The following piece tells the story of how Fadi, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, was able to send his engagement ring to his fiancee living in Germany. It is a story of hope, perseverance and above all, love.
Who would’ve thought that I would come back to Europe following my coverage of the Syrian crisis with a man’s engagement ring?
I met Fadi through his brother Omran who was working as a volunteer for Care Jordan. I was asked to document the NGO’s work with Syrian refugees in Jordan. Surrounded by their warm smiles, I couldn’t have imagined what these brothers had been through in Damascus just over a year ago.
I wanted to interview Omran to get a bigger picture of what it must have felt like to live as a refugee in Jordan. I was wrong when I thought that he didn’t seem to be as affected by the Syrian war as others, despite him appearing to adjust relatively well to a new life in Jordan. His smile mislead me.
The truth was that their mother got killed by a sniper while the family was trying to transfer to a hospital their sister who was going into labor. The sister witnessed her mother bleeding to death in front of her own eyes, got traumatized and eventually lost her own child right after birth. Their brother-in-law was also arrested the same day and was never heard of ever since.
Omran worked from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. volunteering at Care Jordan and then from 6 P.M. to 3 A.M. at a small fast food restaurant as a cashier. I was reluctant to ask for an interview but he insisted that it was fine as long as I came to his neighborhood between 4 P.M and 6 P.M.
The Jordanian taxi driver seemed a bit annoyed when I let Omran talk to him on the phone to give directions. He complained how Jordan became a “trash bin of the Middle East”. Neighboring countries, he felt, have dumped their refugees in Jordan. First Palestinians and Iraqis during the two Gulf Wars and now Syrians.
Shortly after I arrived to their house, I tried to act normal. But It was immediately obvious that the living conditions in the flat of the three brothers and their roommate Omar was far from what they used to have back in Damascus. There was little furniture, the electric line was exposed and the cold concrete floor was just covered by mattresses. Before coming to Jordan, all except Fadi’s little brother were students working their way to finish university. They were training to become a lawyer, a businessman and a teacher. Those dreams were for now put on hold for what seemed to them something like an eternity.
For Syrian refugees in Jordan, there are no work permit given even to the most seasoned work force that used to make decent living back home. If you are lucky enough to get a hold of any kind of job, it meant that you worked illegally for a hard laboring, low-paying job, and that you were prone to being exploited without having the right to complain.
I ended up talking with Omar a lot for he was the only one jobless. The three brothers all came back from their respective jobs after midnight. Omar and Fadi knew each other from their time at the military. Both were supposed to return to university after fulfilling their contract but the outbreak of the war prevented them from getting released. They decided to defect and come to Jordan.
From crossing the border, staying at a refugee camp that hosted defected soldiers like them to their eventual arrival to Amman where they later invited Fadi’s two little brothers to join, they went through challenging times together and ended up becoming good friends.
The day I came to visit their house to get to hear both Omar and Omran’s stories, they invited me to stay with them probably without thinking that I would accept. But I was drawn to listen to Omar’s story as it was quite wrecked, carrying pain but strong at the same time, and I felt as if he got a lot more to say. I also could see how decent of human beings they all were so I agreed to move in.
It wasn’t before the next night that I got to meet Fadi and his little brother for the first time.
Fadi seemed quite shy on my first night at their place. It was mostly me and Omar talking with the two brothers listening to our conversation.
The next night Fadi told me that his fiancée recently moved to Greven, Germany with her family. They were given political asylum in Germany. I told him that I my house in Holland wasn’t far from Greven and that I was planning to go there once I returned home.
I burst out laughing when Fadi asked me was if I would deliver an engagement ring to his fiancée Kinana for him. I thought he was joking. But no, Fadi was serious.
Fadi’s passport was taken away while in the army so he and Omar came to Jordan undocumented. They are in other words both stuck in Jordan until the conflict ends and, depending on which side wins the war, they may face prosecution for their defection.
I was touched by the trust he had in me, a total stranger. I told him that I would be happy and honored to be his messenger.
Fadi didn’t want to rush choosing the ring so we agreed to meet at the airport in two weeks after my return from Lebanon. I had a few hours of layover in Amman before flying back to Holland.
Fadi came to the airport with Omar. We still had a bit of time so we decided to prepare a short video for Kinana. Omar acted like a director and kept on ordering Fadi around. “You’re not putting enough emotion to this message!”, he would yell at him whenever nervous Fadi mumbled. After filming, Fadi showed me the ring and asked me if I approved of his choice.
It was a beautiful ring.
A few days later, my partner and I drove to Greven where Kinina and her family were living. I had been in contact with Faihaa, Kinana’s older sister, to arrange a surprise meeting with Kinana.
I met Faihaa at a café in Greven. She had brought her brother and her other sister and I got to hear briefly about their journey from Syria to Germany. It was their father who arranged the move to Germany even though he couldn’t make it himself and was still waiting in Qatar to hear from the German government. None of them spoke German and Faihaa was the only one who spoke English. She had the task of taking care of the group of 6 in a city she barely knew. She said she still preferred the quiet environment of Greven compared to Cologne where the first spent their first two months. She said that they’re almost the only Syrians in town and that they were living with a Bosnian Muslim family who also sought asylum. This had created some problems in the beginning because Kinana’s group of 6 was too large for the two-bedroom apartment. Besides the occasional government official, I was their first visitor.
A few moments later, Kinana showed up with her mother. Fadi had already sent her my picture via Facebook so she knew who I was.
I started playing the little clip Fadi performed. Kinana couldn’t hold back her tears. Her mother, smiling proudly, supported her. She put on the ring on Kinana’s finger. I couldn’t help wondering when would this couple ever be reunited.
To wait and hope for things to change soon. That must be a virtue possessed by all Syrians.
Harry is a photojournalist based in the Netherlands. His website is http://www.harrychun.com/ and he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow me on Twitter @JoeyAyoub