Hana Abdullah left her home in Mabrouka, a small Syrian town, three years ago, and now lives with her extended family in a makeshift tent settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
How do these refugee families survive? Hana picks plums.
Many mornings Hana was up at 4 o’clock. She worked in the nearby fields of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, picking fruits or vegetables, and everyone started early. But today the truck that would take her there was late. Now came its familiar rumble, next the crunching of gravel: She stirred, her mouth twitched, her eyelids fluttered. Then she was up, vertical in one swift movement, stretching, pulling on a hat from a stash of her belongings. She grabbed lunch — a tomato, and a pita she folded around a potato — and ducked outside to wait on one of the benches in front of her tent.
Unlike the children en route to Europe, or arriving in Europe, Hana and those like her suffer through a waiting game. Hana seems sustained by an ever-waning sense of hope that she can eventually go home to recapture some of what has been lost, while knowing all the while that already, so early in her life, so much is gone for good.
Syrian refugee children — some two million, according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimate-can’t go home. Why? Finally, she asked her mother why they could not just do so. “Because they will do worse than yell at us,” Suraiya told her. “They will cut off our heads.”
Inside the settlement, Hana was someone. She was a hand-on-hip kind of girl, the kind whom other children naturally let mediate their disputes. She pierced girls’ ears — only she had the stomach for it — and when she finished her own work in the field, she rushed to help Ala’a and Ala’a’s twin sister, Wala’a, so they, too, could have a break
Her father was someone there, too: the shawish, a leader and the middleman who arranged for his extended family to find work in the fields. Her uncles were the pillars of their communities back in Syria: a high-school principal, the town mayor. Outside the settlement, that meant nothing. “ISIS scum,” a Lebanese man once spat at her father. This was as baffling as it was enraging, since no one hated ISIS more than they all did. Before they moved to the settlement, they lived in two others: Each was set aflame — most likely, she had been told, by Lebanese who did not want them there.