My name is Um Nizar, and I’m from Kfar Nabel in Idlib province. I’m almost 57 years old and I live with my children in a home that my husband and I built with our own hands.
Like all young girls in the prime of life, I used to daydream about my future and imagine that I’d live a wonderful life full of love and security.
I would like to tell the story of the difficult events I’ve lived through, which began a few years after I was married. I already had five children, four boys and a girl. My husband was in the police force, and things were going wonderfully well when the doctor told me I was carrying twins. The joy was indescribable when I found out, but it was cut short when I received news that shook me to the core. It was 1985, and we found out that my husband had been struck by a terrible disease – blood cancer.
This news turned my whole life upside down. But I carried on. My pregnancy was coming to an end and I got ready to give birth. I went into labour in a state of total despair. I had two beautiful girls, who were innocent of blame for their father’s illness, but sometimes I’d find myself wishing that they would die if only their father could remain healthy. Fate decreed otherwise, and when the girls were five months old my husband took a turn for the worse, growing weaker by the day.
My husband’s relatives and my own family supported me during this difficult time, until my husband handed his soul to God and left me on my own, fighting for survival with two baby girls and five other children all needing tenderness and security.
I tried my best to raise my children without them suffering from the lack of a father. I relied on my strength of character, which gave me the courage and power to go on living. I worked in the fields to earn money for my children. During the olive season I’d pick olives, and during the summer I’d dry peppers and make tomato paste to sell.
If it wasn’t for that, I would have been unable to go on. My husband’s pension wasn’t enough to support seven children. To be fair, my family and my husband’s never abandoned me, but I wanted to be self-reliant and to earn a living.
The days and years passed, and the children grew up. My oldest child and his brother, a year and-a-half younger, both wanted to join the police force. They had not completed their education, but they chose an easier route in life. They both found work with the police, and little by little things began to get better for us. They got married and had children of their own.
Things remained like this until I received further devastating news that tore me apart. In 2003, I learned that my favourite, dearest child had been struck down with the same illness that had taken my husband’s life. I watched him fade away slowly, little by little, and my own life faded with him, a life already diminished by his father’s death.
I spent everything I had on treatment to try to cure him, but he did not last long. In 2005, in the flower of youth, he bade farewell to this life, and I bade farewell to all joy and happiness. He left behind two young girls who needed to be raised and supported financially, and I was responsible for them because the mother’s family insisted she remarry. My son’s pension helped a lot. I gave thanks to God all the time.
My eldest son and his wife and five children moved to a neighbourhood in Damascus province. I stayed behind with my remaining children and my late son’s children. My eldest daughter had also married, but she had no more luck than me. After a few years of marriage, she and her husband separated and then divorced. She and her young children came to live with me, and helped teach a mosaics class to earn a living.
Things went on like this until 2011. When the Syrian revolution, which changed all our lives, began, I was extremely excited about it. Like many others, I called for the fall of the regime. I had no idea how dearly I would pay for those words.
I remember one incident that still makes me proud, from when regime forces were in our city. I did something that allows me to hold my head up high even when we are forced to bow down in submission – I saved a young man from the soldiers’ clutches. They were trying to force him into their armoured vehicle. He was screaming, but no one dared come forward. I ran at them and pulled determinedly at the young man until I got him away.
This revolution has lasted a long time, and its shockwaves reached my eldest son, who was captured at a military checkpoint. They suspected that he was planning to defect from the regime, or rather that’s what they wrote in some report. To this day, we have no idea where he is.
What can I say? My face has become used to repeated slaps.
When my son’s wife and children returned to Kfar Nabel, they brought nothing but some clothes. They left behind a home filled with all their possessions. In an instant, the house was gone and the master of the house along with it, but God is still here, and worshipping Him cannot be neglected. A relief organisation offered them a monthly stipend to shield them from humiliation, and with some humanitarian aid from here and there, well, we get by.
My eyes burn with tears when I see the children of my dead son and of his detained brother looking out at the world with their innocent eyes, and waiting for a better future. I always try to hide my pain and worry behind a smile. I tell them that what happened to us is neither my fault nor theirs, it’s simply what fate chose for us, and that we thank God for what He chooses.
As told to Ikhlas al-Mahmud, a journalist in Syria.