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Spotlight | Line by line
October 14, 2021

Middle East in Brescia


In Mama Reem’s face, both good-natured and ironic at the same time, I immediately recognize the Middle East. She, with the broad smile framed by the hijab, and her daughter Aya, loose hair and bright eyes, emanate a sort of kindness which the Middle East has a particular way of drawing forth.
I have often wondered why this fate of so much suffering in this land where affability and refinement have marked history, in that Fertile Crescent where man learned to live in community.

Reem and Aya, with baba Maher and the other two children, Maya and Mohamed, left Damascus for Jordan shortly after the conflict began, when Mohamed was only 2 years old. After 10 years in Amman, they arrived in Italy in May of this year via the Humanitarian Corridors, an arrival which was postponed by a year due to the pandemic. They were welcomed in Brescia by the local Caritas, which accompanies their journey step by step, as foreseen by the project.

 

 

It was hard; as a refugee in Jordan, you have no documents, you cannot work. Upon arrival, I was unable to enroll in public school and I got behind by a year”. For Aya, education is everything. She had to attend a paid private school in Amman, then the first semester of university, of course always private, and now she is waiting for the residency in order to enroll in the Italian university. "I am undecided whether to continue studying Biotechnology or enroll in Medicine, Surgery".
Jordan has welcomed many Syrians, but not without friction. "As soon as they hear the Syrian accent they tell you, here, you have come to steal our jobs" - a perspective that is not new. Aya's mother urges, "they blame the Syrians for any problem in Jordan”.

Even before the conflict in Syria, Jordan experienced a chronic precarious balance between the indigenous Arab population and that of the Palestinian refugees who found refuge there following the Jewish-Palestinian conflicts of '48 first and then of '67, reaching over 40 % of the total population.
It goes without saying that the new wave of Syrian refugees - about 1.3 million out of a total of 10 million people - has increased the pressure on a country which is already in a precarious socio-economic condition. I wonder if the aversion comes from the autochthonous component, “From both” - Reem replies immediately. This is not new either, people quickly forget what they have had to endure, and replicate it with the latest newcomers.

 

 


“Even for my father it was hard in Jordan, for his work”; Maher is an electrical engineer, and had already worked in Italy (Brescia) before the Syrian conflict. Here he became friends with an entrepreneur, Claudio Colombo, who facilitated the recent arrival of the whole family in Brescia. Now they live in the apartment next door, "Claudio is a great friend, he helped us and continues to help us quite a lot, with everything” - mama Reem continues. “I don't go to his house, though, because he has two big big dogs, and they scare me! ”, she states as she bursts out laughing!

 

 

 

Reem laughs often, even if it is not easy for her. She struggles with the new language, - "Italian is too difficult!" - and she feels alone, as her sisters and the rest of the family remained in Damascus- “Messenger, I'm using messenger all the time!”.

We ask her if she had imagined Italy to be different; she smiles ironically and looks sideways at her daughter, as if to ask for permission for what she wanted to say, but then she doesn't hold back: “Yeeeee, very different! my husband always says, Italy, Italy! But is this Italy? " -there is no trace of anger, she speaks laughing, she is irresistible. Considering that she was used to Damascus and Amman- “And now I can't even find what I need for my kitchen, and here, oooh, tomatoes, are 2 euros! It is very expensive !! ".
We then end up talking about food, and they promptly extend an invitation for a Syrian lunch for our next visit… success!
Mama Reem then had to go pick up Mohamed from school, and we stayed a while longer chatting with Aya. "My mom is the sweetest person I know. She left her home and her family for our future, even though it was really difficult for her considering that we were so young. No one can imagine the significance of this act... ". And that was it.
I cannot wait for our next visit, to also get to know Maher, Maya, Mohamed… and for the Syrian lunch.

 

 

text & photos Max Hirzel

 

 

 

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