What is a woman in Syria?
I walk through Za’atari camp on the Jordan/Syria border. The air is thick with yellow dust and it swirls up in a sandstorm, temporarily blinding me. I stop, blinking furiously, and see a woman sat with her children on a mattress nearby.
She is out in the open air in the reception centre, and seems detached from the chaos around her. I walk over to her, crouch down and introduce myself.
She responds: “My name is Mona. It is not my real name, because I cannot tell you that. I am too afraid of what might happen.”
People fleeing war are often wary of telling strangers about their experiences, worried for family still in the war zone, terrified of retribution.
We talk for a while about why I am here, in this camp. We talk about the importance of speaking out about what we see, why it matters to ensure people’s stories are known. Then we talk about Mona, and how she left Syria, and why.
Life is fear
“Life in Syria…is fear. Everyone is afraid. Sometimes it is quiet, and you are waiting for it to start. And then it is bombardment, and you are waiting for it to end. I kept thinking it would get better, but it kept getting worse”.
I glance at her children, with her on the mattress. Mona touches the face of her youngest, a beautiful child of about 3.
“My children cry in their sleep. They have lost their childhood.”
I ask about their home, and her husband. “My husband…built our home from scratch. In total it took him 12 years. It was burnt down in no more than an hour.” Mona begins to weep, and I do not ask again where her husband is.
To be a woman
As we are finishing our conversation, I ask her about women in Syria, and what they are facing.
“I’ll tell you what it is to be a woman in Syria now. As a woman you are either saying goodbye to someone or trying to protect your children from shells. That is all.”
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