Music, Culture & Growing Up In a Syrian Refugee Camp

Saturday (March 15) marks three years since the conflict began in Syria. During this time, more than 100,000 people have died and a staggering eight million have had to flee their homes. This week vigils have been held in Trafalgar Square and across the world in Russia, Jordan, America and France where people come together to light candles and to show that their thoughts are with the long-suffering Syrian people.

Sam Hall, who broadcasts as Goldierocks on the British Council’s Selector Radio Station, visited the biggest Syrian refugee camp Zaatari near Amman in Jordan last year where over 120,000 people are living. She’s put together a documentary podcast which you can listen to exclusively below which gives a profound insight into what it’s like to be a young person living in the camp. She spoke to us to introduce what she saw:

NME: While Zaatari is obviously a very tough place to live, are people still trying to live as ordinary lives as is possible in the circumstances?

Sam Hall: They are, exactly. Many Syrians have accepted that they’re going to be living there for a couple of years so they can’t just exist hand to mouth. They’ve set up businesses within the camp and there’s a huge black market. The main market place is nicknamed the Champs-Élysées, but it’s all based on black-market trade with local Jordanians smuggling stuff in and out of the camp. Before the camp was there it was just desolate desert. It’s barren and barren for miles and miles and then there’s just all of these units and it feels almost like some kind of crazy Mad Max film. The locals used to say of the land ‘Only the devil lives in Zaatari’ before there was a camp there.”

NME: What did you find in terms of music and culture?

Sam Hall: “It’s really interesting because at one point there were groups of local musicians who played music together almost as a type of therapy. They were singing songs together about what life was like before, but I think they got so upset with the camp that they’ve now left. Music-wise there’s all kinds of stuff that has grown out of the revolution. It’s fascinating because Syrians have existed in such a secret society now for such a long time that they’re very reluctant to discuss the ins and outs of stuff. There were rumours in the camp that there’s an underground disco, and other rumours about brothels and secret bars.”

NME: What’s day-to-day life like for young people?

Sam Hall: “It’s really mundane, to be honest. I felt like in the camp it was almost as if time had stopped, like a nothingness. People were waiting to go home. There’s a sense of boredom because there’s nothing to do. If you’ve got a family you try to feed them and washing them becomes almost like medieval times.”

You can listen to Sam’s documentary exclusively here: