Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Escaping War: What We Can Learn from Stories of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Written by Grace Pierucci

Turn the Page: April 2022

Jordan Ritter Conn – The Road From Raqqa | Christy Lefteri – The Beekeeper of Aleppo | Gilbert King- Facilitator

The conversation between Jordan Ritter Conn, the 2021 Nonfiction Runner-up for The Road From Raqqa, and Christy Lefteri, the 2020 Fiction Runner-up for The Beekeeper of Aleppo centered around the crisis in Syria. Both authors took down the stories of people who had to make the life-altering decision to stay or leave. While the horrors many people were facing can dominate the narrative, both authors also saw moments of hope of great importance.

Christy Lefteri describes a time in which she saw a moment of hope and joy amidst chaos, describing the tea and biscuits area where:

women would come in and within a few days they’d start, even if they were isolated or alone to begin with, you’d see the women slowly integrating and talking to maybe one of the women and then another. And then as the days and the weeks passed you’d see real friendships developing over team biscuits.”

These connections and small moments of joy had a momentous impact on her and brought laughter into a time of darkness for a lot of the women. Likewise, she recalls the children who would play together and how overtime they open up. She says the husbands and fathers would stay to watch their kids and wives from outside, since they were not allowed in. “I found it so touching just seeing like a man sort of doing this and oh there’s my daughter and then sitting back down on the step where he was sitting.”

Jordan Ritter emphasizes the role of hope in why people continued to live in their homes during these times of great violence. He says people “clung to that sense of home for years after the war began and clung to this belief that the home that he had built could be again what it once had been.” Hope played a role in whether people made the life-altering decision to stay or leave and Ritter explains how that decision could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

“The moments of joy that people experience are often incredibly striking and are very, very present, and I think it’s important for people who have not experienced some of these things to realize kind of the human capacity for joy in the midst of abject terror and fear.”

One story Ritter recalled took place on a boat at night in the quiet and everyone was afraid. In the midst of the danger these passengers on the boat were in, a couple begins arguing over who has the better seat. This little quarrel led to laughter on the boat, and it is amazing the tendency humans have to still find joy while in the most harrowing of circumstances. When discussing another story he included in his book, Ritter said, “I’d heard stories where people were in this situation, where it was kind of life or death and yet they found some humor or something to connect with somebody, and laugh with somebody, or remember something lovely.” Lefteri also adds that “I think in these sorts of really dire situations, that on the one hand we can see the worst of humanity but sometimes we can also see the best of humanity.” Both authors’ works showcase the importance of hope and its presence in familial ties, friendships, and even strangers sharing a hardship.

Each year, DLPP has interns who have been working on major projects throughout the fall. The application process is competitive, and the DLPP has worked with professors at Sinclair College, University of Dayton and Wright State University to design intern projects that will be valuable to both the student and the DLPP.