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In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, a boy finds solace in caring for birds

Bashir, 13, likes birds so much he could be one himself – energetic and gentle, grounded yet free.  Download this video


By Krystel Abimeri

The birds that Bashir, 13, minds in the makeshift cote behind his family’s caravan in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp remind him of home, he says, “as if I’ve taken a piece of it with me”.

ZA’ATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan, 17 December 2013 – Some uninformed adults, this author included, might not know that doves and pigeons belong to the same species. But one young boy in Jordan’s sprawling Za’atari refugee camp will happily tell you that – and so much more.

Bashir, 13, likes birds so much he could be one himself – energetic and gentle, grounded yet free.

When you first meet Bashir, he is protective of his avian companions. The idea of showing them to strangers seems to make him uncomfortable. But, as he leads the way to an area behind his caravan, the fluttering of wings grows louder, and his eyes begin to sparkle. He has claimed a patch of the desert upon which to build a large wooden cage. It’s Bashir’s very own nest.

© UNICEF Video
Caring for his avian companions has become a ritual Bashir greatly enjoys. “I miss home so much,” he says. “Birds remind me of Syria, as if I’ve taken a piece of it with me.” His family arrived in Za’atari 15 months ago.

English sparrows, canaries, doves and pigeons all coexist in a peaceful manner. He attends to them regularly – a quotidian ritual he greatly enjoys.

“I feed them hemp, seeds, rice, lentils, bulgur wheat,” reports Bashir, keeping a threatening eye on his cousins to make sure they don’t disturb the resting chicks.

“Taking care of his birds keeps him sane,” says his older cousin. “And, when I think that I’m the one who taught him how to raise them on our rooftop back in Syria! We used to have about a hundred. He’s come a long way.”

While there may not be as many birds in Za’atari, there’re enough to keep Bashir busy between school and helping his father at the family’s Zahret el Khaleej (Flower of the Gulf) restaurant.

Bashir’s father Nabil, who is also called Abou Nadir*, arrived in Za’atari 15 months ago with his mother, wife, five sons and one daughter. “I’m number 300. One of the very first registered in the camp,” he says in a tone that is both proud and weary.

Back in Deraa, Nabil worked in the restaurant industry. When he realized he would be staying in Za’atari longer than expected, he decided to open a little falafel place on the ‘Champs Elysées’, the busiest street of the camp.

A nephew who came to visit from Abu Dhabi offered to help open a bigger, cleaner place. “I own five restaurants in Abu Dhabi,” he says. “It runs in our family, and we have high standards. When I saw the unhygienic conditions my relatives were living in, I had to do something.”

Although Bashir never misses a day of school, he took two days off for the opening of the revamped restaurant. On the day of the launch, the family served free shawarmas to all refugees.

“I’m happy for my father. This place will become the new hangout in the camp!” announces Bashir.

When asked if Za’atari will be more permanent, Bashir’s face clouds over. “I miss home so much. Birds remind me of Syria, as if I’ve taken a piece of it with me.” He sounds older and more mature.

As we head out, the birds begin to flutter as if they might fly away.  Bashir is calm. “Birds have wings, but not all of them can fly high,” he says. “Although they’re free to leave, they won’t go anywhere. They know where they belong. And even if they left, they’d probably go to Syria – to tell her to wait for me.’’ He smiles.

Of course they would. After all, aren’t doves the messengers of peace?

*’Nadir’s father’. Nadir is Nabil’s eldest son.



UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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