Birds Can Fly Home

Birds Can Fly Home

Publication info

Johanna Mitscherlich

About a year ago, Bader was an average 15-year-old boy. He attended the 10th grade of high school, met his friends after class to practice breakdancing, played tricks on people from time to time and wanted to become an English teacher.

Then came the war; bombs and death reached his hometown El-Hirak in the south of Syria. For days his city was under fire. Rockets destroyed half of the house he lived in with his parents, his two sisters and his brother. His parents’ clothes shop was completely destroyed. His family did not want to leave their house and moved into the part of it where the ceiling did not crumble down onto the burnt furniture, where the walls were not black from the fire.

But only a few weeks later, it was impossible for them to retain some sense of normalcy among the ensuing chaos. Bader’s 17-year-old brother was on his way to Damascus to order new clothes to restock their shop when he was arrested. Since then he is being held in a Syrian prison but no one knows where exactly. Bader’s parents, Dia and Kamar, were afraid that the same could happen to him so they fled to the city of Daraa to live with a cousin. After a few weeks, the war followed them there. In January 2013, they left Syria.

Now Bader, his father, his grandmother and two sisters live in Jordan. His mother went back to Syria in July. Rumor was that her eldest son would be released from prison. Today, four months later, she is still waiting for his release. Every other week, she visits the different hospitals in the region hoping that she will not have to identify her son among the dead. Hundreds of kilometers away from her, in the city of Irbid in the north of Jordan, her family struggles to survive.

As is the case for many other Syrian refugee families, it is one of the sons, Bader, who contributes the greatest deal. Six days a week, from 9:00 in the morning to 6:00 at night, Bader cleans bird cages, feeds the animals and sells them on the local market. He earns a little more than $5.00 every day, adding up to $160.00 every month. This way, he can pay for half of the rent for the two-room apartment they are staying in.

For now, the family still has some reserves from selling their gold. Dia, Bader’s father, says that the money will only cover rent for two more months. What then? “If we don’t find another way to survive we will have to go back to Syria.”

Bader likes his job, his boss and the birds, and he is a talented salesman. Dia is proud of him. His youngest son is taking care of the family, is responsible and disciplined. But Bader misses his school and his friends. He misses learning and reading.

“I am working because we don’t have another option to make ends meet. But in an ideal world, if life in Syria were still the way it should be, I would first finish my schooling and work afterwards. I should not be working full-time now. This is not how it should be.”

Once he can return to Syria, he says, he will cram for his exams night and day and get closer to achieving his goal of becoming an English teacher. “That would be awesome,” he says in English and smiles proudly.

His father cannot work. He fell into the spike of an iron fence while they were fleeing and can hardly move his right leg. Bader cannot legally work in Jordan either, but at least he will face less legal action. When the police arrive at his market stall Bader covers his head with the hood of his black sweater which reads “Argentina” on its front. He disappears in the turmoil of the market, the sea of shouting merchants and becomes one of the hundreds of people who wander and shop in the market.

After work Bader meets up with friends. Some of them he knows from home. They do what they used to do in Syria. They breakdance. Sometimes they show their moves on University Street in Irbid. “Most of the people in the audience are Syrian refugees like us. This is why we do not collect money. We want to entertain them for free and make them a bit happier.”

In Syria, Bader also had birds, 52 carrier pigeons. The last time his mother called from Al-Hirak, she told him that the birds fly away whenever they hear bombs dropping and houses burning. Once everything is quiet again, they come back home. “Birds are used to their owner, used to where they come from,” Bader says and softly rubs his beard which starts growing above his lips. “Birds are lucky. They don’t have to work and can fly back home. I wish it was as easy for people.” 

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Bader, 16, cleans tends to birds to earn enough money to help his family pay rent in Jordan, where they fled after conditions became unsafe at home in Syria. At night, he and his friends gather on  University Street in Irbid and breakdance. He says, “Most of the people in the audience are Syrian refugees like us. This is why we do not collect money. We want to entertain them for free and make them a bit happier.”