A small green book: Reema's poetry

Posted by Jane Beesley Programme Communications - Humanitarian

28th May 2013

In my hands I hold a small green book. It feels very precious. I've been to see Reema ('The girl whose face you'll never see') and she's let me borrow her book of poems and drawings. Pages are filled with small, beautifully written Arabic writing. Last weekend we saw two poems that she'd written and our translator, Ramzi, quickly translated them. He explained that they were written in an Arabic he could only describe as being like Shakespearian English and so it was difficult to give a quick translation. Even in rough draft they are beautiful, sad and moving.


Going back a few days later with a couple of new notebooks and a pen she's happy to lend me the small green book. Inside there are new poems, and drawings of Sam, the photographer, Ramzi and me. There are other drawings of hearts, flowers, the Syrian flag, symbols of peace, eyes shedding tears, planes dropping bombs, tanks, and bodies lying on the ground. 

I'm borrowing the book so we can have her poems translated so we can do Reema and her words justice.

Before we leave Reema and her younger, equally bright, sister take me round their tiny, strange non-home, and point at the family's few possessions. They try to remember the English words for these items and are delighted when one of them finally remembers and I write the word in the notebook. Ever so often we all look around to try and spot something else we can name, but there is so little. We look at colours and features on our faces…nose, mouth, eyes, and ears. They are very good at counting, something I find the hardest in a foreign language! Then Reema points to 'door' and 'window', we both look at each other and she says, 'No door, no window'. We smile.

Last night I spoke to a couple of hundred supporters of Oxfam, thousands of miles away over Skype, in Oxford. I was asked to talk about the situation here in Lebanon. The scale of the crisis (overwhelming), how the refugees were coping (with dignity), the challenges they were facing, and what we (Oxfam) were doing. At the end I was asked, 'Is there anything else you want to say?' I recited one of Reema's, roughly translated, poems. Now I have a revised translation,

When I take my pencil and notebook,
What shall I write about?

Shall I write about my school,
my house or my land of which I was deprived?

My school, when will I visit you again
take my bag and run to you?

My school is no longer there
Now, destruction is everywhere
No more students
No more ringing bells
My school has turned into stones scattered here and there

Shall I write about my house that I no longer see
where I can no longer be,
Shall I write about flowers which now smell destruction?

Syria, my beloved country
Will I ever return back to you?
I had so many dreams
None of them will come true
All I want is to live in my country in freedom
Syria, my beloved country, I love you.


Reema's family received cash-for-rent assistance, of $150, from Oxfam and will receive a second $150 in June 2013.

Oxfam is calling on international donors to continue supporting the Syria humanitarian response by giving more funds. The UN-led Syria response programme is around 60 percent funded. Oxfam is aiming to reach 650,000 people by the end of 2013, however its work is less than 20% funded.


Blog post written by Jane Beesley

Programme Communications - Humanitarian

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