Rund, by her own account, is a citizen journalist in Izraa, Syria. In this installment of her regular posts she shares the story of a family’s daring escape from Syria into neighboring Jordan.
Middle East Voices’ “Syria Witness” series features personal accounts by citizen-journalists inside Syria about the grim challenges of survival in a war zone. These activists are often the only available street-level information source about life in a country whose government restricts independent reporting.
Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for reasons of their personal safety, some contributors do not use their real names. Accounts may be edited for reasons of clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
By Rund in Izraa, January 15, 2013
It was a matter of days before Ibrahim, an 18-year-old electrician’s assistant in Izraa, would receive his draft card. If he did not respond quickly to what’s known as the “Draft Office,” he would be arrested and forcibly conscripted into the Syrian Arab Army, President Assad’s defense forces.
Those who delay or try to dodge the draft are usually put in prison and physically punished. Their heads are shaved for few months if not for the whole duration of their conscription.
As for Ibrahim, the clock was ticking and he did not have many options. Ibrahim did not want to serve. He decided to become a conscientious objector. But in Syria, he would only be considered a deserter, or a draft dodger.
“Ibrahim’s mother would travel with him because single men were often turned back at the Jordanian border ” – Rund of Izraa
His family was poor, so he could not bribe the regime officers, nor could he join the poorly funded local Free Syrian Army (FSA); he couldn’t afford a weapon and, unlike defectors from the Syrian Arab Army, he had no military experience.
Soldier or refugee?
About a month ago, Ibrahim decided he would go to Zaatri, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. But it had to be done in complete secrecy. If anyone were to learn about his intentions, the terrible consequences would be endless. So, his mother, Ayda, and an elder brother, Ayman, made a plan.
No one should learn about this; not even Ibrahim’s father, who abandoned the family and married another women a few years ago. Ibrahim’s mother would travel with him because single men were often turned back at the Jordanian border. If anyone asked what happened to Ibrahim, Ayman and his wife, who was in on the plan, would say that Ibrahim and his mother had gone to Damascus where his aunt was having major surgery. His mother would then return home to Izraa.
They waited until it was pitch dark and, at about 10 p.m., they were loaded in pick-up trucks driven by members of the FSA. They did not use headlights – Rund of Izra’a
On the day of that journey, a close relative drove Ibrahim and his mother to a nearby town where members of the FSA would take care of the rest. They reached the town after sunset. Around midnight, they were gathered with other people who were also planning to go to Zaatri Camp. They took back roads to Attaybeh, a small town near the Jordanian border, where the FSA had a heavy presence.
Ibrahim and his mother waited with about 200 others – mostly women and children – throughout the day in Attaybeh. They waited until it was pitch dark and, at about 10 p.m., they were loaded in pick-up trucks driven by members of the FSA. They did not use headlights.
What a mother will do for her son
The journey took about an hour. Then, the civilians were asked to get off the pick-up trucks and start walking, very slowly and quietly, because Assad forces were said to be nearby.
Looking at the sad sight of the crowd, Ibrahim and his mother felt relatively lucky because they did not have children with them, nor did they have to carry a lot of luggage; all Ibrahim had was one small bag.
Suddenly, a baby started crying. An FSA fighter hushed the child and told everyone to get down on the ground. Within seconds they heard gunfire overhead. From another direction, another FSA fighter fired back to draw the government soldiers’ attention. When the firing stopped, the civilians were told by the FSA to start moving into another direction, away from the border.
Two hours later, FSA soldiers received a signal that they could try again.
The refugees moved farther the second time. Soon, they were told to crawl on their hands and knees because they were potentially within sight of regime snipers. They were spotted again and they heard more gunfire, but no one was hit.
At that moment, Ibrahim’s mother collapsed. Ayda is about 50 years old, a grandmother who has her share of health problems: she suffered a stroke a year ago and has diabetes and varicose veins.
“I feel like I’m having a heart attack, so please take Ibrahim and leave me. When you come back, you can take me if I’m still alive” – Ayda, Ibrahim’s mother
Ayda could not move. Her son knelt at her feet and begged her to try to walk again. I can’t carry you, he said. A worried FSA fighter asked what was wrong.
“I can’t walk or crawl,” Ayda told him. Her chest hurt and her legs felt as weak as sewing thread. “I feel like I’m having a heart attack, so please take Ibrahim and leave me. When you come back, you can take me if I’m still alive.”
She pointed to a pile of stones and said, “Leave me there.”
“I beg you, I don’t want to be the cause of your death,” she said.
Change of plans
The fighter insisted Ayda would finish the journey. In the darkness, he reached down and picked her up and carried her on his back. Later, when she told me about their journey to Jordan, she remembered how she could feel his beard rubbing against her arms.
When they reached another point where they had to crawl, the fighter put Ayda down. She could hear the young man’s voice encouraging her as she and Ibrahim crawled the last short leg of their journey on their hands and knees.
After they managed to crossed the border, Ayda spent 12 days resting in a makeshift hospital.
When she had recovered sufficiently from the night crossing, she took the same route back to return home to Izraa and the house where her oldest son, Ayman, and his family waited.
However, a week ago I learned that when Ayda reached Izraa, she and her oldest son learned that some people in their neighborhood found out about Ibrahim having fled the country. If they reported the family to Assad security forces, Ayman would probably be arrested and tortured to make Ibrahim return and join the army.
Ayman, his mother and his wife then decided that they, too, would have to leave Syria. This time, the entire family – including Ayman’s three children, ages two, four and five – would take the path Ibrahim and his mother had taken before them.
They left the next day, headed for Attaybeh and the night route to Zaatri.
NOTE: To become a Syria Witness and tell your own inside-Syria story, contact David Arnold, coordinator of our Syria Witness project at syriawitness(at)gmail.com. For safety reasons, we strongly urge you to use a browser-based e-mail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) and be sure “https” appears in the URL. You can also invite Arnold to Skype at davidarnold70.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.