Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Syrian guests in a Turkish shed

Um Maher (left) and Mariam
It is always a difficult choice in times of war: stay and die or flee and become a refugee – at times for life.
The revolution in Syria, now into its third year, has uprooted up to 1.5 million people and internally displaced another four million, making Syrians one of the largest urban-refugee populations in the world.
Mariam made this hard choice.
After losing her husband in the fighting, she was forced to flee, with her eight children in tow, the ceaseless government airstrikes on the Idlib area in northwestern Syria where they lived.
The nine crossed into Turkey on foot and had the good fortune of knocking at the door of a humble farmhouse sitting right on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Um Maher, the Turkish woman farm owner, took pity on them and offered them to stay in the only portion of space available in her livestock shed. 
Alarabiya TV presenter and journalist Rima Maktabi unearthed the tiny farmhouse for a human-interest feature and an on camera chat with Syrian refugee Mariam and her Turkish benefactor Um Maher.
The chicken, the cow, the shed and Rima Maktabi chatting to Um Maher and Mariam
A three-minute video aired this week by Alarabiya TV shows Maktabi, a Lebanese media figure recognized for her coverage of the 2006 Lebanon war, visiting the tiny farmhouse. She gives the livestock shed the once-over, focusing on the section where the woman refugee from Idlib and her brood sleep, cook, eat, wash and bathe, before conversing with Mariam and her eldest son Khaled and with Um Maher.
“We fled the airstrikes. We had no place to hide. We just left carrying nothing,” says Mariam.
“Who helps you now?” Maktabi wonders.
Mariam breaks into tears
“Here? Charitable people,” Mariam replies while her children jump all over her before she breaks into tears.
“When they give us something, we eat. Otherwise we don’t. God looks after us. What can we do?”
Though a shed, they have a “roof” over their head thanks to the big-hearted Um Maher, a Turk who speaks broken Arabic.
Maktabi asks Um Maher if she charges Mariam any rent.
“No, no. Look, they have nothing. How could I charge them rent?” she replies raising her hands and pointing at Mariam and her children. “They’re hungry, God help them! Are we expected to take their soul? They’re hungry. Look, they are all young…”
Um Maher’s shed, cow and chickens are all she owns.
Mariam's eldest son Khaled tends to the cow
Mariam’s eldest son, Khaled, tends the cow and chickens with his sister in way of repaying Um Maher.
“They feed us and we feed them,” he says, adding: “But I miss my country, my home, my school, my relatives and my people.”
Mariam baking bread
Only when do-gooders bring her flour is Mariam able to bake bread in a primitive outdoors mud wood-burning oven.
Um Maher’s welcome to Mariam’s refugee family is all the more touching because she is sharing the little she owns.
Her kindness and generosity is also a testimony to how little help can save lives.
The following is Rima Maktabi's full report on Alarabiya: