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Syrian Woman Has No Name

I can’t forget the first time I saw her. She was lost in her gazes. She seemed be hurt and looking sad even when laughing. With her two children. She was dancing in attendance on them as if they were her only bond with this life. A huge question mark in my mind. Who were these chidren? Are they her own kids or her siblings? I answered the question myself; the elder girl is her sister and the younger one is her own kid.

I remember the first day they arrived in the camp. They were two big families. They lived in the same room with eight people for two weeks together because there weren’t left any other rooms to stay. They didn’t bother it so far as I understood from their face. Just her. This little woman, who had deep glances and smiles with her eyes, had a problem. she had loneliness lost in her eyes, but not reflecting on her attitude. Are the problems she was having in this crowd also dying away in her loneliness? The man next to her must be her elder brother. Did she look so lifeless if it was her darling? she may have lost her dear husband? She couldn’t even say ‘I loved’ to her darling or that man I thought he was her elder brother. Maybe the resentment in her eyes was for herself for not able to say her love. Maybe it was the reason for her sadness. She lost her darling before she could say ‘I love you’.

I saw her at the time of friday prayer. I approached and greeted. I said to the woman who talk with her eyes that she could trust me. Only a woman who is trying to stay strong by getting strength from her own wounds can understand a wounded woman. ‘Don’t be afraid, I am none the worse for you’ I said. She got me. We started talking. She began to tell her story.

She told me that they ran away from the Asad regime and that the man with her was her husband. The question I thought a moment ‘her husband?’had reflected on my eyes. she bended her head down. the thought of ‘a child bride?’ went through my mind. Are these children of her fellow wife? However, I didn’t reflect any of these thoughts into my glances or my tongue. instead, ‘well, how about the children?’ I asked. —‘They are from my husband’s first wife’.. Her voice trembled while she was saying that. As if she’s got a lump in her throat. she was uttering the words forcibly. She couldn’t look at my face anymore. The depth in the eyes of this woman with deep glances turned into a hollow and pulled me into the whirlpool she is already in. My thoughts were also spinning around with her. The emptiness that was going to be brought into existence after my dreams were taken away could only cause a whirlpool like this. Therefore, her dreams for future were stolen. Moreover, everything related to her past was also put into a sack and hung on a wall not to come up on the surface again.

I grasped her hand quickly. With the hope of soothing her ‘ I’ve also come with three children’ I said. Haven’t you noticed? I said ‘I am also lonely’ trying to relieve her sorrow by evolving the topic into my problem. While I was asking random questions about her, the map in my mind uncovered.

-Sister, my husband is a very nice person. He is my relative, my aunt’s son… He used to be one of the hafız- person who has learned the Koran by heart- on duty in the amawi mosque in aleppo. He educated lots of students. One day he was taken into custody all of a sudden without acknowledging anything when the war broke out. I knew that he had some problems with his ex-wife. We all had difficulties during the times he was in jail. His ex-wife took a decision and abandoned him. His two children stayed with my husband’s mother namely my aunt. He was released after 6 months spending in prison. After my husband got out of the prison, his ex-wife gave the parental rights to the father, my husband, that’s to say my aunt’s son with court order and with her consent. My husband used to stay at my aunt’s.

The asad regime was also looking for taking part in the protests at university and accused me of being a terrorist. I took shelter at my aunt’s thinking that they couldn’t look for me there. While I was keeping myself busy with children, I also happened to be happy because I couldn’t get out of the house. My aunt’s son- now husband- was in a sad pickle because he was released from the prison recently. He was always plaintive during that time. I respected him a lot and I was feeling badly about him knowing his situation. He helped me many times when he was married. He encouraged me and my family to get a good education. While I was determining my goals for my career, his supports were significantly important. His brother used to visit him regularly, drank tea and poured their grief to each other. I listened to their chats in perplexity like ‘We can’t continue like this, we have to escape from this country like the others, the war is getting worse, they will kill us and our children with chemical weapons’. Was it so easy to leave your country? Was there an end to this journey? The two brothers were making plans putting heads together to get out of the country. When my now-husband turned his head and said that they wouldn’t leave me behind, I was assailed by fear. The jouney was long and full of dangers. The stories I listened weren’t pleasant. My parents were also hiding out from the Assad regime. I seldom see my mom although we are in the same country. What would she say if I talked to my mom about fleeing the regime? Could she say ‘Don’t go’? Could my mom as a woman who doesn’t have rights to choose what to do with her life, who couldn’t express her ideas freely, who thinks the men in her life always know more and presents this notion for all questions say ‘you know better, this is your life, I am always on your side with your choice’?

I didn’t think, either, because I was also brought up this way. I didn’t need to think. I was thinking like ‘My elder brother reasons thoroughly’. Because I always supposed my whole life that there were men who reasoned the best for me. My father cared about us, my elder brother, as well. When my father wasn’t at home, my elder brother used to rule. It sometimes used to become problem to go outside and play with my friends when I was a child and I had to do what my brother said. Because I was a girl and boys had ulterior motives according to my elder brother.

My parents stayed in the same shelter. As I knew of their needs, I used to deliver their food, drinks and clothes and by the way quench our longing- staying away from her for a long time. One day when I went to see my mother with great difficulty, my aunt also came with me. I felt some kind of strange glance at my aunt’s eyes on the way to the quenching my longing with mom. My aunt sent me to the kitchen and had a long conversation with my mom. it was clear that mom wasn’t happy with that conversation. As my aunt was leaving, my mom turne and told me stay for two more days. My elder brother was going to pick me up from there. I couldn’t construe when my mom hugged me saying ‘’my dear’ after my aunt left. While my tea I had just poured into my glass wad still producing vapor, the words wringing my heart poured out of my mom.

I was frozen stiff when mom said ‘ my dear, your aunt told me that he would take you to Turkey as well, but it wouldn’t be right thing to do. It would be better if you go like his wife and you would acquire merit by the God’. I had to pay the price of my freedom by getting married to my aunt’s son with two children, who is 15 years older than me. While the values I belive told me that this the correct thing to do, my heart and reason was rejecting completely. I wad a teenage girl. if there wasn’t this war, I was going to become an academic as soon as I finish my college and educate students. Now these two children were going to center of my life. My prince on white horse would never come anymore…

We set off the journey. First we went to Turkey and to Greece from there through the river Maritsa. We got on board the boats although we heard there had been people drowned and lost while passing. Actually we can’t say we got on board, we were stacked up on one another like boxes. I forgot bothering about myself. I had to keep a good lookout for four other people I didn’t give birth or brought up. I had to be mother to them in exchange for my freedom. The war at my country, our traditions, culture, the vast variety of the prices we need to pay were also defining the borders of our dreams. I did already knew when I thought of the bodies of ours over a matter of life and death on the river of Maritsa that the prince charming was never going to come. My now husband then elder brother was never going to replace this prince charming. Nor I was afraid of drowning or surviving while passing the river. My emotions were also taken away as I was making up my mind to get married. There was my husband now to take decisions after my father or elder brother after all. I set off this journey so that my parents wouldn’t become unhappy, so that their daughter wouldn’t be defamed or dishonored, so that my aunt wouldn’t die having left her son and children alone. I was at the beginning of this journey, but also at the end of my journey. I now know only one thing. I am aware that there is my husband who knows everything better than me in spite of whatever I know’.

Syrian women

She stopped talking and quieted down. There was peace of sharing in her eyes of her story with someone. She looked at me, smiling. ‘Thank you’ she said. ‘Thanks for listening’. She left the kitchen.

I looked from behind her while leaving. Does being a woman necessarily mean paying prices this much? Or were the culture we take shelter behind for the sake of making our lives easier, lifestyle, our customs and traditions taking a part of our lives away from us? Maybe we let them they are taken away. Because, then, there was no need to fight, get tired or pay any prices apart from our dreams?

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Dr. Deniz Zengin
Dr. Deniz Zengin
Deniz Zengin is a journalist and a doctoral researcher focusing on Human Rights and Refugee and Immigration issues.

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