Waiting room at the Irbid clinic.
Monday, March 24
Irbid Clinic, Jordan
By Rhenda Meiser and Hamid Alhiasat
Today we went to a clinic in Irbid, a city in northwestern Jordan close to Syria. We are on our third day of visits. Our medical team featured family doctors, dentists, OB-GYN, pediatrics, cardiology and eye care—plus a humanitarian team who played with the children and distributed clothing, diapers, formula, and toys. My job was to tell the stories of some of the Syrian refugees, so my colleague and interpreter Hamid went to the waiting room. The room was packed with women and children while the men waited outside. Families kept showing up, and the noise of the room rose steadily until we had to shout to hear each other.
We approached a middle-aged man who was very enthusiastic to tell America what he thought. He explained that he had four sons ages 12-20, the eldest in dental school. He was so proud of this fact. But after soldiers attacked his village and his house burned down, they had to flee. They crossed the border into Jordan by foot. Now here, Ahmed says life is very expensive and refugees are not permitted to work.
“America is the biggest, most powerful country and the U.S. can force the government to stop killing us,” said Ahmed.
What upsets him the most at this point is that his son had to stop training to become a dentist. He asks Americans to help his son continue his education.
I also spoke with a woman named Ghufran, sitting quietly with two little boys. She was expecting her fourth child in two months. Her hijab and gown were black; a turquoise headband framed her face. She gave me a warm smile when I looked over.
She had been very happy in Daraa, Syria. She worked for a pharmacy and her husband worked for the health ministry, leading a very comfortable life. They had just bought a new house and she was pregnant with her second son. In 2012, the Assad regime bombed her street to rubble and she moved to her mother’s home. After four months, her mothers’ street was also destroyed and she knew it was time to leave the country. At personal risk, her husband stayed behind to serve the people. He would secretly pack his car with medical supplies and distribute them to the town’s residents. Eventually soldiers started following him. If the soldiers found “even a syringe” in his car, he would face big problems. “Medical professionals are targeted in Syria, because they help people live,” Ghufran said.
After two years, Syria became too dangerous and he joined his family here. Since the bombings, Ghufran’s 5-year old son Mohammad wakes up with nightmares, afraid that soldiers will come to the house and hurt him. Loud noises also upset him. At the clinic that day, Ghufran met with the obstetrician and Mohammad got pediatric care. Our mission also includes psychiatrists.
“I had the house, the children, a good life,” said Ghufran.
“We call that the American dream,” I told her.
“It is the Syrian dream too,” she replied.
She asks for the U.S. government to create a no-fly zone over Syria.
The boy on the left is the one who has nightmares. His name is Mohamad. Boy on the right is Omar.
(Out of modesty, Ghufran did not wish to have her picture taken, however these are her boys).
The last of my interviews was the most unnerving. As we talked with Ghufran, an intense young man came over and spoke to Hamid. He looked angry and tired with a taut intensity to him. He was extremely handsome—in America he could be a model for Ralph Lauren—but he was now toughened, lined, unsmiling. Tightly wound.
Gibran was 29 and a former law student from the village of As Suwayda, next to Da’raa. His family and village were Druze.
Gibran (who indeed comes from the Syrian region where the famous poet Khalil Gibran lived) was arrested three times and tortured. His story deserves more time so I will share it soon.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have soldiers shoot at me, or bomb my house, or arrest my family member, but this is happening in Syria. It’s happening to decent people who love their families and want to be able to vote for their leader. At the very least, we can show we care by providing aid and health care, the opportunity to attend school, and jobs to keep them going until Syria stabilizes. If we do, they will remember that America helped.
Mr. Ahmed R. at the Irbid clinic.