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Mona Fattala

No choice but to brush off the past

'I have to brush off the dust of the past' [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2015

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First person: Mired in poverty and despair, Syrian refugees in Lebanon face a daily struggle for survival. Here one woman tells her story.

In October 2012, we decided to escape the bitter reality in Syria and seek refuge in Lebanon. We thought the situation there would be more secure and stable.


My husband, children and I became four new refugees in Lebanon. I found us a dilapidated dwelling in the Shatila refugee camp. Many Syrians have settled in already existing refugee camps in Lebanaon. Like most of them, I think, I never thought we would remain here this long. I left my country thinking I would soon be back to my house.


Life is made up of choices. But not always, and not for us. Today Syrians do not have a choice. I did not have a choice

     Life is made up of choices. But not always, and not for us.

to leave my country. I was forced to leave. I have no choice but to survive in this poor shantytown. I have to secure housing and food.


I thought that the residents of the camp would share our burden, because we have suffered similar pain. I thought that some countries would help us. The reality is different.


Drug dealers and arms dealers live here. Ruins surround me. This is a place of narrow streets and informal settlements that do not meet the most basic standards of life. The area is covered in darkness because electricity is a rare commodity.


My calculations were also wrong when I thought that I would return to Syrian shortly. Days, months and years have gone by, and I cannot find in the midst of this deep darkness, any source of light to give me hope of returning to Syria.


Despite all the difficulties and this long time, despite that fact that most Lebanese people are against the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and despite all the decisions of the Lebanese state and its General Security Administration against Syrian refugees, I get up and shake off the dust. I do this every day despite the loneliness and the images that crowd my imagination every night: images of my house in Rif Dimashq; images of my mother, who I miss and who is still there; images of my son, whose grave I want to be next to; images of my father who passed away in Syria while I was in Lebanon and to whom I was not able to say goodbye or look into his eyes one last time. I shake off the dust of the past.


I wake up in the morning, I walk and I look for work. Today I will choose. I did not have a choice in the past but as long as this journey has been forced upon me, I will choose how I will travel it. I travel with strength. I will not be stopped by the obstacles that stand in my way. I am sick of these mattresses and thin blankets that always let in the cold. I will not stay under this roof that leaks in the winter and that neither protects me from the winter storms or the summer heat.


I demanded freedom in my country and I will not accept to be a captive of poverty and displacement in this country. I am no longer scared by the sudden illness of one of my children when I cannot afford medicine. I am no longer scared of the landlord when he asks for the rent before my husband comes back from his work. The sight of my husband – who now works as a plumber and works all hours – no longer bothers me when I open the door and see him tired, exhausted and covered in dust. To see him like this is far better than seeing him arrested.

Read our special coverage on the anniversary of the Syrian revolution

To be a stranger outside my country is being a stranger in my own country. I will endure. I will free myself from those shackles that say that a woman should only live for her house and her husband. I will be strong enough to look for work and to change my life, take charge of my own fate, become who I want to be.


The only thing I regret is that I might be buried far away from my son’s grave, in soil that is not my homeland, or that I might return to my country in a coffin. I want to return on my two feet and live freely in my country.

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