Blows to the stomach


Simone Scotta


“Lo sguardo dalle frontiere” (Outlook from the Border) editorial is written by team members of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) for Mediterranean Hope (MH) – the Refugee and Migrant Programme. This weeks the “Sguardo” comes from Beirut

The sound of Nada reverberates around the car on the rather neglected road taking us to the Bekaa Valley: grey weather, music playing, then the weather forecast, the exact time and we are on the road.

The weather gradually gets worse as we head up towards the mountain, then the road leads us down, almost zig-zagging towards the Valley. It is foggy, but it slowly starts to lift. First, we visit a partner organisation, the Syrian American Society (SAMS) which helps us by supplying medicine for the medical project. Then we travel a few kilometres west to visit a family in ElMarj, whom we would like to help to get on the humanitarian corridor heading to France.

N. tells us his story, right down to the smallest detail. This is the third time we have met and, in fact, he relives it every time; it’s not easy.  I listen to and type his story as told to me by the mediator Hani. As I do so, I try to get closer to his life, also thanks to my knowledge of the situation in Syria and almost three years’ experience of interviewing Syrians, but once again, like so many other times, I cannot help but be surprised as the story unfolds.

Despite how many stories I have heard over these years, as much as I try to put myself in the shoes of those who have lived the most unspeakable experiences, it is impossible for me to even imagine living ten years imprisoned in Tadmor, defined by the BBC in 2015 as one of the worst prisons in the world. Ten years. Ten years of your life.

It is impossible to think of being beaten almost to death, with gasoline thrown on your body, the threat of being burned alive and, if that were not enough, to have your father witness it all: to be imprisoned without ever seeing a lawyer and without any formal charge; the only certainty being the staple diet of beatings, in front of your father, who is not a young man anymore. All this to force you, his son, to confess to being against the regime.

It is impossible to imagine your wife arrested for a few days, years later, in 2012 during the protests in Syria, the cigarette burns still on the palm of her hand, just because she came from the wrong area and asked for help at a hospital, after the building where she had her clothing store was hit by a barrel bomb and went up in flames.

It is impossible to understand, after all these events: and even less possible to celebrate the ninth birthday of your nephew, M., who on the same day died from a stray bullet fired by a militia in Lebanon. Commemorating a death leads to another death, that of a child whose only crime was to be accompanied by his mother to perhaps the only park in Beirut at the wrong time. I can’t even begin to imagine how this child’s mother felt that day. It seems impossible.

The day goes on: two more examinations by the doctor in charge of the project, preparation for an interview in a few days’ time in the French Embassy.

My thoughts lead me far away, to the twists and turns of the previous interview, a blow to the stomach in my hour and fifteen minutes of conversation. However, N. has received countless blows to the stomach during his life – blows that, perhaps, are not over yet.