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Far From Yarmouk, Economic Hardship for A Palestinian Patriarch

JDEIDET ARTOUZ—Abu Nidal, 65, is not used to rising early in the morning to the sound of a ringing phone.

Written by Celine Ahmad Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

His energy has deteriorated, and he has diabetes. But this call is rare good news, putting a smile on nis wrinkled face. “It is the time for the relief aid,” he says.

Abu Nidal, having been told that people are rushing to arrive to the local spot used for aid distribution by UNRWA, the United Nations agency helping Palestinian families living in Syria. Suddenly bursting with energy, he gets out of bed to call his brother for the drive to the distribution point.

Abu Nidal, a Palestinian, has four children with his wife, Um Nidal. Before the conflict, he worked as a clerk in one of Syria’s governmental institutions. After 25 years of labor, he finds himself retired, with a meager pension that often leaves him too broke to buy food. But, he says, he keeps thanking God that he was fortunate enough to buy a humble house in the Damascus suburb of Jdeidet Artouz seven years ago, a house whose walls still protect him, his wife and children.

As Syria’s war economy falters, inflation is increasing and the price of basic goods has spiked. It’s been difficult for his sons Mohammed, 26, and Anas, 29, to find a job that would pay them enough to help their aging father. With options limited, Mohammed joined the Free Syrian Army, and Ana’s has started working in the aid relief sector. Hiba, the youngest, got married and has two girls. “Once upon a time, I was lucky to get a big portion of relief aid; blankets and mattresses in addition to big bottles of cooking,” she says. “When my mother in law knew that I had more then her, she became extremely jealous.” It almost led to a divorce for Hiba.

Swimming for Salvation

Abu Nidal has placed all of his hopes in Nidal, the eldest, to save the family from its current financial predicament. Everyone believes in his unique talent: swimming.

Nidal has been considered an expert swimmer since childhood. Since things in Jdeit Artoiz got tough, he has been saving money in hopes of being smuggled, by sea, to a European country. His skills as a swimmer could help him in the event of an emergency. From the West, Abu Nidal thinks the son could guarantee a good future for himself and his family.

Nidal spends most of his time working in a supermarket near his house, so that he can save money. The rest of the day he spends with his family. These days, their conversations revolve around the idea of aid from UNRWA.

Anas works a low-level relief job in secret, in order not to be overloaded with requests from his relatives. “I have recently discovered that many of those who receive aid have been selling it back to the suppliers at an even lower price,” he says. “Unfortunately, It has turned into trade for many people.”

Um Nidal says she is bewildered and saddened whenever she hears about a fellow Palestinian dying of starvation because of a government siege of Damascus’s Yarmouk refugee camp. Last month, a 40-day-old child died there. She feels guilty preparing food for her family while many of her relatives are hungry in Yarmouk, but “what can be done?” she says. “Life and death have become one here.”

This article was translated from Arabic by Zain Frayha.


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