Home in two caravans

Nidal Mustafa Al-Madrood is a father of six and in Syria worked as an electrician. Now he is living in a refugee camp in Jordan and says he feels like a dead man.

Just over a year ago Nidal Mustafa Al- Madrood , 36, lived with his wife Zaka’an , 30, and six children in a four bedroom house in Syria. Now the Al- Madroods are living in two caravans in King Abdullah Park refugee camp in Ramtha, northern Jordan.

The family fled from Syria to Jordan when the army planes bombed their home village Al- Jawlan in Daraa province in southern Syria.

“We had to protect our children from the explosions,” Al- Madrood says and adds that the decision to flee to neighboring Jordan was very difficult, but necessary.

Now their house in Syria has been destroyed completely.

After arriving in Jordan, the Al- Madroods lived for five months in Za’atri refugee camp, located in the desert near town of Mafraq.

“We could not handle the dust. It felt that the tent could fly away at any moment,” says his wife Zaka’a.

Wedding ring and earrings got pawned

Last May, the Al- Madrood family moved to King Abdullah refugee camp – located around 40 kilometres from Za’atri – as Zaka’an brother already lived there.

The King Abdullah Park refugee camp is in Ramtha. Both King Abdullah Park and Za’atri are in northern Jordan, near the Syrian border.

If Za’atri, a camp which at its peak has been home to more than 100 000 people, is like a city, King Abdullah Park is like a village. There are around 800 refugees in the camp and they all live in caravans.

Al- Madrood says he is grateful that he and thousands of other Syrians have been provided with shelter in Jordan.
He admits, however, that it has been difficult to get used to life in a refugee camp. He says that the family does not always have enough food or gas for heating.

“Because we are poor, I had to pawn my wife’s wedding ring and earrings,” Al- Madrood says and sighs.

Once a month an apple

In King Abdullah Park each family member gets one food voucher every month , valued at around 25 euros. The food is simple: a little bit of meat, bread, rice or bulgur, which is crushed wheat. Once a month, each family member gets one apple.

If the delivery of the food vouchers is postponed from the first day of the month even by a few days, the Al- Madroods will have to do with just bread.

During the coldest winter months the family were given a gas cylinder for heating every couple of weeks, but the gas ran out after about a week. After mid-February full gas cylinders were delivered only once.

The family cannot afford, for example, coffee, fresh vegetables, biscuits or hygiene products they used to buy regularly in their home country.

The father, who worked in Syria as an electrician, now spends his day carrying water for his family, doing grocery shopping in the camp’s supermarket and requesting work or aid packages from organisations. In the evenings, Al- Madrood plays cards with his neighbors.

“I have always thought about what I can do for my six children’s future. Now I’m like a dead man, because I cannot provide for my family.”

Only boys have a jacket to share

The caravan home of the Al- Madroods is clean, and the décor is ascetic. A white plastic chair is the only piece of furniture.

On the floor there are a couple of green mattresses, and the floor is covered with a reddish wool blanket. A divider has been made with gray wool blankets and a piece of string, to create a dim and quiet corner. One blanket is hung up to cover the small window.

The life of a big family living in two small caravans is not always harmonious. Experiencing war, loss of home and lack of privacy cause disputes between the family members.

The family’s clothes are stuffed in plastic bags that hang on the wall.

Al- Madrood says that in the evenings they put on all of their clothes, because the caravan is cold even if the gas heater is on.

He says that none of his daughters, aged 15, 14, 9 and 1.5 years, own coats. The boys Mohammad and Mustafa, aged 9 and 6, share a jacket.

Although Jordan’s winter is milder than in Finland, the temperature can drop close to 0 Celsius at nights. The wind is often biting.

Boys playing outside, girls indoors

The youngest daughter, Islam, 18 months, is walking around the little home. By the door there is a television showing children’s programmes. Islam occasionally glances towards the television, but continues wandering around the caravan. Her big sister Samira, 14, stops her when she tries to go outside.

The boys play outside and once in a while pop in for a slurp of water.

Many of the refugees living in the camp are from the rural areas of southern Syria. They generally do not have as high an education as the Syrians in large cities. Many are very conservative, and have a specific way of thinking on what girls are allowed to do.

In King Abdullah Park there are lot of little children playing outdoors and teenage boys slouching around. Teenage girls tend to remain at home, except when they go to school or participate in courses organised by aid organisations.

The fluorescent light in the container blinks and then goes out. Electricity is free, but the blackouts are common. Some time ago, there was no electricity in the camp for ten days.

When the electricity is off, it is not safe for women or girls at nights to walk to the camp’s common bathroom.

Wife dreams about washing machine

When I ask Nidal Mustafa Al- Madroodilta and his wife Zaka’a what they need the most, the wife swiftly replies that she needs a washing machine. She gives a hearty laugh. In a family with six children there is constant laundry.

“I have washed the laundry by hand for a year. My hands and my back hurts,” she explains.

She also says that the women in the camp are suffering from a lack of sanitary products and underwear, as they cannot afford to buy these.

Al- Madrood reiterates that the family’s problems are financial and asks whether Finn Church Aid could offer him a job.
In King Abdullah Park refugees have very few opportunities to earn money. The camp has a job rotation scheme, which means that the refugees can work for two weeks every three months, for example as guards or cleaners for aid organisations. One earns about 70 to 100 euros from a two-week job.

Chess and barbering courses

Children and youth also suffer from a lack of meaningful activities in a refugee camp. School days are about four hours long, as schools in Ramtha operate in two shifts. In the morning the Jordanian children go the school and in the afternoons it is the Syrian children’s turn.

All Al- Madroods’ children, except the youngest daughter, go to school in Ramtha. The pupils are transported by bus between the camp and the school and back.

After the school, younger children can play in the camp’s small play area.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) organises in King Abdullah Park different types of courses for teenagers and young adults, including literacy, English, barbering, hairdressing, chess, and handicrafts.

Two of the Al- Madrood family’s daughters have attended FCA’s trainings.

Home village houses  refugees now

The Al- Madroods would like to return to Syria as soon as possible, but right now the return is not possible because of the continuing fighting.

“Our home has been destroyed. We do not have anywhere to go back to,” Nidal Al- Mardood says.

In their home village Al-Jawlan there are internally displaced people from other parts of Syria. Food and consumer goods prices have shot up in the country at war.

Al- Madrood says his elderly parents stayed in Syria and becomes emotional when he says he spoke with them about a month ago.

“We wish to go back now, but the time of the return is not in our hands,” he sighs.

Al- Madrood , like millions of other Syrian who fled the war, were disappointed after the Syrian negotiations in January and February in Geneva, Switzerland, ended without a result, and no new negotiations have been scheduled.

Right now, it seems that it could take years before the wish of the Al- Madroods to return home becomes reality.

Text and photos by Terhi Kinnunen