Yesterday, for the first time in my life I saw Syrians as refugees in a camp. During my years in Syria, I have met many Syrians from different cities, social and religious backgrounds, classes. But even the poorest ones that I used to visit in Damascus` “slums” lived in houses, even if small, even if surrounded by garbage, unfinished buildings, environmental degradation. They had their little private space, always made beautiful, always made warm by them.
It was a shock for me to see Syrians living in camps like this one in the picture, in Lebanon. The irony is that there are people in that camp who come from Yarmouk, which they also call “camp” but it`s not really a camp as we image it. It`s a lively area of Damascus, it`s a neighborhood plenty of shops, markets, mostly inhabited by Palestinian Syrians. Many of them had to leave Yarmouk when it was bombed by the regime. Apparently, they sent a MIG airplane inside which destroyed buildings and killed many people. Many of those I met yesterday have lost friends or relatives during the bombing, so they have decided to leave immediately. Same stories from other families coming from different Syrian cities, such as Aleppo or Homs.
Now they live in these tents, sometimes ten people in one tent. A shared kitchen and bathrooms are outside. They do everything in these small spaces. And, I dont know how, but at some point they made coffee. All of a sudden, I smelled the beautiful smell of Turkish coffee that I used to drink every day in Syria. There were little cups and spoons, and sweets, too. The family smiled at me, offered coffee, said: “Thank God, we are alive. Eventually we will go back to our country, Syria”.
This is only just another example of the dignity of the Syrian people. I am humbled by people whose first thought is to offer you coffee and welcome you warmly even if they are obliged to live in such a small space, all together. I am humbled by their smiles and by the way they thank God to have preserved their lives, even if they have to live as refugees now.
We have failed the Syrian civil society. We fail them each time we focus our attention only on geo-strategical issues, or when we are obsessed about fears of seeing Islamists ruling a post-Assad Syria. We fail them each time we build scenarios for the future of this country instead of thinking about the present, about what is needed now by this society which is suffering so much.