A Garden in IdlebPublished: Aug 11, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
From her home in the countryside, Hamida carefully tends the flowers and trees she planted in her garden. Accents of pink, yellow and deep red fleck the row of green plants that hug the wall of her breeze-block enclosure. The sound of birds travels through the leafy canopy that overhangs the courtyard and the sun casts blotches of dappled light along the ground.
“I planted these flowers because he loved them,” she said. “He gave me flowers every day. ‘Mom, guess what I have behind my back?’ he’d say, ‘A flower as beautiful as you.’”
Hamida’s son, Mohamed, was killed some years ago by a barrel bomb in their native Aleppo. It was Eid, and Hamida had bought him some fine new clothes and shoes for the occasion. Mohamed had barely put them on before racing downstairs to show his friends. As he did so, a barrel bomb struck the building.
With her legs laced with broken glass and shrapnel, Hamida ran to check on her son. He was already dead by the time she reached him. They buried Mohamed in his Eid clothes at the age of five and a half.
Mohamed was her youngest son, but her two other boys – Saleh and Mahmoud – were injured in the same blast. What claims one life, but spares another, seems governed only by small acts of circumstance – a step taken in time, or one too many spins of the barrel bomb. Hamida became afraid of this crude game of chance.
The blast that killed Mohamed had also destroyed their home. 25 years’ worth of memories were rent to rubble and ash: a flower vase Hamida’s husband had given her for their anniversary, photographs of their family and high school certificates (their children had excelled at school before the war) were all lost.
With the traces of their old lives erased to smoke, they left Aleppo and travelled south to Idleb. An old woman there offered them an unfinished building, only half-gutted by bombing. They fixed the shattered windows and planted flowers in the courtyard, and with them the seeds for a new life.
Hamida’s home and garden are now a hub of activity. Friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even an old neighbour from Aleppo come to visit. They sit among the flowers and in the shade of the trees and drink coffee while they talk. She says they enjoy the atmosphere here; a welcoming warmth that Hamida has cultivated.
In this neighbourhood, many who live here have been displaced from elsewhere. One of Hamida’s neighbours mentioned a self-help group, where participants regularly contribute a small amount of money. In turn, each is given a loan to invest in their enterprise. In Aleppo, Hamida had learned how to make detergents: shampoo, washing liquid, and laurel soap made with olive oil. With her first loan, she bought the raw materials she needed.
To demonstrate, she sits in the garden with a large blue tub laid out before her, whisking the suds, water, and mixture together. She has done this many times before, and with a little effort, this mixture will become her product. With her first batch, she produced and sold exactly 50 kilograms of washing liquid, bought by her friends, neighbours, and family.
“I was able to sell the whole quantity. I want to take another loan to start making shampoo. If I take the third loan, I will make liquid soap […] If I get support, I want to start a shop in my house because it is suitable for such a project.”
To support her family further, Hamida wants to expand her business, and she is ever optimistic about the future. “I do not know when this could happen, but I have great hope that our life will change. As long as there are people who sympathize with us and support displaced people, I still have hope that our situation will improve.”
It is not a fortune, but Hamida’s business is a sapling that will soon grow into a flourishing livelihood. But for now, its beginnings are here in this garden, where the breeze shakes through the leaves and the flowers overlook the courtyard.
Thank you to the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) for funding these activities and providing a dignified way for people in Syria to be self-sufficient and get back on their feet.