In the early light of the upcoming sun the caravan, al kafileh finds its way. We are delivering a new home to a family of Syrian refugees. We listen to Ilham Madfai who sings our favorite ‘Khuttar’: about the warm Arabic hospitality. Salaam, one of the Syrians, a jewelry designer by profession drums the rhythm along with his fingers on the dashboard. ‘Today I feel happy, I forgot about everything bad. This is the first thing that I really created.’ His face is radiating. A mixture of joy and relief, the excitement of starting something new midst all the troubles. ‘Everything starts with one,’ a voice is singing in my head.
We pass a turn in the road. I notice that the curve in this road just looks like the way to Homs. Salaam agrees, we smile and sigh. Our thoughts each travel back to the Syria we love- so close by and yet so far…
Today is the unofficial installation of Dar Al Yasmine (the House of Jasmine). Inspired youth from different countries – Syria, Iraq, France, Jordan, Italy- started the NGO with the idea of finding a piece of land where the refugees could settle. Their growing numbers demand creative measures. Alongside such Jordanian government initiatives like Zaatari and other newly build refugee camps, private steps are underway. The joy that flows through us is contagious.
My sense of activism is growing here. Everybody is happy to help and to see what’s happening. A film is being made. Buyers, sellers and transporters all work together, wondering how this iron house of ‘five by five’ will fit in eight.
The barak is a beginning, a base for housing families in conjunction with a school enrollment programme from Safe the Children. From there on they can build out, as is happening in other camps. The creativity of the survivors is reborn under the most difficult conditions. UNHCR tents are used to sell watermelons and in Aqaba you can even rent one to sleep on the beach. War inspires trade.
It took a bit of time before the door of this first second hand barak was locked. By then it was flying through the air and landed on the back of a big truck. We follow it in the caravan to Mafraq, a Jordanian village near the Syrian border. As we draw closer Salaam is laughing once more. A banner above the road, bearing the image of the local Sheikh, lightly touches the top of the roof. ‘It’s like a blessing,’ I say, as we laugh innocently. No wonder barak and barakaat share the same Arabic roots.
Arriving at the open plot of land, we find the wind has free reign, causing a whirlwind of dust, that spirals freely covering everything with a fine layer of sand. The sweltering heat is overwhelming. This is desert life. As a Dutch I feel somewhat sultry, longing to see, feel, touch and drink water. Salaam, having listened to my story about being ‘Adrift on the Euphrates’, is reading my mind: ‘I am a desert boy; I can only swim in the sand.’
While the first House of Jasmine finds its new grounds, the family from Palmyra that I visited last April happens to be the neighbors. We greet each other as old friends, sharing what has happened over the past months. Their tent has moved and they hope to live in one of the baraks. While the sweet tea is heating I give them a present a solar wakawaka lamp that will provide light throughout the night. The temperature in the tent is rising and Umm Ali asks her children to completely open the windows from in and outside, to allow more air in. The little girl is helping her brother to open the inside windows. A package of cigarettes and a key fall out and she picks it up. Surprised I ask, ‘A key?’ Why do you need a key in a tent? Everyone is laughing.
But it turns out it is the key of their house in Palmyra. Their home in the middle of battle zone between the Syrian Arab army on one side, the Free Syrian Army on the other. Their home that was destroyed. My tears are falling freely. Water in the desert. We share our sorrow, embrace each other, hold hands. It is The Key.