A week later, sitting on the floor cushions of a cold, bare room of an apartment in the Jordanian city of Irbid, little Zaher gazes curiously at the 8x10 photo of a grey-haired man smiling back at him. “He reminds me of my grandfather!” Zaher exclaims from inside the apartment where he lives with his parents and five siblings.
Though he struggles a bit, Zaher insists on reading the letter from the stranger who sent him a box of goodies. He’s struck by Gunter’s story of heartache, of being forced to leave his childhood behind. “I would love,” Zaher says, “to tell him about my life from Syria, that we had a house, trees, a backyard.”
Zaher happily plays with the toys that Nitsche sent him with the letter,
Zaher’s father enjoys seeing his son have a rare light moment. “Living through this war has affected Zaher’s psychological state so much,” he says. ‘He’s quiet and doesn’t engage with people as much. His life is just so different now than it was when we lived in Syria. He doesn’t have many possessions now, like his toys. Things are not available the way we need them to be, and I cannot provide for him like I did when we were in Syria. My hands are tied here. I have nothing to give now.” Zaher’s father said Gunter’s letter had an almost haunting familiarity to it. “I felt like it was me who was also suffering right with him,” he said. “It was like reading my life.”
Zaher and his father study the picture of Gunter with his dog, Senta. They miss their own pets – some pigeons and the beloved family cat. They had no choice but to leave them behind.
Zaher gets up and begins his usual routine to prepare for school, stuffing his backpack with textbooks. Then he adds his new notebook and pens, the ones sent by a stranger who lives half a world away but whose words are a reminder that maybe, one day, everything will get better.