June 28, 2016

I could see the clouds of dust before I could see people.

We rounded the corner and there stood a long line of men, gathered in a crescent-shaped dance line. They began to move in tandem, stomping and kicking, first with small steps and then bigger movements, dancing up a dust storm. A group of women sat to the side and watched the festivities, chatting and taking pictures and passing around juice to the guests. They were celebrating the wedding of Amjad, a volunteer in Questscope's youth center in Za'atari Refugee Camp.

Weddings look a bit different here in Za'atari, the largest official Syrian refugee camp in the Middle East, compared to a typical Arab wedding in Syria. Instead of wearing sparkly dresses we wore brown cargo Questscope vests. Instead of a late night of dancing and festivities, this wedding was held in mid-day.

"The wedding is at noon because here there is no electricity at night," explained one of the Syrian Questscope volunteers, Hanan*. Certainly, a backdrop of metal housing containers and dusty makeshift roads isn't the ideal scene for a wedding party. They told me of event halls in Syria, the lights and decorations and drums, the beautiful dresses, the glamorous makeup. 

However, with a loud enough speaker and a good playlist full of foot-stomping beats, anything can turn into a wildly fun party, even in Za'atari


The women ushered me and the other female Questscope guests into a small housing container near us. How so many women could fit into that small of a space was a mystery to me, but somehow we managed. 

We then made our own crescent-shaped dance line and with much laughter and clapping, we danced around and around in a circle for hours more. We cheered as each girl showed off her best dance moves. We took turns in the center. We took pictures. We took our time celebrating the bride, celebrating the moment. 

It was difficult to imagine the stories that brought these women here. As they sat, happily catching their breath in between songs, I looked around the tiny room and was struck by the vastness of their histories, the enormously powerful and tragic events that had left huge craters in lives in only the past few years. Craters that interrupted lives and broke families. Craters that fell like bombs and destroyed so many homes. So many memories. 

We resumed dancing after this short break, picking up right where we left off in that small space. It was then that I realized that dancing together, laughing together, getting to celebrate a wedding together is actually kind of incredible.


The wedding meal.

It is the normality of a wedding, even in Za'atari, that makes it a small miracle.

It is a miracle of the ordinary. Of something that happened before the war that continues on after. Weddings, births, engagements. New love, family ties. The fact that there are these life events that continue to be celebrated is a testament to the spirit of these refugees. It shows that there is life in the camp and it is worth celebrating.

The joy these events bring cannot totally allay the pains these women have faced. There will still be sorrow, there will still be brokenness. 

Weddings can, however, provide the connection to familiarity that displaced people crave. They provide a promise to Questscope, to our volunteers, and their families that not all was lost in Syria. It is an assurance that life goes on and it can be full of laughter, new unions, and a lot of dancing. 

Emily Miller
Communications & Media Intern

* Name changed for protection.