She stood by the Katara exit kiosk with two boys by her side.
I slowed down to a stop, expecting her to cross the road. But she walked up to the car and in Arabic interspersed with a few English words asked me to drop her in Dafna.
How dangerous could it be? A well-dressed hitchhiker of about 40, with 2 young boys in tow. Yes, it was close to midnight, but this is Doha, after all.
When I offered to help find a taxi, she insisted politely (almost a plea) that I drop her home. It was not too far away from Katara… The boys were hanging behind, obviously uncomfortable.
So there they were in the car, one second discussing the amazing Cinema Paradiso we had all seen at the last screening of Doha Tribeca that night, and the next second we were discussing the war in Syria.
The mother with her two sons and two daughters fled to Doha from Damascus. The daughters stayed with their aunt (her sister), while she lived in a single rented room with her sons. No job in sight, and unable to afford to send the kids to school. Four months in Qatar, having lost all that was familiar and comfortable.
She had left behind a 20-year-old career as a French teacher, her husband, friends, her home. Now in Qatar, she is not quite sure whether she was at the threshold of greater tumult or little hope.
In that moment she was as lost as a person could possibly be. She doesn’t quite remember the route back home to her room. Mohammed, the younger one who could not have been over 10 seems to have an inkling. He guides me through the lefts and rights of Dafna. He is chatty.
Ahmed, the older boy — around 12-13 — is stoic. I can’t make out if he is unhappy about his mother talking to a stranger about her worries and fears; or if he was just unhappy. It’s him that I worry about most.
To take a healthy, bright teen out of school and to a strange country… How do you keep him happy and positive? What kind of courage and desperation did it take for that mother to make this move?
We finally find our way to their home. We are by now on first name basis. K writes her name, number, email id and Facebook user name on a piece of paper. She takes down my details. She believes I could be one of the people who’d help her find a job here.
Her sons are listening. Maybe they are buying some of that belief too.
I feel crushed by the truth of the matter — I can’t do much but I can’t tell her that.
Three days after the encounter, I am still haunted by the eagerness in her smile, the determination in her voice, the sadness in her eyes and by Ahmed’s unsmiling face.
This is what war does. It splits families. It crushes dreams. It makes warriors of mothers and children.
PS: If you know of a job she can apply for please contact me.