Daily miracles

Story and photos by Fatima Al-Asaad, Rukban Network

28 MARCH 2022

Umm Ahmed refuses to reveal her face, saying that it is too tired and wrinkled. Every day in Rukban camp is equivalent to a year or more, time is slow, and it takes more and more effort to preserve her family. Umm Ahmad tells us a small part of her daily situation:

‘I am Umm Ahmed, and I am only forty-one years old. You would think from my face that I have reached the age of sixty. We have grown old here with worry and fatigue. I have five children, three of them girls. We all came to Rukban camp in 2015.

‘Our situation is like everyone else’s. Suddenly we became displaced, and we were stuck here. This place became a camp that we did not ask to come to, or to stay in. We pitched our tent shortly after our arrival. The intense wind and dust storms were blowing, and the tent was collapsing. We were left out in this miserable weather, our tent was the desert, its roof was sky and dust, and its floor was sand.

‘I teamed up with my children and decided to build a house. There was nothing here but sand and a little water. We got white boxes used to transport vegetables, we brought them from some vendors, and we turned them into molds for bricks. We put sand and water in them, mixed them, and waited for the mixture to dry into bricks. And we used these to build our house, or actually just walls. The roof was nothing but our previous tent with the blankets we got from the aid, and a plastic sheet over it to prevent rain.

‘Despite our many attempts to strengthen the roof, it keeps collapsing. Now the roof is torn on one side. When it rains, the family gather in a corner of the house, and we put some pots to collect rainwater in, and when the rain ends, we collect the water and use it, because water is scarce, and we clean the house, and let the sun in to dry it.

‘My husband has an injury from an old accident, and plates were implanted in his feet. One of my sons suffers from asthma. In winter, especially with dust storms, we worry that he will have a suffocation attack. The medical clinics do not always have oxygen. My daughter has a constant sore throat and joints. There are no doctors here to treat my husband and children.

‘Our household has to do hard work in order to be able to live and carry on. The boys help me with gathering all the cardboard and leftover clothes and nylon that we burn for heating and cooking, and one of my daughters goes a long distance to get water for drinking and washing. There are very few job opportunities here, so our financial situation is very poor.

‘I try as hard as possible to take advantage of what is available. I try to make our bread whenever the flour is available, if we can buy it. Sometimes we go two or three days without bread. I cook rice only with water and a little salt. Other cooking supplies are not available, meat, oils and other ingredients are scarce, and if they are available, they are at prices that we cannot afford.

‘Every day I ask myself, what am I trying to do? The hard daily work, however much we do, it doesn’t change the fact that we are trapped in the desert, without the least necessities of life.

‘We struggle against the desert every day, its cruelty and its bitterness, the poverty, stress, and anxiety that dwells in every corner of our lives, the worry about the lack of jobs, of medicines. I do not remember one day where I went to sleep without saying to myself that we survived today, but what about tomorrow?

‘I am terrified a disease will cripple me in this house, and my family, what will happen to them? I hope God will give me strength to take care of my family, and that this nightmare ends, and we go back to our homes, but this hope fades day by day. Its fulfilment would be a miracle, like the miracles we do every day, so we continue, and we stay alive and hope.’