Yaminah greets us like she we are long lost friends. She grasps us and kisses our cheeks and invites us in with a stream of Arabic that doesn’t stop. As we sit, she keeps talking to our community contact, eventually dissolving into tears. My translator tries to keep up and we eventually manage to explain exactly who we are and ask her permission to interview and record her, about ten minutes after we have arrived.
Her situation is dire, probably one of the worst we encountered. She has 11 children, but when they arrived in Lebanon her husband abandoned her and won’t have anything to do with their family. She almost apologises for the number of children she has, explaining that they had many because in Syria they were wealthy. When the war broke out, Daesh became active in her area and concerned for two of her teenage daughters, she married them to other local men, ‘good men’, she says, in order to protect them.
One of her son’s has been gravely injured in Syria and she cries with distress every time she discusses him. It becomes clear that they haven’t heard from him in days and they fear he is dead. 5 of her youngest children live with her in this tiny two room dwelling with a small kitchen. There is no running water and when we arrive, we help one of her daughters carry collected water up two dank flights of stairs that stink of urine. One of her sons works, the household’s breadwinner, and he arrives at the end of the interview, exhausted and absolutely filthy.
When we talk about safety and security in public, she talks about men who tried to break into the house when two of her daughters were home alone, about a man who tried to drag away her son as they were crossing the road to the local church, and men who propositioned her daughters, barely into their teens, for sex in exchange for money. She tells us about a local youth who saw her digging in the trash for food and told her that she didn’t need too – if she slept with him twice, he would give her $100. These days, she locks her children into her home before she goes out, which she is now less and less inclined to do out of fear. However, she also begins to share about how others have stepped in to help and defend them – shopkeepers who chased away unsavoury men, an army official who told her to hide her expired identity at a checkpoint, and Hezbollah officials who encouraged her to speak to them about anyone in the neighbourhood who was creating difficulties for them. In the midst of many awful stories that she shares with us, are accounts of people stepping in to help and support them.