By Laury Anne Bellessa, Media Manager for CARE France.
"We have dreaded this time of the year for the past four years. Every winter, we suffer from the cold," says Barsha, welcoming us in her tent.
She struggles in her walk in front of us, leaning on her cane, and invites us to follow her. When asked how old she is, she answers, "I don’t really know. I might be 65 or 70. What I know is that I am younger than my husband."
The tent is empty with the exception of a few carpets covering the floor and mattresses. When sitting down, I make sure to place my feet under me to warm them.
Before the conflict in Syria, Barsha lived with her family near Homs. They decided to flee after the death of four of her ten sons.
When she talks about Syria, tears flow softly from her eyes. Barsha’s face is covered with graceful tattoos. Such tattoos are very common among rich and respected Bedouin families like hers. (Photo: Laury-Anne Bellessa/CARE)
"Two were killed by a bomb and the other two died because of the lack of access to healthcare. After that, one of my sons fled to Lebanon, and another went to Jordan. We joined him with the rest of my six sons, my two daughters and their families,” remembers Barsha, her hands squeezed on her knees.
“Shortly after we arrived in Jordan, we moved to this neighborhood in Mafraq because UNHCR was distributing tents here. We chose this place because it is a bit higher. When it rains, the tent is not flooded. But we can’t do anything to prevent the mattresses from remaining damp all night. The roof of the tent is waterproof but the water leaks from the sides."
It rained heavily last night in Jordan, and it is already snowing in towns further to the north. Enormous puddles of water cover the arid land on which dozens of tents occupied by Syrian families are set up.
"We know that blankets and coats will not protect us from this cold," says Barsha, looking away.
The city of Mafraq, north of Jordan, is located in a desert area. Whatever the season, temperatures fall drastically at the end of the day. In winter, temperatures during the night fall below zero.
Last year, the authorities evacuated this informal camp because it was becoming too large to be able to guarantee its security, and the refugees were there without authorization. Barsha and her husband were sent to a small apartment which they were forced to leave after one month, because they couldn’t afford to pay the rent.
"We have no source of income,” adds Barsha. “When we arrived here, my husband went back to work but his health conditions deteriorated quickly."
Today, Barsha and her husband receive an equivalent of US$ 28 per month as food vouchers from the World Food Programme. That's all they can afford to eat. However, they can’t afford to buy basic items like hygiene products, or pay for healthcare. A neighboring house also sells them access to electricity for about US$ 35 per month. They share this cost with the family that lives the neighboring tent.
"We are grateful for what we have, but we need at least an additional 100 JD per month to live without being worried every morning. Today we have to borrow money from our neighbors. We also owe the local supermarket US$ 420. I hope we can repay them quickly. CARE provided us with financial assistance last year, so I hope we can get that kind of help again. "
To help the family through the harsh winter months, CARE provided them with a winter kit including blankets, mattresses, a heater, and US$ 60 for refill. But Barsha is already concerned that the winter will be long and that they won’t have enough money to pay to refill gas cylinders.
"In Syria, we had everything we needed. In the summer, we worked on farms and raised animals. We spent the winter in a warm house. In the spring, the grass grows, "she said, looking at the desert terrain that stretches before us.
When she talks about Syria, tears flow softly from her eyes. Barsha’s face is covered with graceful tattoos. Such tattoos are very common among Bedouin families with a certain background and heritage like hers. Barsha, this noble and dignified woman, now goes to her neighbors to use their toilets and wash.
"We were forced to flee Syria. We could not stay. We all were under the risk of dying there. And now, with no solutions in the horizon, we will stay here until God decides to take our souls away. What kind of a life do we have here?" she asks.
For the past few days, Barsha’s husband has been staying with one of her sons in a small apartment in Zaatari village nearby. He had a heart attack back in Syria and since then his health condition continued to deteriorate, and is now particularly serious. He isn’t able to move for the last two months. Despite the winter, Barsha preferred to return to her tent. Her relationship with her daughter-in-law is complicated and, above all, she cannot bear to live in a small space. Living in the open air reminds her a little of Syria and her Bedouin origins.
"Is there anyone who does not miss his country in exile? Especially when living in these conditions," she asks.
Suddenly, she worries: "I have not even offered you tea!"
We reassure her and I ask her what she wishes for the future. "Pray for us,” she answers. ” I also wish for you to be happy. CARE has helped us. I consider you now as my children. You are my son," she said, addressing Mohammad, who is in charge of our programs in Mafraq, "and you are my daughter. I wish you a beautiful life, now and in the future," said Barsha, taking me in her arms.
When we leave her tent, Barsha comes with us. She sits proudly in the sun, not worrying about the weather that becomes colder as the sun heat starts subsiding.
Read more about CARE's work in Syria here.«All Stories and Blogs