Her husband, Mahmoud, summons their youngest daughter, Hiba, from the next room. She cautiously enters the lounge, clutching onto a handbag as if it contained her worldly possessions. Her eyes are grave, belying her young age of five years.
Hiba soon warms to our presence in her house, and whilst she stays close to Fatima, she smiles and giggles at us as we talk to her parents. Her other siblings – all boys – are at school. I ask Fatima if her sons are happy at the school.
"They're happy to be learning, but they find it difficult to make friends", she respond.
This is not an uncommon sentiment amongst Syrian refugees in Amman, but it varies from family to family depending on the neighbourhood or school.
Mahmoud interjects saying that he will not let Hiba go to the shop down the road because she will be taunted by other children for being a "Syrian girl". The neighbourhood they live in – Mukhayma Al Hussein – is one of the roughest in Amman, with high levels of unemployment and poor living conditions. Adolescents with little to do, often loiter on the streets, generally harassing passers-by that are not locals.
Feeling isolated. Originally from an area near Damascus, Mahmoud and Fatima were forced to leave Syria after their town became too dangerous to stay in. They moved first within the city of Damascus and later fled to Jordan. They left their home 10 months ago. Fatima explained their journey to us.
"It was difficult for us to come here. We were turned away by the Syrian authorities at the border four times. Finally we got a letter from an optician in Damascus saying that our son had to go to Jordan for an eye operation. It wasn't true, but we had to do it to get out", she said.
Hiba soon tires of our adult conversation and goes outside to the small passageway where Mahmoud has put up a swing. Hiba swings wildly in the confined space, the only form of 'play' that she has whilst her siblings are at school and she's home alone.
One of her brothers – Marwan – returns home from school at that moment, and we chat about his school life. Similar to Hiba, he is shy around adult company, but relaxes once we start talking to him about his life.
"It's nice here, going to school, learning new things. But I miss my friends in Syria, and I feel that they don't like me at this school. But it's okay, my brothers are there".
Dreaming of the future. Mahmoud has yet to find a job despite his daily attempts. When I ask him what he wants for the future of Syria, he gestures questioningly to no one in particular with a look of concern on his face.
"I want to live in Syria freely, with respect between all religions; a place where everyone is allowed to believe in their own religion – Jews, Christians, Muslims. It once was like that, why can't we live like that again?" he asks.
Himself a Sunni, Mahmoud recalls the religious tolerance and way of life that he was accustomed to in Syria. However, this social fabric is fastly being eroded by the conflict.
"I want a Syria that is open to the world. Not something closed and isolated, we were starting to open up and now we might lose it all", he continues.
However, Mahmoud is not unrealistic. He adds that if this lifestyle is not possible and that if they cannot return to Syria then he wants to live with his family elsewhere. Where this would be is a question no one can answer at present. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has not yet opened up resettlement to a third country for Syrians.
Before we leave, Nawal, a member of the JRS family visits team, invites Fatima, Mahmoud and their children to a social gathering organised by JRS. Social gatherings provide an opportunity for refugees to meet other families who have gone through the same trauma of displacement, and may also experience similar difficulties adapting to their new environment.
Bringing people together in a relaxed atmosphere is a way of reducing their sense of isolation in a sprawling city like Amman, as well as helping communities to create new networks of support.
Zerene Haddad, Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer
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