There was something to rejoice this week at the Zataari Refugee Camp.
It was witnessing of an event that is extremely rare at refugee camps but here at Zataari, it is quickly becoming part of the norm, which has gotten many people, including the camp administrators, very excited.
The Zataari Camp played host to a wedding.
The refugee camp is two and a half years old and now looks more like a city rather than a refugee camp. In fact, with a population in excess of 130,000, it is the fourth largest city in Jordan. It just goes to show just how many Syrian refugees have crossed over to neighboring countries. Walking through the makeshift streets of the Zataari camp, one will find anything they would expect in a city, from food marts to clothing shops and yes, even bridal shops, which lately have been extremely busy with the influx of weddings. Their business is booming.
This week witnessed the wedding of Fatima, an 18 year old refugee from the Syrian town of Homs, getting married to a local Jordanian who worked at the camp. Fate brought them together and their meeting blossomed into a wedding. The bridal shop was abuzz and hard at work making the bridal dress for Fatima. The groom-to-be, Ahmed, couldn’t hide his happiness.
“I am so happy to be getting married.” He remarked blushingly with a little smile. “It is a new chapter, a new beginning in our lives and although I never imagined it this way, I am still happier than I have ever been. I cannot wait to be with Fatima.”
Fatima is a lucky girl indeed. However, there is a flip side to this story where sounds of weddings bells and drums are replaced by an aura of despair and desperation. Unlike Fatima, who fell in love and got married, many women here are getting married to get out of hardship and move to a normal life. Divorced women and widowers with children, in particular are choosing this way in order to find a provider for their children. It is a sad reality no one would want to face.
Women make up for more than 50% of the population at the Zataari camp. A huge majority of them are under the age of 18. Syrian girls are renowned for their exquisite beauty which has compelled not only Jordanians but also Arab singles from other countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon to visit these camps in search of a bride. Many refugee families are seeing this as an opportunity for their daughters to have a better life and are happily handing them over to men they know nothing about. Arranged marriages are very common in the Middle East and South East Asia but under these circumstances, it is more like an arrangement out of desperation rather than a marriage.
Let us hope that the Syria crisis ends soon so no more women need to sacrifice themselves in a quest for a better life. Let us hope that there are more weddings like that of Ahmed and Fatima. Let us aim to donate generously to Syria relief aid campaigns. The more aid arrives, the better off the refugees will be. Let us hope the Syrians can, one day, return home to their motherland.