite, and educated. She was. She was studying to be a doctor when all this was happening. At the age of 20 now, she has been helping in all the pop-up clinics translating for doctors and acting as a nurse for them. Yaman asked Aslan if she would like a job with the organization translating and that it would begin tomorrow at 7am. She agreed.
The two families had taken an old lady in who didn't know anyone and had lost her entire family in the war. I pulled Yaman outside.
"Can I have a quick word with you?" I asked. He moved aside to where none of them could hear. "Would if I gave each family 200 TL and they could get what they needed?" I asked.
"No," he said, "Lets go shopping and bring them what they need. It will be a nicer gesture and since we can get things wholesale, the money will reach further." I agreed and told the families that we would visit them tomorrow. I didn't promise anything but in my heart, I wanted to give them the world. I wanted to take each one shopping, buy each one their very own mattress and their very own warm blanket. Thanks to donations I've been getting, we will be sending these families a heater as well.
Every time we visited one family, they would tell us of another family in the nearby area they met that also needed help and would send one of their family members with us to show. We now had Lamia and her little 5 year old son Khalid, the Turkman woman from Latakia, and us crossing the street.
We visited a couple that had just been reunited after 8 months of being apart. They were from Homs. When the war began, the man fled the army. The wife went to Qatar to live with her sister. They seemed better off than the others I visited but the truth was that a generous donator had already visited them and just furnished their house. What they were missing though was a blanket. Check, mental note. Nora, the wife began telling of stories when she worked in the bank. While she started telling me stories, the little boy Khaled kept poking my shoulder to show me something in a magazine.
"This is you," he said pointing to a picture of a blonde woman on an airplane serving orange juice.
"Why? Is my hair blonde?" I asked. He flipped to another picture of a backpack and said, "This is you." I agreed with that one a little more. He kept trying to play the "this is you" game while Nora told her very interesting story. This was the first time the Alewites were brought into focus since I began my trip.
THE ALEWITES AND HOW THEY CAME TO POWER
"The Alewites are a crude people, uneducated people." she began.
"When the uprising started, Alewite co-workers, people who knew me and liked me, would tell me that everyone should worship Bachar AL-Asad and anyone who goes against him should die. I couldn't believe that they would say that to me."
"Wait. Can you please tell me the whole history of the Alewites vs. the Sunnis? Why is this such a big deal?" I asked. I wanted to hear it from her. Nora had been working in an all Allewite bank and when she first got a job there, one girl went up to her and asked her how it was possible that a girl like her "indicating she was Sunni" could get such a prestigious job at a bank. "I let her have it. Just like you have a degree, I have a degree, the same person who hired you hired me. Why should it be that you can have a good job and not me, an educated person?" She challenged her. This had been on her first day on the job. She then began to explain the history of the Alewites.
"They were originally from the mountains and were mafia, hit men, thieves to begin with. When they were promised power and got rich quick, Assad gave them all very good jobs and promised anyone who was of this sect to have good jobs as well- even if they were uneducated. Because they were uneducated, when they were all given very good positions, they separated themselves as the upper class and look down on us because we do not have the same good jobs they have. They were the non-educated and suddenly had all the powerful jobs. Its very difficult for someone who is not an Allewite to get a good position in the government, a bank, or any institution." she said.
Nora only recently became united with her husband, after being separated for 9 months due to the war situation.
I took a mental note to bring them a blanket the next day. On our way over to the next family, Yaman had a quick errand. We stopped at a restaurant.
"Whats this?" I asked.
"I’m planning on buying it and calling it 'The Syrian Families Home restaurant' and hosting huge dinners for the Syrian families here. When I have it open as a regular restaurant, I will take 30% of the profits from it and put it back into the organization." he said. "Mostly, we need a cheap restaurant that the Syrians can meet each other at so that we can start building a new community.”.
He talked to the owner quickly and then we carried on foot to the next house.
"I can't go into this one." Yaman said. "You and Omar (a guy who knew of this man's situation) should go. I have a weak heart and I will cry if I go in and then I won't be able to sleep at night." Said Yaman. The best way to describe Yaman is like a Pillsbury dough-boy. He has a child-like innocence to him, even though he is a lawyer.
Omar and I knocked on the door. I didn't know what to expect. The family opened and the many many people living in this room broke my heart, but not as bad as the poor 74 year old man and his story. This man, Ghaith, was a famous poet and writer in Aleppo. He had diabetes when the war started happening. As soon as things got bad and hospitals and pharmacies were out of medicine. He couldn't get his diabetes medicine and as a result, lost his leg and his eye.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I just came to see if you needed anything, any help. I’m originally Syrian but I’m from America. We have a huge community there that cares about you."
The man, who was sitting up on the bed wearing what appeared to be a Shakespearian-looking sweater, (It was his wife's since he didn't have one), had white hair, and missing teeth. My words affected him. The fact that there were people who cared was something he needed to hear. He threw his head in his hands and started crying like a baby. I don't think I've ever seen an old man cry like a baby before. I didn't know what to do.
"What’s your family name in Syria?" he asked, in between tears.
I told him and then his face lit up instantly. Do you know Hasan? He asked.
"Yes, that was my mom's cousin in Aleppo." I said.
"He was famous. Your family is famous in Syria for doing good things for people. I knew him and he was a good man. Poor man died very young."
I was delighted to hear that he knew my family.
"Our home is destroyed. I couldn't get medicine for my diabetes and now look at me. It could be worse. At least we are together here." he said. The two beds in the room left no walking space. You had to just throw yourself onto a bed if you entered the room. I asked what they needed. Although it was obvious they needed blankets. They asked me for medicine for him.
"How much is it?" I asked.
"200TL" The son replied.
I instantly handed him the money and left. I broke the visiting rule. I couldn't help it. I told this news to Yaman and he was sad I did that.
"I could take that money and buy him 3 times that amount of what he would pay in a Turkish pharmacy."
"Then do it." I said. "I can't help it. I couldn't help it. You would have to if you saw him." I said.
"That’s why I couldn't go in." He said. "Besides, He's famous in Aleppo and I don't want to see him in this condition." Yaman said as we walked to the last house for the night- 2 women living together who lost everyone. They were sisters and had a bed but not enough blankets. We took notes.
I felt satisfied with the visits we had done. The next day would bring a lot more, more than I ever dreamed was possible in one day.