Syrian couple's bond unlike many others in Middle East
By Jimmy Patterson
ZARQA, Jordan — To reach Azhar and Halah’s front door in Zarqa, a visitor must squeeze through a narrow space between two buildings, perhaps no more than three-feet wide, cross a damp alley where water drips from a pipe above and runs under foot into a drainage ditch, and duck under a staircase where a non-descript heavy, metal door waits. Inside, the home smells musty. It is dim and non-descript. There is no furniture. When visitors arrive, they remove their shoes, and one of the couple’s children pulls out a mattress, little more than a piece of foam, covered with a gently-worn sheet. The guests in the home lean back against a living room wall for comfort, and listen as the couple begins their story.
Azhar and Halah’s history is unlike many of the other refugees who have come from Syria since the fighting took over their once-peaceful country in the Middle East.
Back home, Azhar drove a taxi on a regular route from Syria to Saudi Arabia, a long trip across an often bleak desert region. He met Halah on one of those drives and they ended up getting married — and that is where their story takes a turn that many here do not.
“I am 24,” Azhar said.
“I am 33,” Halah added.
Marriages in which the woman is older than the man are uncommon in the Arabic world. Even more unusual is the couple’s reason for getting married. But their reason was universal.
“We fell in love,” Halah said.
Many marriages here start at much earlier ages for women and are often arranged by families as part of cultural tradition.
“When we got married,” Azhar said, “even our friends were not OK with it.”
The couple asked not to be photographed. Their names are changed at Azhar’s request. At 24, he is at the age when many young men are forced into fighting. And Azhar does not want to fight.
The couple’s two children, Haytham, Arabic for young hawk, and Ru’a, which means “dreams and visions” in their native tongue, have grown very fond of the schooling being offered them as part of Catholic Relief Services’ and Caritas’ informal education program. The program is operated in Jordanian classrooms each afternoon and this year has been funded by a generous donation by a small group of Midlanders. Haytham, especially, loves learning and, according to his father, talks of the subjects and his school day every night and into the next morning.
Azhar’s top priority now is keeping his family fed, safe and warm. He is grateful to the goodness of the Jordanian people that have welcomed him and his fellow countrymen, but remains discouraged about being supplanted from the home he loved so much. Both he and Halah lived in Daraa, a small town that was the starting point of the uprising against the Assad regime in 2011.
The family, despite its appreciation of the kindnesses received in Jordan, only wants to return home.
“Even if we are living here, we are not living. Only eating and sleeping. Syria is my home,” Azhar said. “I am not sad because I lost my home but because of what has happened to Syria.”
The young man’s grief is not only for the physical destruction that has toppled his country, but for the division it seems to have created among his fellow Syrians who, so recently, lived peacefully side by side.
Halah said she would rebuild Daraa if only she was allowed to return to her country. She would tend her garden and clean their home, which was four times the size of the space they are renting in Zarqa.
Despite the couple’s obvious love for each other, differences exist between them. Halah remains hopeful the fighting will end soon. Azhar believes peace is not at hand, if it happens at all.
“We are losing hope for going back,” Azhar said. “At the beginning we had hope. Now I see no hope. We thought we might be here two months. That was many months ago.”
Halah smiles briefly. She is asked about her hopes with the coming of each new day.
“I still wake up with a smile on my face,” she said.