After the war forced us to leave our home in Kalaat al-Madiq, we found refuge in a village in the southern countryside of Idlib.
We lived through a harsh winter before my husband finally managed to find a job to help improve our miserable living conditions. He worked maintaining, cleaning and polishing light weapons, and although his salary was small it marked an achievement for us through which we hoped we could rise out of poverty.
But I also wanted to contribute, especially as I was pregnant with my fourth child. I felt guilty about this. How could we bring this unborn child into such a miserable life to face such harsh conditions?
So I decided to look for a job of my own, although I didn’t know what kind of work I could find in this small village. What could a woman like me do when even men couldn’t find jobs?
A kind neighbour I had befriended worked as a seamstress making women’s clothes. As my relationship with her developed, I thought I would ask her to teach me sewing. I already knew the basics.
I hesitated to ask at first, but when I eventually did she accepted because she understood my difficult situation.
She taught me for free. I learned from her how to hold the scissors without fear, how to cut cloth and mount pieces together. I used to visit her every day except on Fridays.
She taught me everything she knew and after a little over a month, I started helping her with her work. I cut the clothes and sewed on her machine. Then she advised me to start out on my own, recycling and remodelling used clothes. The phenomenon had become widespread because of the high prices of new clothes, especially for children.
I liked the idea a lot, but the problem was that I couldn’t afford to buy even a simple sewing machine. They weren’t expensive, especially in second-hand tool stores, but we just didn’t have the money. My husband barely made enough for us to eat and drink.
The only idea that I could come up with was to sell our four-year-old daughter Batul’s gold earrings. It was the only piece of jewelry we had left; I’d already sold my wedding ring.
I hesitated a lot before I suggested this, but could not think of any other solution. At first, my husband refused. He didn’t want to sell the earrings he had bought for our daughter a week after her birth, and which she had worn every day since.
But we had no other choice.
So I took my daughter to a small neighbourhood shop and bought her new, colourful earrings and shiny bracelets. They were all cheap trash, but I convinced her that they were nicer than her old jewelry.
My heart burned with pain as I took off her gold earrings and saw her so happy with the fake ones. She had no idea what we were doing.
I smiled at her but inside I said, “Forgive me, my little one, forgive me because I fooled you and stole your little earrings. Forgive me and forgive your father because we are so poor.”
My daughter went to show her brothers the new earrings and beautiful bracelets. I went to the bathroom and closed the door. I cried and cried and cried. That evening we sold the earrings, after telling our daughter we had thrown them away because they were old. The next day, we went to the used appliances store and bought a basic sewing machine.
My neighbour started telling her clients about me and my skills. At the start I only charged low prices so as to attract more customers but within a month I became known in the village for revamping old clothes.
This is my new job.
It’s tiring and hard work that takes up most of my time. I began feeling as if I was neglecting my children, something I had never done before, because I was busy with work. But everything I do is for them.
Nisreen Zafer, is a 30-year-old from the Hama countryside. Married for 19 years, the mother-of-five now lives in Maar Tahroma in the countryside of Idlib.