Wajida came to Lebanon as a divorced, single mother of three sons. She shares her story, often with tears running down her face, while we drink freshly made Arabic coffee and she sits cross-legged on the floor of her home. In Syria, her husband was married to her and another woman, but the other wife was abusive towards Wajida’a children. So she divorced her husband to get away from the situation and fought for custody of her children, which was eventually granted to her. Life in Syria was arduous before the bombs even fell.
Now living in Lebanon for the past year, one her sons work, and is the sole breadwinner for their home. They live in this one room dwelling, that could hardly be described as a house, laying out thin mattresses at night on the floor to sleep together side by side. Occasionally her younger son has found work, but he was an easy target for abuse and often employers would beat him or refuse to pay him, so now she doesn’t let him work. He sits next to her, quietly listening to us throughout the interview and quickly getting up to wipe up a spill. None of her sons have any education.
Her status as a single woman makes life extremely precarious. She tells people in the neighbourhood that she is widowed rather than having the stigma and attention of the label of ‘divorcee’. She feels that this might get her into trouble. She tells us how she lives a very quiet life, conducts herself with dignity and rarely interacts with others in the neighbourhood, in order to prevent what she described as ‘petty gossip’. She believes her subdued nature helps to protect her.
When some youths in the neighbourhood tried to create a conflict with her sons, beating on their door and yelling in the street, their Lebanese neighbours defended and protected her saying that she was a good and respectable woman and they should leave. It is often her Lebanese neighbours that will tell her and her sons when there is an army checkpoint set up, so they can avoid the area.
Added to their precarious day to day life is a pervading fear. The desire to be resettled somewhere outside the region is closely tied to her concerns for her sons. There are multiple army checkpoints that stop and search men in particular. Their papers have expired and they cannot afford to renew them. She tells us that at checkpoints she often quietly explains their situation and pays a small bribe, and they are let through, but she is terrified that one day she will have no money and her sons will be arrested or deported to Syria (officially, there is a non-refoulement policy).
When it comes to peacemaking in the neighbourhood, she identifies Hezbollah as the dominant institution at play and explains that she would go to them first if there was a problem or conflict. She explains that they protect both Lebanese and Syrians in the neighbourhood and resolve disputes at the local level.