Follow our Advent Calendar, where we will introduce 24 stories from people in the refugee camps where we work and from people we have met over the years in Greece. Every day we present a new story and let you have an insight into who the people on the run are.
By Diana Valdecantos Photos by: Nickie Mariager-Lam
Teba is afraid of the night for the first time in her life. Sometimes she just stays awake waiting for the sunrise and counting the hours until the daylight will bring her peace and security.
She has been living in Souda for almost two weeks and the midnight fights, the shouting, rats, street dogs and the possibility of being attacked by fascists just doesn’t allow her to relax. She shares her cold tent with her two small children, aged six and eight, and, although her existence for the past four years has been an unbelievable nightmare, she finds this Greek refugee camp very disturbing when the sun goes down.
When we begin to hear the loud disputes, the blows, the three of us just join together in a big family hug. We become one body, one person and we wait until it’s over. I’m not used to this. I’ve never had to live in such a place. – Teba
Familiy and Teba´s life before Souda Camp
This 42 year Syrian has a beautiful smile and a pair of sad and tired eyes. She moves her hands constantly to explain her experiences with great clarity and composure. She has had a rough life, but still believes in her chances.
Teba gave birth to eight children and lived a simple life in Aleppo, where her husband worked in a petrol and oil company. She had a big house, full of commodities, in a nice neighbourhood where her kids grew up in a happy environment. They went to school, played with friends and just focused on being children. She looked after all of them, did the shopping, and cooked – a normal family in a normal city. Then, suddenly, the war started and she was forced to leave behind all she had ever known.
The long journey
Turkey seemed a sensible option as a temporary safe place, so the whole family made their way, with the help and considerable expense to smugglers, to Istanbul. During this period, Teba’s husband suddenly disappeared. She doesn’t know what happened to him, or even if he´s still alive, just that one day he never came back. This young mother couldn’t even mourn properly. There was no time for tears or sadness. Her eight children needed her strong and lucid, and money was scarce, so, Teba improvised a life in Turkey, where she stayed in a camp for half a year.
A month went by then terrible news came to her ears. Her splendid and comfortable house, along with much of her neighbourhood, was destroyed by an airstrike. All her belongings, all her memories, were burned to ashes in the blink of an eye. She takes a long pause before explaining how she felt when she found out, and say: «From where I come from, if you lose your house, you have nothing. You’ve lost not only the place you live in but also your country, your nation, your homeland», she declares sadly.
In spite of her new situation, and after surviving the tough conditions in the Turkish camp, she found a hotel in Istanbul, where she was forced to work long hours in restaurants and take on sewing jobs to pay for food and the roof over their heads.
Four of her kids paid 2,000 dollars for a seat in one of those boats that sailed to Europe last year, and they are now waiting for her in Denmark. The two older ones are still in Turkey, waiting for a chance to cross the Aegean, and her two youngest sons have never left her side.
-I had a very hard time. I couldn’t even take good care of the kids. I had to work to survive and couldn’t pay for a proper school, so the little ones spent their days playing in the streets of Istanbul», she explains.
Times were so rough, Teba thought her best option was to retrace her steps and return to Aleppo. And so she did.
Returning back to Allepo
When she got there, everything had changed. Her demolished house had only one useable room left, but she still tried to rebuild it and seal up the windows. «It was useless. Bombs could destroy everything again at any minute and I didn’t have the money. Furthermore, shops were closing everyday, the markets were disappearing and checkpoints were making it harder and harder to walk anywhere in Aleppo» she remembers. So, after a while she left, once again, for Turkey.
From Turkey to Greece
This time she stayed with some relatives and saved the money she needed for three tickets to Europe: Exactly 1,000 dollars. However, being alone with her two little kids, with no husband or older sons to protect her, was the perfect opportunity for smugglers to take advantage of the situation. They lied to her several times: she was told she would travel safely in a yacht, but when she arrived on the beach she just found old and unsafe boats time after time. Teba has set sail for Greece literally a dozen times – Twelve times she got into a boat with her two sons, and twelve times she was intercepted by the Turkish Coastguard and sent back.
At the end I simply shouted at them that they should let me pass. That I’m a peaceful woman looking forward to a family reunion», she says. I told them I wouldn’t stop trying until I set foot in Europe. I almost became a celebrity, the police officers knew me, they took my fingerprints 14 times, but they insisted they were saving my life because the boats could sink on the way.
In fact it is an extremely perilous journey and her little boys didn’t want to travel anymore. They didn’t know how to swim and were scared of the waves and of being in the middle of the sea at night. Teba had to convince them, with a mother’s persuasiveness, that it was best for them. That the rest of the family was waiting on the other side.
And then one day, they got lucky, and they were rescued by the Greek authorities. Finally, after months of no light at the end of the tunnel, they were safe and sound in Europe.
Teba and her scattered family still face many difficulties, but she hopes her special situation will make it easier for her to get to Denmark to rebuild the life that was stolen from them years ago. She asks for understanding and empathy from the European Union. After all, what else can she do? Where is she supposed to begin to live again if not in Denmark with her family?
Her common sense is unwavering, as is her smile and the laughter of her two little «bodyguards», who don’t seem to understand why they can’t grow up with the rest of their siblings.