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Wedding day

Samah al-Saud

From Khirbet Ghazaleh, Syria

now in Zaatari Camp, Jordan

Left Syria December 2012

Youssef Ahmed Mohammad saw her in the market, a rare breath of beauty amid the misery of refugee life.

Someone said she was from his village back in Syria, which he fled four months earlier when a Syrian government plane dropped bombs that destroyed his home. But he had never seen her before, so he asked his mother to investigate.

Now, two months later, here he is, a groom, a skinny 23-year-old dressed in a black suit and a purple tie. He is knocking on the rusty metal door of his bride’s home, a cinder-block building that used to be a public latrine, where the beauty from the market is primping for her wedding.

It is a moment of renewal and resilience amid the sadness and loss. They have settled into life in a foreign land, in a crowded, dirty camp that could be their home for years. But the rhythms of life go on.

Shortly after 2:30 on a hot afternoon, Samah al-Saud, 24, emerges in a white satin dress, fully veiled with a tall hood covering her head. Music is blaring from a portable loudspeaker, and her girlfriends who helped her get ready start dancing in the dirt streets.

Dozens of friends and neighbors crowd in close as she and her groom step into an old blue Opel taxi, the only car amid all the refugee tents and trailers. It has come to carry them to their new life.

Bride and groom squeeze into the back seat with the bride’s mother. The groom’s mother sits up front with the taxi driver, and at least four small children pile in for the ride.

The taxi driver honks the old car’s horn in celebration, but it sounds like the weak bleat of a mildly annoyed sheep. The car pulls out down the dirt roadway, rolling through filthy, trash-filled puddles as kids run behind it.

It’s tradition to have a small convoy of cars accompany the bride and groom to their wedding. But here in Zaatari, the old taxi is the only car available, and a crowd of teenage boys running alongside is its only escort.

The car reaches the camp’s main drag, known as the Champs-Elysees, where the necessities and luxuries of camp life are for sale: propane stoves, vegetables, television sets. Shops are filled with people getting haircuts, boys playing video games, girls looking at used shoes they can’t afford. Men weld scraps of metal. Children carry big bunches of basil.

A few people stop to wave at the passing wedding party, which arrives 15 minutes later at the groom’s family house — a couple of metal trailers, with a U.N. tent stretched between them to make a small, shady courtyard.

Music is blasting as bride and groom step out of the taxi. Young men dance in the dirt, next to open pits filled with trash, kicking up rocks and dust with their joyous steps.

The bride and groom greet everyone, then men and women separate for a meal of chicken and rice.

No religious or civil authority formally seals the pair. Their wedding is part of a rising trend of unofficial weddings among refugees in which the two families simply get an elder from their village to agree that the wedding is proper. That saves money, time and paperwork, but the wedding is not officially recognized in Jordan or Syria.

None of that matters to Mohammad.

“I am happy to be married,” he says, sitting with his brothers and male friends. They are all in jeans and T-shirts; bride and groom are the only ones who are dressed up.

“But real happiness will come when I go back to my country,” he says. “This is my temporary home, and it is fine. But I will only be happy in my village.”

He says he and his bride will hold off on children, at least for now.


“I don’t want to bring children into this life,” he says. “It’s better to die without children in Syria than it is to bring children into the world as refugees. How can you build a life on a foundation like this?”

Mohammad says he would like to go fight in Syria, as so many other young men from Zaatari do, but he says his family needs him here.

As he sits in his trailer, the wedding party winding down, Mohammad sips coffee and remarks that despite the monotony and hopelessness of refugee life, he feels lucky to have met his bride here in the camp.

“Thank God, something good came out of something bad,” he says.

By 5 o’clock, the party is over.

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

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