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Born into exile

Khalid al-Saawdeh

From Al-Nawa, Syria

now in Zaatari Camp, Jordan

Born in October 2013

At 12:45 on a hot Monday afternoon, Hanana Assaad, 32, walks slowly into a maternity clinic run by the United Nations. Her water broke last night. She hasn't slept. Her tired eyes are framed by dark circles.

In the heavy midday heat, she has just walked almost a mile to get here from the U.N.-supplied trailer she shares with her six children and 20 other family members in this refugee camp of 120,000 people.

She grimaces as she tries to get comfortable on an examining table in a trailer that serves as the waiting room. The maternity clinic is four trailers - plain white boxes with a couple of windows, set around a dirt courtyard.

She is worried about the baby. She had six others back in Syria, but this is her first birth as a refugee, and it has been the hardest pregnancy. Her diet at home was rich with fruits and vegetables, but here it is mainly rice and lentils. The baby is coming three weeks early, and she blames herself - she's stressed out, badly nourished, exhausted, scared, weak.

"I was afraid I was going to lose this one because of the stress of the bombs and the shooting and coming here from Syria," she says.

She says her family fled their Syrian village, al-Nawa, five months ago to escape the daily bombings by Syrian government planes. They hitched a ride in a truck for 30 miles, then walked the last mile to the border. Jordanian soldiers met them and brought them to the camp.

As they were trying to get settled in the new tent home, they got terrible news. Her husband's uncle, Khalid, who was his closest friend, had been killed by the security forces back home.

So now, Assaad and her husband are praying for a boy. They will name him for their fallen relative.

Outside, the cloudless sky is blue-white, and so full of sand that it looks almost bleached. On the road just behind the trailer, hundreds of refugees push wheelbarrows full of stuff, carry plastic bags or just walk hand in hand.

"I didn't expect to give birth here," Assaad says quietly. "I thought I'd be here for maybe two months. But here I am about to give birth to a Jordanian Syrian."

Several thousand babies have been born at Zaatari - an average of about a dozen per day, camp doctors say - since the camp opened in July 2012.

At 1:25, the nurses and midwives tending to Assaad decide that she is ready and move her into the delivery room. It is spartan but clean, with two delivery chairs side by side.

Twenty minutes later, the hot afternoon stillness is interrupted by a single loud scream.

The doctor, a Jordanian who works for the United Nations, delivers the baby.

"It's a boy," he tells Assaad.

And for the first time since she arrived here, she smiles.

She has her Khalid.

The nurses clean up the baby and slip him into a little white onesie decorated with stars and planets, wrap him in a fuzzy brown blanket and hand him to his mother. They both fall asleep.

At 3:50, two hours after Khalid's birth, his father arrives. Nedhal Fawad al-Saawdeh, 37, has been working all day.

Hanana Assaad (with light scarf on) with her husband and six of her seven children, holds her newborn at a women's clinic inside the Zaatari camp.

He describes how his uncle Khalid was taken away by the security forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He says they tortured him to death in a jail cell.

"When he was taken away, I felt that part of my heart was taken away," he says. "Today, I feel it has been returned."

At 6 p.m., doctors examine mother and baby and decide they are ready to go home. They need the space; four other women have arrived since the baby was born, all about to deliver.

The clinic's ambulance is not being used right now, so they give Assaad and her husband a lift. Five minutes later, they arrive at their home, two trailers set among thousands of identical ones, set in a vast flat field of baked nothing.

A mob of children squeal with delight as Assaad steps down from the ambulance, walks through the tent flap and into her trailer. She sits gingerly on a foam mat on the floor and tries to get comfortable with her new baby, still wrapped in the fuzzy blanket.

Except for the circus of laughing children, there is almost nothing in the room except rolled-up sleeping pads and woven plastic U.N. mats covering the floor.

It is dark outside now. The evening call to prayer echoes from loudspeakers across the camp outside.

Baby Khalid, named for a victim of war, born a refugee in a country that is not his own, has arrived home.

Every day, about 3,000 Syrians leave the country.

Since you started reading, roughly ## Syrians have left the country.