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All our stories are the same

The doorbell rings. The women rise to receive Nour’s mother, clad in black, in the hall. Pleasantries. 

“Prepare yourself,” Adnan whispers.

Nour’s mother lived most of her life on the outskirts of Aleppo. Since fleeing to Turkey, she has been working as a dish washer in a NGO’s small Kilis office, earning 500 Turkish Lira [172 USD at the time, 140USD today] a month. This is low even by the abysmal standards of  Syrians in Turkey. 

“Just a small amount — she is not taking a typical Turkish salary,”  Walad’s daughter Samar, a field officer working out of that office, explains.

“I tried to help her with the card for cash assistance, but I didn’t get it. Someone at the office said that if we have a new project, we will be able to help her.”

How did you come to Turkey?

“All our stories are the same. We all left because of the regime. They attacked our house one day, the regime, randomly. At first, we rented a house in A’zaz city, for one month. Then we decided to escape to Turkey.”

“We all come here without having work opportunities, unless you have a career. I am taking care of the house, just cleaning and spending.”

The sitting room is full of rumours. One is that a new deal between Turkey and the European Union, looming, will furnish an additional 500,000 Syrian refugees with cash assistance cards.”

“But if the Turkish find us with these new cards,” Samar’s mother says, “they will kill us.”

“The local Turks here,” she continues, “they saw me with the NGO’s current card in the grocery store one day. And they shouted, ‘You need ten Bashars, not only one!’ They didn’t know that this money was coming from foreigners, that is wasn’t taken from the Turkish government or Turkish people.”

Kilis’ urban Syrians have similar complaints about NGOs as those in Gaziantep. That those operating in the area are easily misled. That they do not always reach the most squalid neighbourhoods. That for example, certain households pack neighbourhood kids into their home before assessment visitations, thereby claiming to shelter more mouths, in order to receive more assistance. Nour’s mother continued. 

My daughter came after us. She was nine months pregnant. After a hard way, she finally arrived. She gave birth here in Kilis.

Her husband had a friend in Germany. And the friend was always calling her husband, saying, ‘Come come come, we can get you a job here.’ But she didn’t accept this idea. She told him she didn’t want to go. Her husband decided to go to Germany by the sea.

And my daughter went with him, even though she didn’t accept this idea, because she had no choice. They sunk in the sea. She had brought her two children, and her newborn sank with her.

The older son came back to Kilis with his father. Her husband gave me this child and went again to Germany. We hear he is getting married there. I am living with the rest of my family. I have three sons and four daughters — but now only three daughters.

Another of my daughters is married, but her husband went back to Syria. They have a child, so we are taking care of her as well. I don’t know the real story about Nour. We are just guessing. My daughter’s husband, he said they didn’t sink by accident — he said they sank in the Greek islands, that this traffic police saw them and started to attack the boat.

He said it was so wavy — not even the cup of tea could stay still the boat was shaking in the waves. They asked the women and the child to not go on the police boat, the Greek police asked. So when the women and child went out [from the hull to the deck], they asked please let us come in— our boat is sinking. But they didn’t accept — they just let it sink.

And the police attacked — they made a hole in the boat. After a while another boat came, maybe they are the same — they came to take care of the others, dead or alive. Mostly the men survived because they are stronger. The boat was overfull.

The Turkish coast guard picked up the survivors — and recovered the bodies. A greater degree of certainty can be attached to this; the two bodies were delivered by Turkish authorities to Kilis.

You can say that we were lucky to get this story. It is better to have just a part of the story, because not every Syrian who dies mysteriously gets their story told. I don’t like telling it again. I don’t share it with anyone and I don’t like to remember.

But because I trust you and because Samar asks, I tell it to you. They found the bodies; they were all young girls. Eleven young girls — all of them dead and the small children as well.

I cried a lot. She was my oldest daughter and was my friend too. And when she died I was shouting at her husband, for she died because of him.

They brought her body; she is here in Kilis now. They found her easily, because she was on the boat’s inside. When they found the boat she was taking care of her son, like this [she cradles the invisible with both arms]. We put them in the same coffin.

Nour — my daughter’s name means the sun, like the light, the one who gives the light to you. And her name is like her beauty. She was my most beautiful daughter. She was studying Arabic literature, in her first year.

She took care of her brother and sister when she was young. She was a very good girl. She was the mother of her brother and sister, more than me.

Usually at Eid, if we didn’t have something to buy for the family, she would say, ‘Give to my brother and sister, not me.’

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