Till The Last Page
The caterwaul and commotion around disturbs her sleep, she opens her dreary eyes, and lies wistfully in her makeshift bed.
Shazia fled Syria in 2012, and arrived at Shatila camp in search of refuge. Two years back, her life was totally different from what it was now. She lived with her family right outside small peaceful village Hama. Her family comprised of her parents and two younger brothers. Though they were poor, life was happy and full of hope for them. She attended government school in the neighborhood, her father had a small shop selling general household item. One of the brightest kid in school, Shazia never though she would have to live life of orphaned refugee one day.
– Village of Hama, Syria
Syria was under attack for almost a year by then, when one day her village came under attack of regime. She fled along with her family towards Southern Beirut to save their lives. She lost her mother before reaching camp, and soon after her father passed away due to fever and unavailability of proper medical care. Shazia still wonders was it really fever that took her father’s life, or was it pain of being uprooted from his homeland and loss of his life partner. By the time she reached refugee camp, all that was left in this world for her was her two little brothers, Alif and Rizwan aged ten and six. Responsibility of these two kids directly came up on their thirteen-year-old elder sister.
She steps out of her bed, folds it and places it in corner so that room can have more space during daytime. She shares one room with another family of 7 members. They were Palestinian refugee, living in this camp from past ten years. When she arrived at camp, all rooms were already brimming with people from Syria. Every month thousands of refugees were reaching camp in search of safe shelter from war affected country. In this dreadful time, that family had been kind enough to share their apartment with three orphaned children.
Life was tough in crowded dingy camp. Open electric wires spread like spider webs across the streets, running from building to building throughout alleyways. Power cuts and electrocution was common in this area. It was last week only, when a young boy got tangled in those wires while running here and there playfully. He tripped and lost his life. And this was the story of camp! Problems were many, earning was scanty, and the thing that was of least worth was LIFE.
“If you don’t try to write a memorable story, it will never be one! Be hero in your story, and make sure that it is the one that world remembers, one that inspires others.”
After living at camp for past two years, Shazia was no more a little girl. Responsibilities had turned her mature beyond her age. She along with her brothers used to pick bricks for construction, and carry them to site. They earned near about 4 dollars each and that was bare minimum for daily needs, let alone schooling, health care and other amenities.
Today was her birthday! In camp, every day was same, and thus apart from her nobody remembered it! While she was at work, carrying bricks on her head, memories of her last birthday with her parents came gushing to her.
She was hoping around in verandah wearing her pistachio green colored embroidered frock. Her mom was occupied in kitchen preparing her favorite dishes for the special day. Her father had gifted her doctor kit, a symbolic gift for his little princess who wished to become a Doctor on growing up. “Abba! I’ll study at a big university and then we will move to city, and then when I start working, you can stop working. You and ammi can spend all the time roaming here and there in city having fun, and I’ll earn a lot for five of us!” chimed Shazia.
“Will you move little faster?”, shouted contractor on site. Shazia came back to bitter reality. After finishing work, she took some time off, and sat alone at park’s bench.
Maybe because it was her birthday, or may be just a coincidence, but she was missing her past more profoundly today. Random memory came floating to her mind. She remembered a happy sunny day; her family had gone to nearby park with picnic basket for a day out. Her brothers were taking their turn on slide, and her mother was standing beside them making sure they didn’t get hurt. Shazia was sitting with her father on lush green grass. Her father said, “Shazia! You know our life is a story that is being written till our last living day. Once, we die, story ends. Some stories create an impact, some are dull and without any remarkable incident. But every life has a story”. Unable to understand the depth of her father’s thought, Shazia asked, “Papa! Who is author of our story? Is God writing it?” Her father laughs at this innocent question, cuddles his daughter in his arms and says “No my love! God just initiates this story by giving us life. But we ourselves are author of our story! Always remember! If you don’t try to write a memorable story, it will never be one! Be hero in your story, and make sure that it is the one that world remembers, one that inspires others.”
The flashback ends and Shazia leans back on bench. What has she become? Is she even the same Shazia who was full of hope and aspirations once! If Ammi and Abbu would see her today, would they even recognize her as their Shazia? Sadness of years that had passed away, frustration of situations in present and depression of having uneventful future takes toll on her. She bursts in to tears. Why doesn’t it feel like her story! Sobbing alone on a park bench she shouts into oblivion, “This is not my story! It wasn’t supposed to proceed this way! I would have never narrated it this way”.
Who was telling the story? And whose story was it anyway?
The words fluttered and flew in the wind.
After the outburst, she sat bundled over there for some time and kept crying because of all the resentment that had piled up inside her.
How else will the sun rise if it won’t set? Darkness is inevitable, but so is sun rise. The break down that Shazia had on her fifteenth birthday, turned into a resolution. She decided to change track of her story. Her life is a blessing given to her by her parents. She cannot let it pass so indecisively. She makes up her mind to resume her education, and quit her daily wage job. Also she needs to find better source of income for three of them.
UNRWA operated a primary health care centre, one day school and one night school at camp. She enrolled herself and her brothers at night school. While her brothers continued their daily wage job, she requested Doctor Ahmad Shiabi at health care centre to take her up as an assistant. Doctor Shiabi had previously diagnosed Shazia when she was sick, and knew that she was mature and intelligent girl. He agreed to hire her at a monthly salary of 52 $. Soon she started learning nitty-gritty’s of health care and hygiene. In a camp hoisting such large number of people, patients were numerous and thus work was also never ending. But this was her childhood’s dream, and thus she enjoyed her job. Work for welfare gave satisfaction to her disrupted soul and mind.
When one finds inner peace, things start to align in a better way. Shazia now started saving some part of collective income that she and her brothers managed to earn. In a year, they saved enough to start a stall for selling yoghurt and tomatoes. Alif and Rizwan manned this stall, so that they can study better and continue earning a living without doing laborious work.
One day Doctor Shiabi at camp asked Shazia if she could take a session about basic first aid for women at camp, as he had some emergency and couldn’t take session today, and as the event had been priory announced, it couldn’t be postponed as well. Shazia was unsure, but she agreed to it.
Session went well, and everyone appreciated her. This gave her confidence regarding her knowledge sharing skills. She told Doctor Shiabi how she enjoyed this session, and is ready to take such sessions in future. Being always occupied in too many chores, this was a delight to him also in past one year Shazia had created a positive impression on him with her hard work and dedication. He wanted her to have a bright future, and thus he readily agreed.
One day after Shazia had winded up taking a session, a young woman in mid twenties came to her, and she introduced herself “Hi Shazia! Great session it was! I am Cathie; I am a volunteer for UNRWA.”
Shazia said, “Hi Cathie! It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Shazia I am here in collaboration with a NGO, which is trying to identify twenty bright young women, for whom they will fund higher education. I am really impressed by your awareness and knowledge for health care. Can you share your educational background with me?”
Elated to know about this initiative, Shazia said, “I am attending night school at camp. But I would love to get this opportunity. I have great deal of interest in medicine and science, and wish to study them. It has been my dream since I was a little girl!” She was so excited, but was trying to be calm and failing at it miserably just by shear possibility of having an opportunity to fulfill her and her father’s dream.
Within a month and half formalities for educational program were completed, and her formal education began. She was also getting a generous student stipend. By adding up their savings, she was able to afford better education for her brothers.
It’s been two years now, Shazia is studying at medical school. Alif will be completing his schooling by next year; he plans to take up a scholarship funded course at an American University in Social Welfare. Rizwan is still in school, he has interest in sports more than studies. He recently got selected for School’s football team.
Shazia remembers her father’s words “If you don’t try to write a memorable story, it will never be one! Be hero in your story, and make sure that it is the one that world remembers, one that inspires others.”
Once again, Shazia is sitting alone at a park bench. But this time she is not the depressed girl she once was due to circumstances. Hope has taken place of sadness, and action has taken place of complains. She has learnt that it is just not us who write our story. Situation and other people do play part in creating its plot. But the climax is always in our hand. One can surrender to destiny, and like a dead fish go with the flow, have no control over story of their life and thus end up with a tale not worth remembering. Or one can fight back, and take charge, write it the way they want it to be, and turn their tale into a saga.
Her saga is not complete yet, and it won’t be till the last day, but she will keep improvising it till her last day and till the last page. She won’t let her story be the one that is easily forgettable. She will make this story remarkable page after page.
Prachi Jain is a young Indian writer. She has one simple philosophy for life, “At the end, we all will just have bagful of stories to sum up the life we lead, make sure to collect the most memorable ones.”