A day with a Syrian mother in the US: There is no place like home

A day with a Syrian mother in the US: There is no place like home
Fatima Charabati welcomed us with a smile into her humble apartment in Lombard, Illinois, an ethnically diverse suburb just over 32 kilometers west of Chicago. Her three daughters Noor, 7, Bushra, 10, and Sara, 12, just arrived home from school and were a bit wary of us visitors.

It is not possible for her to return safely to Syria, where she saw "horror" and her uncle has not been heard from.

She showed us a picture on her cellphone of her niece, a college student injured two days earlier in Aleppo where 18 people were killed in airstrikes. "Shrapnel," she explained, as she opened the window to cool off the apartment.

She talked about grappling with the death of her father a year ago and missing her mother. "She is 78. She is too old to come here. She wants to stay in Syria." She worries constantly about the family she was forced to leave back home, saying she had no choice but to do what she had to do for her children’s safety.

Charabati and her husband had been living in Saudi Arabia where their daughters learned English while enrolled in an international school.

"I would get very sick during my pregnancies. He didn’t want to deal with me; he would send me home to Syria so my mother could take care of me," she explained.

The plan was to take a trip to the United States on visitor visas to see her stepsons, children from her husband’s previous marriage. At the airport, she and one of their daughters were not allowed to leave when their passports were shown to be soon expiring. Her husband left without them, abandoning them at the airport leaving his wife to fend for herself and her children.

She eventually made it to America with her children and, ultimately, she and her husband divorced. She ended up in Comer, Georgia, getting help from a service community called Jubilee Partners, whose primary ministry offers hospitality to refugees from around the world who have newly arrived in the United States. Charabati and her daughters made friends with refugees from Somalia, Congo and Sudan.

She ended up settling in the Chicago area, receiving help from a local Chicago mosque community until she was granted indefinite asylum by the U.S. government. 

Replacing turmoil with safety and routine for her children is a goal Charabati has now achieved in America while chaos remains in her home country of Syria where she left her extended family behind. Warm gestures of hospitality and smiles aside, her mind is somewhere else. When asked what her future dreams are, she did not hesitate in her response: "To go back. I want to go back to Syria."

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