Family Visits over the Phone


Enab Baladi Issue # 102– Sun, Feb. 2, 2014

Enab Baladi – Kholoud Helmi

Amal, 28 years of age, never imagined for a moment, that her family would one day become a telephone or a computer, signalling to her that a message has been sent, or that someone is trying to call, at which she instantly leaves what she is doing and runs to see who it is. It could be her brother or sister. It has been virtually impossible to hear from her family who fled to the suburbs of Damascus, where there is no electricity or a phone network for weeks at times. Amal, who was forced to leave her country almost a year ago, never imagined she would be separated from her family for that long. She waits impatiently to hear from her family, on Viber, to spend some moments with them in their turmoil and anguish. She puts on the loud speaker and listens to everyone, her tears pouring down in silence.

About a year ago she left Waleed, 6 years old, the first grandchild in the family, who had not yet started school. He has grown now and he is going to school. Her younger sister had a baby girl, whom she knows only from a few photos they had sent. Her other sister too had a child who Amal has not seen either, nor has his own father, who was detained four months ago. She got to know her little nephew through a Whats-App picture. Thus she communicates with them every now and then; ‘they’ve grown, Mashallah’, is all she could say regarding her new nephew and niece, longing to hold them, even if just for a few minutes.

Rana, 32 years, forced to flee, leaving her children behind, after she had been pursued by security forces, calls her sister via Skype.  She speaks to her youngest child, a 3 year old, crying fervently, and making those around her cry. “Oh Mama, I miss you my darling”, she cries, while her child tries to tell her that he has missed her so much, and that “Grandma hits him when he cries”, explaining that he cries because he misses her. He adds that “Grandma doesn’t know how to cook, her food doesn’t taste as nice as yours”.

Fatima, 26 years, forced to seek refuge in Jordan with her husband and two children, due to the hardship and affliction they faced, leaving her mother behind, all alone. Fatima has created a Whats-App group with her sisters and cousins as a way of keeping in touch, and thus being able to make sure everyone is ok, as every one of them lives in another world, and the hope of ever meeting again is becoming more and more diminished. In every conversation, tragic news about the family is unfolded, probably a few weeks old, “Did you hear? So and so has been martyred!” This would be followed by comments of surprise and grief, when a week would have passed by since the poor man’s martyrdom. Sometimes the conversation would go, “Oh my God is it true they took Hala’s husband 2 weeks ago?” Or, “What did you call your daughter Sanaa? May Allah protect her”. How often would news strike like lightening, “Did you hear? A rocket came down and two of your cousins were killed!” leaving some relatives in shock, while others remained silent, having heard the distressful news a few days ago from the revolutionary coordinators.

Over the phone, families have grown; children grew in pictures only; news from friends is dated, as no one hears about it until it’s too late. This is why Noor, 27 years, decided to set up a Whats-App group for her friends, those who spent great times together in Daraya, and had wonderful memories together. But time had separated them, each in a different country. The friends who used to spend most of their time together now only ‘met’ briefly during Whats-App conversations and sometimes on Facebook.

Amal’s phone rings, she runs to answer, it’s a strange number….It’s her cousin. She had managed to get hold of her number from relatives a couple of days ago. She finally got through to her and told her the good news that her brother, Ziyad, was engaged thanks to Allah. “Congratulations! Your mum must be over the moon”, to which she replied with burning regret, “poor Mum’s suffocating and crying her eyes out. She didn’t get to see her only son on his wedding day!” Her only son had fled to Egypt a year ago under the difficult conditions tormenting the people of Daraya, who had fled from the security forces. He decided to get engaged and luckily his aunt was there to stand by his side in this special occasion.

This is the state that many Syrians have been reduced to; hypothetical groups exchanging news about each other. The coffee cups that they used to gather over, have become a mere picture of a coffee cup, and a string of sentences that don’t always get across, due to the electricity being cut off or the signal being too weak.

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