My sister Marwa used to live in a beautiful house in the city of Aleppo with her policeman husband and their children. They had a happy life together.
But then the revolution began, and her husband decided he could no longer work for the regime. He was not prepared to harm peaceful protestors.
First, my sister had to leave Aleppo without selling any of their possessions or taking anything with her so as not to rouse any regime suspicions that her husband was planning to defect.
The family was able to reach Kafr Nabl. But her suffering was only beginning. She had nowhere to stay and hardly any possessions.
My sister has a big family of three daughters and two sons, and she was pregnant with a sixth child.
She moved in with us in my parents’ small house, into which my family and my brothers’ families could already barely fit. She had to find somewhere else to rent, but she only found a small room in the city centre. It had no furniture, not even a mattress. We felt extremely sorry for her.
She was very poor because her husband couldn’t find a job to support his large family. But luckily, some benefactors gave her a few foam mattresses, old blankets and kitchen utensils.
Marwa always said, “Thank God for everything.”
Nearly a year went by, and then in August 2012 a fierce battle broke out between the rebels and the regime forces for control of the city.
Kafr Nabel’s residents fled to neighbouring villages and towns. My sister and her family sought refuge in a nearby village, where they stayed for five days until the city was finally liberated.
Everyone was happy when they heard that the regime forces had been driven out. We thought that this liberation was the end of our suffering.
But we returned to Kafr Nabl only to find that our lives were about to get even worse. The regime’s aircraft began bombing the city continuously, especially the centre where my sister lived.
My sister’s husband was terrified of the air raids and did everything he could to escape the missiles. He took his family to the orchards during the day, then brought back to their home at night.
“That way we are safe from the shelling,” he said.
My sister got tired of this constant movement, walking to the orchards then walking back home again, especially because she was in the last months of pregnancy.
Then her husband suffered a heart attack, exacerbated by the tremendous stress he was under due to the bombing.
He was hospitalised, and my uncle took pity on Marwa and invited her to live with his family in their home on the outskirts of town. Marwa and her family moved in, and her husband joined her when was released from the hospital, although was still sick and needed care. My uncle’s house had a small cellar, in which my sister’s husband found a safe haven from the bombing. He stayed in this cellar and barely came out of it.
My sister gave birth to her sixth child while living at my uncle’s house.
Her husband gradually recovered, but his fear of the regime airplanes only increased. He felt he could not stay in Syria anymore so he decided to flee to the refugee camps in Turkey where he believed they would be safer.
They left for Turkey a few days before Eid al-Adha.
I still remember clearly November 7, 2012, the day when my sister came to say goodbye to my family. I can see her now in my mind as she was then.
Marwa said goodbye to our pale, crying mother as my white-bearded father began to tear up himself. It was the first time I had seen him crying.
“God bless you, my daughter,” he told her.
Marwa wept loudly and I could no longer control my own tears. My brothers tried not to cry but it was so emotional, saying goodbye to our dear sister.
Sobbing, she told us all, “Goodbye my brothers and sisters. God willing, we will meet again in a Syria free from this criminal regime.”
Khawla al-Mohammed, 40, used to work as a teacher before the revolution and is currently working at Radio Fresh in Kafr Nabl where she lives with her father.