We met Hoda at a camp for the most vulnerable in Lesbos; she had been living in a tent there for the past six months, with her three sons, 5, 9 and 13, one of whom has severe autism and other challenges. Listening to her tell the story of how she traveled from Lebanon to Syria to Turkey and then Greece left me numb; to hear her perspective on fate and what gives her strength had me in tears. Here is Hoda’s story, in her own words.
“The first time we want to cross [into Turkey] we couldn’t. We were dipped in mud; the children couldn’t walk and they [smugglers] only told us, ‘come one, come on, quickly, quickly.’ I couldn’t, with my child, he doesn’t understand, and it was in the middle of the night, and it was raining heavily, and it was very cold. The group proceeded their way, and I was left alone. One of the smugglers said you have to turn back and spend the night in this room. It was a very risky time. We came back, crying a lot, and we were dipped in water and in rain. I had a nervous breakdown.
A smuggler came and said I will show you a shorter way, a cut way; another said you want to pay $1600 more and I will hold your son and cross with him. They are thieves, they are liars; but I have no other choice, who is going to help me. In the deserted house very far away, yaani anyone can come and he can kill you and he can leave. There is no electricity, only candlelight; you sleep on the floor. I didn’t sleep a jiffy; then at 4 am there is a knock on the door, ‘y’Allah we have to go’. Walking, walking, walking quickly. My son was small, he stumbled many times. My other son, he doesn’t understand, he was saying ‘ah, ah, ah’, and they say ‘shut up shut up!’; I told him I didn’t pay money for you to shout at him. It was not allowed to utter a single word, or show the light of a cellular; if they catch you they will shoot you, or put you back to the police station.
When we got to Moira camp in Lesbos, it was the worst days ever. It was extremely hot during the days, extremely cold at night. The tent used to sweat, and drip down water on us; flying ants and flies everywhere; you had to stand in a long line with your children for food, small pack of rotten food, peas and beans and a piece of cheese. The UN came over and said whose case is more tragic than the other; they saw my son, and we went to another camp and stayed there two months; it was a castle compared to this. I needed a lock on my tent [so my son would not run away], so then they brought us to this camp. Volunteers are very good here, warm at heart.
I lost my father and my mother; I only have one sister in Aleppo. I have not seen my husband since August 2016. Our families are not contacting me. When you have a sick child, all people they tell you go throw your sick child and go enjoy your life. But I turn a deaf ear.
Poverty overwhelms. Ignorance overwhelms. Stupidity overwhelms.
You know this is life. It’s full of ups and downs, either you conquer or you run away. No other choice. I’m not that strong; sometimes I feel I’m the weakest on earth, and sometimes I feel I’m the strongest on earth. Sometimes I change diapers for my child while crying. Sometimes I feel I’m so bored, yaani, I’m so suffocated. You are not the captain of your fate; fate manipulates you the way it wants. In life, you do not sit on a chair like a queen and dictate orders, I want this, I want that. Life does not offer you everything you want. You should gain small portions of health, children, family, food, shelter, eduction, in order to be happy. What is important in life, is not to feel pain. If you are healthy, you can live.
In my case, if you have normal children, even if they live on the street, they will grow. But when you are raising a totally mentally retarded child, this is what makes you feel so worried and afraid and cautious; and you feel if you die, what will happen, who will take care of him. Yaani, this is a test from God, and you have to be patient.
Everything that comes from God, you have to accept. This is fate. This is your destiny. You have to face everything.”
Photo: Saanya Ali