Ibraheem (the world’s most famous Syrian refugee) became my iddo (or younger brother) in 2017.
It was an act of unimaginable love on his family’s part.
They welcomed me into their home, fed me vegetarian Syrian food, and offered me their sofa to sleep on when
I was stranded at the airport.
We were both waiting on a flight connection in Istanbul one day.
It was a typical airport scene: fast-talking locals, a slew of advertisements, and a smattering of backpackers waiting to board.
We had first met at the airport in Gaziantep on our way from Aleppo.
On this trip, Ibraheem had been evicted from his house and had been staying at an ad hoc shelter
with some other displaced families as he waited for news on whether he would be able to return home to Aleppo or not.
Ibraheem is concerned about his daughter, Fatima.
At the Istanbul airport, Ibraheem was much more laid-back than usual.
We sat together in silence for a while, waiting for our flights to be called.
He rested his head on my shoulder and I rested mine on his. “If anyone comes near us,” I said, “you just run.”
He shook his head and laughed heartily at the preposterousness of this idea.
The Airline Employees who were busy boarding passengers in preparation for take off spotted us and gave us a friendly smile.
“-Effendi how are you?”,
I heard the first one greet.
Ibraheem and I were both taken aback by this and we broke out laughing.
This airport scene is a typical trope in Arabic movies, and we had just experienced it for ourselves.
The guys at the gate chatted with us for a bit and then wished us luck as we headed off to our respective flights.
A typically smoggy day in Istanbul before boarding our flight to Gaziantep
where Ibraheem will stay with his family before returning home to Aleppo, Syria after some time away from home due to conflict.
We both breathed a sigh of relief at this minor non-incident.
Ibraheem had been evicted from his home on the outskirts of Aleppo as part of a government crackdown on rebel fighters.
We were both taking a long sojourn at our respective ends of the world as
we waited to resume our journey back to Syria.
Ibraheem was returning to Aleppo after a period of being away from his family as
he was evicted from his home by the regime.
Our flight had been delayed due to bad weather and
we had been waiting for two hours in the airport lounge as everyone else boarded their flights out.
We finally got on our flight to Gaziantep,
but there were no more seats available for Ibraheem.
Instead, he asked if he could stand in the aisle next to me as I had a spare seat.
The stewardess said that this was against policy, but she was willing to compromise.
Since the plane was half full,
she allowed him to stand in the aisle next to me on one condition:
that I not offer him my jacket or any other kind of warmth lest it be deemed inappropriate; after all,
there were still some men and women on the plane who would not appreciate an unrelated man touching their women
Ibraheem was worried about his family.
He had left them behind in Aleppo as he tried to find a way to return to them.
Leaving Syria was not an option for him, but the rebel fighting had made it too dangerous for his family to stay.
Ibraheem had said goodbye to them with tears streaming down his cheeks,
telling them that it would be safer for them without him there.
He told himself over and over again that he would be back the next week, the next month, or even tomorrow.
Ibraheem has lived all across Syria during the civil war, but he knows that Aleppo is where he belongs.
I had not heard from him in a while.
I was worried about him. I had been trying to reach him on Whatsapp, but didn’t have any success.
A few months later, after the flight, he messaged me to tell me that he and his family were on their way home to Aleppo.
He sent me a picture of him and his wife Sara standing in front of their house in Aleppo.
Sara was smiling brightly at the camera, her eyes welling up at seeing their house for the first time in nearly a year.
Ibraheem looked different though; he looked thinner, wearier, older.
His smile was less genuine than I remembered it being when we last saw each other in Istanbul.
They had travelled to Istanbul with the help of the Syrian Red Crescent and the UN Refugee Agency.