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  • The Woman who Planted a Tree:An Interview
  • Yasmine Shamma (bio)

This was the first interview I conducted in Al Azraq camp, in the summer of 2016.1 I began speaking with this woman because I noticed she had a small plant growing outside of her tent, and stopped to admire it.2 She welcomed me inside, where music from the Lebanese singer Fairuz was being amplified from her phone, set inside a teacup as a speaker.

Q: That is beautiful music coming from such a small cup!

Well, when I was in Syria I owned a salon for women, and now I try to spread beauty within this camp. So I have a sense of creativity! I just design things and my husband implements [them]! The last thing I invented was a closet space. I used knives that were given to us in the camp and I stuck them on the wall to hang my husband's shirts on. It didn't work! The dirt kept settling on all the shirts, and I kept thinking of how I could build a wall closet, to prevent the dirt from ruining our clothes. So I built a wall closet after [the camp donors] distributed some iron shelves—I took them in and hung them on the wall. Then I bought some hangers to put the clothes on, and I used a curtain to prevent the dirt from getting in. My family and I have done all the work [that you can see] around you in the caravan. I also built a couple of shelves to put the winter clothes on.

Q: You said that you arrived here two years ago?

Yes, we have been here for two years, one month and four days. We arrived here in the summer of 2014. [End Page 339]

Q: Was the camp new when you got here?

Yes, I was the first person to live in this neighborhood. The other neighborhoods were full, so they placed us here.

Q: How did you come here?

We left our homes and walked for such a long time. We walked for 16 hours at night in the desert, between the rocks. You cannot pass through the desert by car. That's why we had to walk.

Q: Do you have any children?

Yes, [I have] a boy going to sixth grade, a daughter going to ninth grade and a third daughter going into first grade now.

Q: You had to move with a 4-year-old daughter, correct? Was it hard?

We took turns holding her at the time. I would hold her for some time and then my husband would take her [for a bit]. We threw most of our things away, so that we could manage to carry her. Every little while, we would stop and open our bags and remove [a few] things to make the bags lighter. We would choose the best things in the bags [to keep]! Then we would walk again, and once we got tired from the weight, we would stop again and take more things out. In the end, we arrived with a very small bag!

Q: What did you bring with you?

I brought two tea cups and a teapot. I cannot live without tea in the morning; I couldn't imagine life without it! As for the clothes, I came with this Abbaya and each of my children had what they were wearing plus an extra pair of clothing. I brought a lot of things with me, but we kept [having to leave] them behind because of the weight issue on the way. I thought at the time, which is more important, bringing things with us or bringing the kids?! The kids turned out to be more important than the things [she said sarcastically]! If we stayed a while longer on the way we would have thrown their father and kept the kids! Thank God, we all arrived together in one piece, of course!

When we got here, we felt that life was impossible. A very hard life. I was not used to this kind of life, because we had a house in Syria and I had my...


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pp. 339-347
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