(UNHCR) – There is a part of Ahmed that doesn’t miss the prosperity and possessions that he left behind, including his library of law books and the volumes of poetry that he read during evenings of leisure. He does not regret folding up a lucrative criminal law practice in the western Syrian city of Hama before escaping the hell of Syria’s conflict.
The 34-year-old left Syria early morning last August 28 and fled to Lebanon. The final straw was when his mother, worried about his safety, broke down in tears and begged him to leave. This was a few days after Ahmed’s home was obliterated by artillery shells and then set on fire.
But, despite the death, detentions and violence, Ahmed still lives. He has his health and strength, and his wife and their baby daughter, who is nearly two months old now.
He does not regret: in part, due to what he describes as the good fortune of escaping a war zone. But perhaps most of all, he cannot regret because there is quite simply no time to reflect. The past is the luxury that remains.
“I have to be honest with you,” says Ahmed, his thick hands brushing his salt-and-pepper beard as he speaks. “Since the conflict started [in March 2011] it has been difficult to think of anything. My brain is clogged with other thoughts: Where we will eat? What has happened to our friends?”
Like all refugees, Ahmed has journeyed from a life of relative peace and calm to uncertainty and profound instability. He is like many of the 1.6 million Syrians who have crossed a border and shed their former lives, only to be forced to adjust to the limited parameters and frail opportunities that define their new life.
Like many other professionals – lawyers, doctors, engineers and business experts – he has swapped his house and car for an empty room with a bed. In these spaces they find a reason to be thankful. “I look around these naked walls and say ‘Thank God I am here and I have escaped death,'” he says.
Ahmed now survives on his wits, his muscles and the kindness of people he barely knows. When he fled, he heard from migrant workers that he could stay in the town of Akkar in the north of Lebanon. After
staying there for a few days, he was told that there might be work in the olive fields of Al Koura village.
It was there that he found a bare room to rent for US$150 per month. A neighbour, a Lebanese woman, also extended him kindness during a critical moment. The bed he sleeps on was given to him by this stranger named Majida. The shirt on his back was also given by her. “She gave more than she had,” he says. “I have never seen anyone so generous in my life.”
This generosity meant that a month after his arrival, Ahmed could call for his wife to follow him across the border. Ahmed had found work, in the olive fields, as a construction worker. He had become somewhat moored and believed they could survive. He had moved from making US$75 an hour to making US$75 per week.
Ahmed’s daughter was born as a refugee in a hospital in Tripoli. She arrived at 9 p.m. and weighed 2.5 kilogrammes. Ahmed and his wife Ameera decided to name the child Majida, after the woman who had shown him kindness. “Our little family is growing,” he says. “Thank God.”
By Gregory Beals and Bathoul Ahmed in Tripoli, Lebanon (UNHCR)