Alyas is my first interview. She is very welcoming, and has the most beautiful smile. She and her husband and their four children live in two rooms with a bathroom/kitchenette. There is no furniture, save for a small TV, and we conduct the interview in a bare room. Her four children and visiting friend play around us throughout the interview, one with a 4 inch rusty razor blade that has me fighting for concentration and a maternal need to intervene.
Other women join us and leave throughout the interview – both local friends and family. At one point I count 11 different women and children in the room (including myself) whilst we have the interview. I wait for it to disintegrate into disarray, but it doesn’t. The other women give Alyas the space to talk and share her experiences, they don’t interrupt her.
Alyas’s husband started working in the neighbourhood a number of years ago, while she and the children continued to live in Syria. But, in 2014, their home was bombed and so she and the children made the journey across the mountains and down into Beirut.
Alyas and her husband suffered from scams after she arrived from some local men who promised to arrange legal papers, or Kefala, for them for $300 and then disappeared with their money. Despite this, their experiences in the neighbourhood have been largely positive. She tells me that she doesn’t feel restricted or worried for her safety in the neighbourhood. She admits that maybe she doesn’t go out often, after taking her children to school, and tends to frequent the same Syrian shop owners that she knows and who have been kind to their family, giving them credit when they’ve needed it. She knows her way around and people rarely address her and no one has harassed her. She explains that when it comes to worries and concerns, it is their rent, lack of income, and insecure status that creates stress for them. Her husband has very inconsistent work and they a have hundreds of dollars of debt owed to local shops and their landlord. The neighbourhood itself doesn’t worry them at all. She said if she ever saw the men that took advantage of them she would rightly give them a piece of her mind – she doesn’t feel unable to because of her status as a refugee.
She explains that about a month ago the UN called them and said that they had an option for resettlement in Germany or Canada. But they said no. She said her friends and family were horrified that she wouldn’t take the opportunity. But she said she couldn’t bear to be so far from Syria. She makes it clear that they are playing a waiting game – she longs for Syria and the moment it is safe, they are going home.