There are as many guises of trauma as there are Syrians who have experienced the war still ravaging their country. The dead-eyed mask is common, often in children. I saw it in a refugee house in Amman, Jordan, where, seated on scratchy nylon mats that said “UNHCR,” seven or so boys and girls stared at me stonily. Their mother cried until her whole face and neck turned red as she told stories of massacres and family members who had disappeared. The father sat quietly in a nearby room, praying.
There is another gaze, one full of grief, which I saw in a hospital in Kilis, a town inside Turkey near the Syrian border. A woman, 38, was bedridden with a spinal injury she incurred on the outskirts of Aleppo. Explosives had fallen on her house, crushing not only her back, but also her daughter, Ayah. A blond, 9-year-old child with plastic glasses, Ayah died that day. The pain of her death pulsed in her mother’s eyes.
There is also the drawn face of exhaustion, a wounded look I witnessed on a woman I met in a park in Kilis. The park housed 4,000 Syrians in makeshift tents. The woman tried to hand me her young son. He had scabies up and down his legs. “When will all of this end?” she begged.
The question of when the fighting will end is ever present in the minds of those hurting. So, too, are memories of torture, killing, rape, and deprivation. A loss of home and country plagues refugees, as do the difficulties of trying to incorporate themselves into communities that are sometimes hostile to their presence. Many have physical problems from injuries in the war. Even more have internal, emotional damage. Suffering for Syrians has a cascade effect, one with no tangible end in sight.