Shifa’s not the first Syrian mother to have involuntarily relocated here. Since the Syrian conflict began five years ago, over 1.8million refugees have found sanctuary in Turkey. Sanctuary that is not always perfect, nor offers a life similar to that they led before war, but nonetheless, the sanctuary of a safe place to raise their children free from guns and bombs, access to water and amenities, food, medical care and even schooling. Aside from the (minimal estimate) 1.8 million refugees who now live permanently in Turkey, health agencies, hospitals and blood banks routinely provide treatment to Syrians who cross the border for medical help their bombed out hospitals devoid of supplies can no longer provide. Pregnant women cross for ultrasounds, dehydrated children are given UV’s, glasses and dentures are replaced. As Europe continues to fail these refugees, Turkey – a country itself with a mass population of social-economic problems – has spent in excess of $5 billion providing basic care to million of men, women and children with nowhere else to turn.
I first met Alima at the park. Her two sons quickly befriended mine, and, using a complex, simplified amalgamation of Turkish, Arabic and English, we struck up what would grow into a trusting friendship. Alima, her husband and their sons along with her brother-in-law, his wife and two children had just moved here from Gaziantep where they’d spent the past six months in one of the many Turkish-run refugee camps on the Syrian border. They had come hoping to find work, she told me, realising that the conflict they’d fled from wasn’t stopping anytime soon and that they needed to build a life for their sons here. A few days later, a group of friends and I visited Alima in her new home and met Zahra, Alima’s sister-in-law. Whilst Alima’s story of fleeing a war zone was terrifying to hear, Zahra’s made your whole soul shiver: The final push to leave her homeland came after watching her sister’s murder at point-blank range by one of Assads soldiers.
Two years after we met, Alima and her family have settled into the community. Neighbours replicate her mouthwatering Syrian dishes, the baby in the flat above calls her “Anne” (“Mama”); her husband’s found stable work and her children, fluent now in Turkish mashallah, attend school and play out with their friends. For them, the horrors of war are out of reach of daily life, but just last week, Alima received news her mother’s house had been bombed and her mother, thanks be to God safe, had become another statistic of Syria’s internally displaced.
As Alima’s grasp of Turkish has strengthened, our conversations over strong Syrian coffee – a fragrant blend of cardamom and clove, cinnamon and coffee – have grown to reminisce of the Syria that once was. She tells me of their wedding celebrations and the parties they’d throw for Eid, of the clothes her families’ tailor shop produced. She teaches me how to make cut aubergines like banana skins and dry them on a washing line for winter, and let me in on the secret to delicious non-slimy okra dishes…fry the okra and just warm through with tomatoes before serving. We’ve shared Eid’s together, watched our kids swim in underpants in the lake and laughed as they soaked us on getting out. We’ve shared pride in her kids Turkish becoming fluent and native, and in T *almost* mastering potty training. This unlikely pairing, a British expat and a Syrian refugee is now the most natural of friendships bordering kin. And the most important lesson I’ve learnt from the blessing of this woman in my life? Live whatever life throws you with dignity and patience and no matter what hardships you’re facing, give thanks daily for the blessings we have. My friend now is safe, her children warm and fed, but millions more Syrians are not. This is way past the stage of feeling sorry from afar and then going about our days unaffected. We must, if we want to claim humanity at all, pull together to do the little we all can. This Independent article links some simple ways we can ease their burdens while our governments delay actually making a difference.