Feature: Syrians in Egypt feel at home during Ramadan, yet homesick

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-11 05:07:10|Editor: yan
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by Mahmoud Fouly

CAIRO, June 10 (Xinhua) -- "We feel at home here in Egypt. Syria and Egypt are two countries but one people. We're very happy here and we enjoy so much the various celebratory features of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Egypt," said Samer al-Wattar, a Syrian in his late 30s who runs his own pastry store at a district on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Wattar is one of thousands of Syrians who fled the six-year-old conflict back home and found refuge in Egypt, forming a large community at Giza's 6th of October city in Greater Cairo. Accompanied by his mother, wife and children, the man has been in Egypt for five years.

Syrians can be seen everywhere all around the city, working and doing various businesses from selling fruits, candies, juices and other stuff in the streets to running small, medium and large stores selling pastries, desserts, groceries, clothes and almost everything.

Selling traditional Ramadan-related juices on the sidewalk of one of the city streets, Ibrahim Mahmoud, known as Abu Bahaa, said that he does not feel alienated in Egypt but he still wishes for a soon return to Syria.

"We feel like we're living among our families as the Egyptian people are kind and hospitable. Street lanterns, light decorations and ornaments during Ramadan here are so beautiful. This joyful environment reminds us of our beautiful days in Syria," said Mahmoud, 40, while preparing juice for sale in small plastic bags.

Although there are no fixed statistics about the number of Syrian refugees in Egypt, the Egyptian foreign ministry once said it was half a million. Egypt does not build refugee camps for them but it simply allows them to freely work and engage in the Egyptian society.

Anas al-Hosary, a Syrian man in his early 40s, said that he came to Egypt for a month or two to see where to go next, but he stayed in the country for more than four years now and he opened a small clothing store for a living with his wife and two children.

"My children say they want to 'visit' Syria not 'return to' Syria, which shows that they look at Egypt as their home now," said Hosary, also a soccer coach who helped and qualified many Syrian boys at his Syria Stars Academy to join Egyptian and Arab football clubs.

At an area full of Syrians in 6th of October city, a lady and her adult daughter have been shopping for some pickled vegetables at a Syrian stand in the street to use as appetizers for the Ramadan fasting-break meal, or iftar.

"Although no one in Egypt ever mistreated us and they are all kind and helpful, I miss everything about Syria where our relatives, loved ones and friends are," said Amira Diab while her daughter was paying for the pickles.

She added that despite the brightness, colorfulness and joyfulness of Ramadan month in Egypt, she hopes to spend her next Ramadan back home. "Nowhere is better than home," she said.

Outside a nearby building, 10-year-old boy Farouk Aboul-Shawarib expressed happiness with the Egyptian traditions during Ramadan and said he couldn't compare them with those in Syria as he arrived in Egypt when he was only four.

"I have a lot of Syrian and Egyptian friends alike, especially at school. I do not feel alienated. I just feel at home," said the little boy outside his building before leaving for a walk with his peers.

To engage the Syrian children in the educational system in Egypt, schools like Civilization Builders provides various stages of education from kindergarten to high school for both boys and girls.

"The school is not restricted to Syrian students but it has some from Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Jordan," said Hossam Joubi, the school principal, noting that the majority of students in the school are still Syrians.

"We do not suffer any discrimination and we're amazingly engaged in the Egyptian society," he added.

For those students whose families are in distress, like orphans and children of prisoners, "we try to help them as much as we can and provide the school expenses for those who can't afford them," the principal said.

A Syrian team called Joy of Syria held a group Ramadan iftar gathering dozens of members of the Syrian community to make them feel at home, besides several other activities and services.

The team last year provided for 25 cesarean birth operations, held a Mother's Day ceremony for more than 500 Syrian mothers, provided financial support and post-production promotion for more than 10 small enterprises by Syrian families and arranged several picnics for Syrian children.

"We're a team of volunteers whose purpose is to make the Syrian community in Egypt happy. We arrange entertainment activities and we guide families who need specific services whether medical, educational or others. We connect those who need services with those who provide them," said 28-year-old Shaher Rajjob, founder and director of Joy of Syria Team.