We meet Takiyah on a Saturday afternoon in at her house. She lives with her husband and their 6 children in 1 room with a bathroom and kitchen out the back. The children sit with us throughout the interview, one cuddles up next to me watching me type intently, and towards the end her husband arrives. She is one of the few women that I meet that is working in the neighbourhood, at a local tailors doing ironing. Her husband looks for work every day, but it’s sporadic, and their 12 year old son also works to bring in income for the family. They have only been in Lebanon for 2 months. They left Syria when their area started to be bombed heavily – but she explains that before this they had never left their village, never mind the country.
She tells us that they feel more secure in Lebanon then they did in Syria, but there is still a lot of fear for them – and she fears especially for the children. This is a foreign environment for them, and they are still new to the area. None of the children are in school, and whenever she leaves them to go to work she says that her’ heart is still with them’. She explains that her life is very limited: She goes back and forth to the tailors where she works, maybe a minute walk from their house, and rarely goes out beyond this.
When our community contact explains that there is a local park that has been created and she could take her children out to enjoy it, she refuses and says: ‘It’s safer here’. We ask if there have been any bad experiences: Has she been harassed? Has anyone behaved inappropriately toward her or said anything? She insists nothing has happened. But it is clear she is very wary of the neighbourhood. Their experiences with landlords have been largely negative and fairly hostile, and they don’t know anyone else in the area. They have one cousin living in Lebanon, but other than that, no friends or family. I ask them why they chose Lebanon, instead of Jordan, and her husband tells us that from what he understood, they would have had to walk through the desert, for maybe 150kms, through some territory controlled by Daesh, and he knew his family would never be able to do it.
I ask Takiyah whether she speaks to other Syrians in the neighbourhood, whether she has approached them or tried to meet other people. This is a question that has always personally irritated me – the idea that if you are from the same country (even the same continent!) you must ‘know’ the same people, or have instant rapport with your ‘countrymen’. But I can’t help but ask them this, I am intrigued: they are very isolated and alone – do they not reach out to others from their home country? But she says no, it would be strange. They know that the neighbourhood is saturated with other Syrian refugees but she says: ‘We don’t approach them, and they don’t approach us.’ As she reflects on the questions about the neighbourhood and the family’s experiences she says to me that their living situation is strange: ‘It’s like being in a very big prison’.