A father and child fled the carnage of civil war in Saraqib, Syria, but could not escape the horrific sounds of explosions and gunfire. They found a way to make the sounds of war a lot more joyful, though. And were able to stay safe — and keep laughing — until finding safety in Turkey.
The Horrors of Syria’s Civil War
Abdullah Al-Mohammad and his family lived in Saraqib, Syria. Saraqib has been a hot spot in Syria’s nine-year-long civil war, strategically located as it is at the junction of two important roads — the Aleppo-Damascus and Aleppo-Latakia roads. The city was captured and retaken by opposing forces in 2012 and 2017.
In 2018, a Russian military jet was shot down nearby. The pilot committed suicide to avoid being captured. In February 2020, Saraqib fell to the Syrian Army, only to be retaken by the opposition weeks later. But at the beginning of March, Saraqib again fell under Syrian control. Saraqib is a horrifying place to raise — or be — a child.
Seeking A Safer Life For Salwa
Al-Mohammad was determined to flee the carnage in Saraqib and to give his daughter a chance at a safer and more peaceful life. For a time, they lived at a friend’s home in Sarmada in Idlib, a province in the northwest of Syria. Even there, the war persisted. Al-Mohammad and his family, including three-year-old daughter Salwa, were surrounded by conflict and explosions.
Al-Mohammad couldn’t protect his daughter from all the horrors of life in a war zone, but he did want to protect her from as much psychological harm as possible. But how to keep Salwa’s spirits up amongst the chaos?
Laughter Amongst The Carnage
Al-Mohammad told Sky News that he “decided to teach Salwa this game to prevent her psychological state from collapsing.” The game? Every time they heard a bomb explode, Al-Mohammad pretended it was fireworks or a toy, something innocent and worth celebrating with laughter. He got the idea after Salwa had become frightened over the sound of fireworks, and Al-Mohammad had been able to assure her that the loud sounds were all in good fun… and nothing to be afraid of.
In Syria, they had a lot to laugh about.
Dad said Salwa “is a child who does not understand war.” But it’s clear she understands laughter. Al-Mohammad posted a video of him and his daughter giggling and laughing over the sound of explosions obviously nearby. It’s heartbreakingly bittersweet. As they hear an incoming shell, missile or bomb, they chat casually about what it might be and anticipate celebrating its explosion with a burst of laughter.
Here’s a story from The Guardian with lots of excerpts from Al-Mohammad’s video, and a conversation with Al-Mohammad and his beautiful daughter.
Despite all the laughter, facts were facts. Al-Mohammed and his daughter remained in a war zone. Those explosions were no laughing matter. People whose heart had nearly broken seeing Salwa laugh with her father amongst the horrors of war were anxiety-ridden over their fate. Did they find safety?
Safe At Last
On February 26, 2020, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News published an article online entitled “Syrian girl from viral video begins new life.” The story reported that Salwa and her father had arrived safely in Turkey one day earlier. They now live in a city called Antakya. Many Syrians seek to flee the conflict by relocating to Turkey, but can only do so by being smuggled across the border. Salwa’s family avoided that horror because they were invited into the country.
Salwa’s father was clearly relieved and so glad that Salwa would have the chance to grow up with laughter over games and friends rather than as a mask for the horrors of war. He told the Daily News: “Now, my daughter will be able to go to school. I hope that the conflict in Syria can soon end and that I can return.”
Bethan McKernan, a Middle East reporter for The Guardian, confirmed the story on her own Twitter account on March 3, 2020.
I am happy to report that 3-year-old Salwa and her parents have made it safely out of Idlib to Turkey. The family made headlines for a game where dad Abdullah got Salwa to laugh at falling bombs to protect her from trauma. For the first time ever, she can laugh at normal things. pic.twitter.com/jTET7z7rRj
— Bethan McKernan (@mck_beth) March 3, 2020
Imagine that — safety for “laughter at normal things.” Here’s hoping that all Syrian children will have the same opportunity one day soon.
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