Aida, 26 years old, from Aleppo, Syria
“Everything that we have been through; it has changed me. I am not the Aida I was before. When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t even recognize myself. When I think about what my life was like before, and I compare it to my life now, here in this camp, I just cannot believe it.” Aida buries her hands in her face to hide the tears that filled her eyes. She has been living in a refugee camp in rural Greece with her husband and four children for the past 8 months.
“We have lost everything, it is too difficult to explain. In Syria, I left because one day, a bomb fell on my house and destroyed everything. All of the life we had built with my husband, all of our things - it was all gone in one explosion.”
“Then, later, when we crossed the border into Turkey, we got caught by the military. We were travelling with some suitcases, but the soldiers forced us to leave the bags behind. We lost everything all over again.”
She holds up a blue perfume bottle. “This is the only thing I have left from Aleppo.” The city is famous for it’s perfume. “It’s laughable, but this is the only thing left of my life in Syria, and it is special to me.”
Aida crossed over from Turkey to Greece, like thousands of other refugees, on an unstable, inflatable boat with her four children. She said that when they started the journey, she thought she would lose her whole family. “My husband said to me: ‘If the boat capsizes, we must not think about anybody else, we must just try to save our children and no one else.’" But Aida explains that we shouldn’t focus on the boat journey. “It was horrible, but it was only one day. We have been in this camp for 8 months now, that is much worse.”
“Here in the camp, I am always afraid, and worrying about my children. It is a miserable life for them here. In Syria, I could buy them new clothes when the seasons changed, they never lacked anything. But now I cannot even get them warm clothes for the winter and they are so cold. It is sad and humiliating to have to beg for a simple jumper from the NGOs for our children.”
“I ask myself everyday ‘Why are we here?’ I cannot believe we are going to spend the winter in this camp.”
Aida, like many women in the camp, works hard all day to take care of her family. She cooks, cleans, and takes care of her children. “The environment is so dirty here, we have to change our children’s clothes several times a day.” She washes all her children’s clothes by hand in cold water, and says she has rashes on her skin and pains in her back and shoulders from the hours she spends sitting down washing clothes.
Aida chuckles, “When we arrived in the camp, I was so depressed and tired that my husband washed the clothes for the first two months. Can you imagine that?”
Aida’s eldest son, Ali, and her eldest daughter, Lujain have recently started attending Greek school to learn Greek. Aida says it is a good step towards a normal life. “They haven’t gone to school for two years, because when we were living in Turkey as refugees, we didn’t have papers to be able to send them.”
Aida never went to school herself, but is now trying hard to learn English. She is attending English classes given by a small NGO in her camp. “Maybe one day I will be in hospital, or in a difficult situation where I will need to speak English well, and I want to make sure I can.”
Photos: Clara Veale / Story: Voices of Refugees