Disclaimer: this blog is deferred due to lack of wifi while in Syria. Also, it is extremely difficult to fit in every single detail that occurred during this journey so I sincerely apologize in advance for anything I have unintentionally left out.
Brief background: approximately 15 minutes after meeting with Mulham, the co-founder of the Watan organization located in Reyhanli, Turkey, I knew I had finally found and met a righteous individual who held Syria in the depths of his heart. This is how I knew instinctually, I could trust this organization in its entirety and their expertise of crossing the Syrian border.
Car #1: picks us up from the Watan organization, a car full of us and we begin our drive to the last town at the tip of the Turkey/Syrian border…
Car #2: I am told to put my Klean Kanteen inside my background as its less obvious. I do so immediately and get in the car to drive closer to the border.
We get dropped and began walking through the trees, down a hill, up another hill then under these barbed wires that apparently separate the Turkey and Syrian border. We continue walking at a steady fast pace through a hill, then up another hill to a two door truck that is awaiting us.
Car #3: After a very long 5 minute wait, four of us cram in the truck and begin our drive into Syria! I am still very anxious and yet so happy to be on Syrian soil. The beauty of this country is shown to me within SECONDS of getting past the barbed wires. We are then dropped off at what seems to be a vacant building in Atmeh and are told to wait for the next car and truck that will transport all the goods into the south of Idlib; our final destination. After waiting 3-4 hours, the truck is loaded and our next vehicle, a van has arrived.
Car #4: This begins our real drive into Syria and I am feeling elated to be in the car with five remarkable Syrian men. We make our first brief stop and I am asked (as usual!) if I want Turkish cafe which I openly admit is way too strong for me! Fortunately they have a herbal tea and the young, charming Ahmed who is our main guide from Watan on this journey hands it to me in a Disney cup. Yes! A Disney cup! My heart leaps! Such a heartwarming sign as I enter Syria.
Our second stop is to take photos at these ruins as the sun is setting. It felt so nice to step outside and get some fresh air. The excessive amount of cigarette smoking with this Arab men is unreal! Chain smoking wouldn’t even describe it for you. Then our second stop is for food. I have no appetite as I am only interested in getting to our final destination so I sit beside them as they eat and take in my environment while listening to the sounds of bombs dropping in the distance.
We begin our drive in the dark night and after an hour of driving, we are forced to pull over immediately and turn our headlights off. They are bombing ahead of us and the Arab men aren’t willing to risk being seen. They begin discussing what to do: drive without headlights, sleep in the car, take a different road, postpone going to our original destination…. No decision is made. Only utter silence in the van and the sounds of distant bombs being dropped. Eventually a decision is made to take a different path without our headlights on and go to a small village in hopes for housing. We arrive and it is pitch dark. I follow the others into a home then to the first room on our right… I see a few kids in the hall, staring at us as they run into the other room. I am a complete stranger now in their home. I remove my backpack and sit down, staying quiet in hopes the Arabic conversation around me will become magically understandable (FYI: I do this a majority of my time in Syria). A few kids peek their heads in, and I immediately get up, open my backpack and set out a few coloring books with colored pencils. Two boys walk in and sit down to examine my gifts up close. Eventually, they begin coloring and two other children stroll in little by little and slowly, reluctant of my newness but interested regardless.
Within an hour, a large circular tray that can hardly fit thru the door is brought and placed on the floor, offering tea, bread, yogurt with oil and mint, hard boiled eggs, cheese, etc and I am told to eat. Of course I am so happy I didn’t eat with the others in our last stop, as this healthy home cooked meal is much more appetizing to me! It is then the translation continues (thank goodness for my travel companion and dear friend, Nesrin) and the first question/comment is: “you know how bad and dangerous it is here, why did you come?” And my response without hesitation or fear of the sounds of the bombs in the distance is:
“To bring hope, to provide aid and to play with the children”.
The man who asked the question, Ziad (who I later realize is the father of the children and owner of the home I have been invited into) looks me straight in the eye for what seems like a long while and says “ok”. I then turn to continue playing with the children unaware of my exhaustion.