She likes it when her friends call her Jano.
Aged 53, Jano comes from Aleppo, one of Syria’s most war-ravaged cities. She is now waiting for her asylum request to be processed at a refugee camp in Nijmegen, in the east of the Netherlands.
She spends her days knitting woolly scarves and hats, and gives them out as gifts to the children in the camp. There is no warmth without love, she says. And whenever she sees a child cry, she walks up to him to hug him, and says: “Don’t cry, we’ve cried enough.” 
Jano talks a lot about what happened to her on the way to the Netherlands, along the migrant trail. 
“In Serbia, I had to get through a forest. It was after midnight, and there, in the dark, I fell into a muddy swamp. I was stuck there for three whole hours. I was travelling alone, so there was no one with me to help me out,” she said.
One of the things that Jano remembers most about being on the journey to the Netherlands is the silence. “Any sound can give you away, and create problems for the others travelling the route,” she says.
“I got stuck in the swamp, and I was sinking deeper and deeper, until I saw the shadows of two men. ‘Help me,’ I whispered. And they pulled me out, but I lost my boots in the mud. I walked in the forest for several more hours, barefoot, all night long. When I reached a town, I managed to buy shoes and treat the wounds on my feet,” she recalls.
Jano also thinks back to another moment on her journey. “I was climbing a steep hill one night. I was very scared. The smuggler told us that we might slip and die if we weren’t careful. And I realised that if any of us fell, he wouldn’t just die, he would also cause trouble for the others, because the police might notice us. At one point I was about to fall, and a man helped me. He said in a deep voice: ‘I’ll hold you, I won’t let you fall.’” 
For the rest of that climb, she kept on relying on him. And he relied on her too: at one point he was about to slip, and she helped him up. He held her hand and thanked her. They were then separated, just before dawn. “I never knew his name, or found out what he looked like,” she says.
Jano talks about Aleppo like a sorrowful husband who has lost his widow, or a mother grieving her children, or a bride who has become separated from a groom on the eve of their wedding day. She also remembers how people had to live without electricity and running water for many months before she finally decided to flee.
She also tries to think of the future. She wants to learn to ride a bike, she is learning how to use a smartphone, and is picking up some words in Dutch. She doesn’t want to rely on others to get around. 
Jano wants a new life.
Story and photo by
Ola Shams