It was December 23, 2015, in the middle of a harsh, cold winter. Behind the walls of my parents’ house, my children and I were alone. It was a month since my husband Ahmed had passed away.
As I gazed at my children, unforgettable memories rushing through my head, my son Laith said, “I’m hungry, mother.”
“It’s ok,” I replied. “I’ll prepare dinner for you and your siblings.”
I began cooking for my hungry children but I couldn’t find any sugar. How would I make tea?
I lived in a small room in my parents’ house with my children. The rest of my family lived in the other rooms which were spacious and much nicer than mine. After my husband died, my parents began giving me money to feed my children. But I was too ashamed to ever ask, I used to wait for them to offer of their own accord.
I looked in my wallet, where I found only 200 Syrian pounds, not enough to buy anything. I felt embarrassed but didn’t ask my mother for money to buy sugar. Instead, I went to the kitchen where my sister was preparing dinner for her family and took a bit of sugar. I went back to my room, feeling very sad.
I finished preparing dinner for my children. They ate, then slept. I stayed awake remembering how, when I came to visit my family with my husband, we used to bring them so many presents. I remembered how happy they were to see my children. Now, my parents wouldn’t even agree to eat with them, because they said the children didn’t know how to behave properly at the table.
All night, the same thoughts kept running through my head. How long could I continue being a burden on my family? I wanted to look for a job so as to earn some money, but my parents refused to let me go out to work. Widows are weak in our society, how can a weak woman leave the house?
Would I agree to ever get married again and let Ahmed’s parents take my children away from me? No, my decision was to stay with my children and to bear all that I suffered just for them.
Eventually, I had an idea. My husband had owned a piece of land together with his brothers and I decided to sell his share to help my children. After I reached that conclusion, I fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning, I woke up to the voices of my children. The drama of the sugar was about to be played out again. I went back and took sugar from my family’s kitchen and prepared breakfast.
Then my husband’s brother Basem came to visit us and see the children. I broached the subject of the land and suggested that he buy Ahmed’s share, but my parents immediately intervened and said to me, “We aren’t annoyed by your children, we will help you raise them.”
I tried to tell them that I wanted to take care of my children myself and that the proceeds from the land might allow me to do so. Basem agreed immediately, so I felt some hope.
Then, two days later, he returned with the news that his brothers had refused to sell Ahmed’s share of the land. They insisted that the land would remain for the children when they grow up, as a guarantee for their future.
I was silent and I could say nothing. All roads had been blocked before me.
My daughter Ahlam used to ask me to buy her clothes, so she could be like her schoolmates, treated to new outfits and their favourite foods by their parents.
There was no sin in a little girl wanting to be like other children. But because of the bitterness inside me, because of the circumstances in which we were living and my terrible mental state, every time she asked me, I hit her.
One day, she asked me for money to buy cookies. I said no, she insisted, and I hit her.
Weeping, she said, “Why did you hit me? When I used to ask my father for money he used to smile and give me some, he never hit me. He used to give me everything I wanted. When he comes back, I will tell him that you hit m.”
I immediately began crying too. I hugged her and asked her to forgive me. I made a promise to myself to never hit her again.
I tried to find the money to buy some of the things my children wanted. I received some aid items due to my status as a widow, and so I began selling whatever I could spare. I used the money to buy what my children wanted. But it was never enough. Prices were too high and we were forever running out of stuff.
Why did this happen to me? It was like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. I wanted to go back to my old life, to a time when I could still hold my husband Ahmed and prevent him from going away.
But this was impossible. Ahmed was nothing more than a dream and my life had been shattered like broken glass, through no fault of my own.
How can I ever be free and break away from the outdated customs and traditions that prevent me from working, just because I am a widow? How can I ever raise and support my children on my own?
Amal Mohammed, 34, is a mother-of-three whose husband was killed in shelling. She fled Sahel al-Ghab to live in the town of Nqeir in the Idlib countryside, where she is now looking for work .