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Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme

This is the Farmer

My main job was farming. I looked after lots of animals, especially cows. We provided lots of milk for the locals. This is why my thumb is so bent. It’s from all those years of milking. My hands tell you the story of my professional life.

Since a peaceful protest for democratic reform turned into Civil War, Syria has been decimated. According to Shelterbox.org, one in four schools have been damaged, half of the hospitals no longer function, and millions of hectares of farmland have been destroyed, forcing half of the population to flee their homes. Some have arrived in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPRS). Others through sheer will and determination.

We spoke to some of these people to put a face to the statistics, to remember ordinary people doing ordinary jobs and living an ordinary life were forced to leave their home. This is one of their stories. This is the farmer.

My name is Mohammed and I lived in a small town called Yalda in Ghouta. Because it’s a small place we know everyone. We all grew up together and mainly work on either farms or in agriculture. I worked as a blacksmith for a while and then a tile polisher. It is very hot in Syria, so we have tiles on the floor instead of carpets. I used one of those big machines to polish the floor, a bit like you see the cleaners using in Tesco.

“Comic
Comic art panel from What is Coming

My main job was farming. I looked after lots of animals, especially cows. We provided lots of milk for the locals. This is why my thumb is so bent. It’s from all those years of milking. My hands tell you the story of my professional life. Milking time varies depending on the cow. Sometimes you can be done in a minute, another cow can take an hour. We usually need around two hours to milk 20 cows. Me and another person would sit either side of the cow and milk together: No machines, we did it all manually. Then we would process the milk to make cheese or butter. We would take what we needed, then sell the rest. In Syria, we only really have one cheese, Halloumi. It’s not like the UK where there is blue cheese, green cheese, all kinds of cheese. We add black seeds to the Halloumi sometimes and cut it into squares.

It’s a long day working on a farm. I would start at 6am in the morning and work through till 7pm in the evening. And this would happen every day because, you see, cows don’t have weekends off, so neither do we. Me and my family all worked together – brothers, children, everyone. We were a team. If someone was sick or someone had to go to the city for something, we could cover each other.

I came over to the UK on 14th December 2015 with my wife and three children. I feel disabled because of not having the language. Everything is different here because I live in a small town full of buildings and no fields. I miss waking up and seeing cows and every day at the same time I fiddle with my thumbs because I am so used to milking. Now I think I must improve myself as a black smith to find work. I look at fences and think I could do better than that. I could help improve the gate to your house.

Mohammed spoke to James Walker on 29 April 2018 in Beeston, Nottingham. Maamon acted as translator.

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