by Aloosh Devrim
Sunk deep in thoughts, Rania sits alone in her dark room oblivious to the thumping of feet on the roof where neighbor’s children are playing. The screams of Yousaf, her three-month-old, and the ringing telephone simultaneously interrupt her thoughts. She carries the baby on one arm and takes the call with the other hand.
This is a phone call she has been waiting for all day long. As she boards this emotional roller-coaster, her husband Muthana gently takes Yousaf in his arms.
“I can do nothing about her state of mind. I comfort her and pray. She is caught in two emotional worlds,” Muthana explains to me.
Rania lives with her husband and their only child in a posh Damascus suburb. Nothing makes her happy since her family was forced to flee the violence in Syria three months ago. With limited international dialing facility, Rania awaits their call daily, even though the poor financial situation only allows them to telephone her once a week.
Millions of Syrians, spread across the world, contact their families and loved ones back home with similar desperation. The killing of over 7,000 people at the hands of the state since March, 2011 has created an international outcry.
The Assad family annexed power in Syria in 1970 and has ruled the country with an iron fist. To curb a 1982 uprising in Hama, Hafiz Al-Assad used brute force and killed over 20,000 Syrians. The son, Bashar al-Assad, took office in 2000 after his father’s death and has proven equally harsh and dictatorial thus far. A sizeable number of Syrians quietly fled the country for a respectable and prosperous life.
"Please come and live here, the situation is scary in Syria,” Rania recalls her younger brother advising her over and over again during the telephone call.
“I tell him that you are crazy. I am going to lose my job at the insurance company, my newly-built home and someone may steal my car.”
Rania believes her exiled family can hardly make both ends meet. Like other employees, Rania got a notice that leaving the job once would disqualify her for any future opening in the same office.
After losing her father at the age of 20, carefree and fashion-loving Rania transformed herself into an ambitious and responsible person. She was born with the trait of sacrifice. She always supported her mother in bringing up her younger brother and two sisters. Rania refused to marry someone outside Syria as she never wanted to live away from her mom and siblings.
“More than their desire, it was Rania’s insistence that convinced my in-laws to head for Jordan before it became too hard to escape bandits of Bashar Al-Assad,” says Muthana as Rania offers Isha, the late evening, last prayer in a Muslim’s day.
Her husband speaks highly of Rania’s self respect. She preferred to self-off her jewelry instead of borrowing money from him. “I came to know only last week when I saw see Rania without her favorite earrings,” he explains.
Muthana feels Rania is in double agony now. Her brother keeps pressuring her to find a way to Jordan, while she has to stay with her husband and in-laws.
"I am not crying. I am only missing them and tears come without control,” she says while looking at Muthana, who tries to calm down the baby as he woke up to noise of rattling tanks outside.
"We can go to them if you like," Muthana tries once again to ease her nerves. Rania shakes her head in disapproval.
“How can I go to Jordan and leave him in harms’ way. The border police won’t let Muthana come along with me for he did not complete mandatory military service,” she says in a somber voice. Men who do not serve in the military are barred from leaving Syria and immigration officials check the citizens against regularly updated lists.
“I detested our armed forces and Bashar regime since my childhood in Hama,” Muthana quips.
Rania and Muthana’s family days of happiness are long gone. Last March, two cousins of Muthana went missing from Dara’a where they had gone to attend a wedding. Six weeks later, the disfigured bodies were found along a highway.
Muthana is a successful businessman dealing with imports from Lebanon and developing new housing facilities. Amid lowering imports, due to sanctions and a standstill housing sector, he still has to attend to the office.
“Until I hear his voice from the office landline, I can’t do a thing except pray for his safety,” Rania says, hastening to add that his office is in the heart of the city where risks of all sort abound.
Muthana adds, “She becomes normal a few hours after the call and feels guilty of stressing me and ignoring our son, but I understand the pain she has been going through.”
Rania regrets that she cannot give full attention to Yousaf and worries that he might be getting affected by her sad mood and neglect.
Spending a few hours with the couple it is evident they cannot watch TV together. Worried but composed, Muthana wants to update himself about the situation while Rania seeks escape in popular Turkish drama serials.
"Till now more over 7,000 have been killed but anyone in Syria can say the figure is an understatement," he tells me as his wife gets up to flip the channel. Muthana complains, but no one listens.
Muthana is hard hit by the sanctions while the regime continues to get money and weapons through its own means. “These sanctions from the world hurt us as people but do little harm to the regime,” he says in an ironic tone.
Rania interrupts him, saying, “His business in Damascus was so good only two years ago when we got married.” She says neither her husband nor her brothers-in-law has a good income now.
“Nobody knows where Bashar is taking Syria to,” the 26-year-old mom explains. This has pushed the small family to delete many things from their lives, like eating meat or using cars which have become too expensive after the shortage of fuel in Syria.
“My heart beats for love and I am living here only due to my responsibilities as a wife and a mother,” Rania says to herself. She hopes her son will be brave and live in a free and prosperous Syria.
Even if Rania agrees to leave for Jordan with Yousaf, Muthana’s conservative family will not agree. In traditional families in Syria, a wife has to stay with her husband to exhibit “loyalty and respect.”
Rania tells her husband, “To be fair to your mom, she once told me that I can leave for Jordan if conditions worsen further.” With tanks leveling residential areas and jets pounding the city squares, the situation looks far worse. But Rania will not leave her home and Muthana will have to live with his anxiety-ridden wife and the gory scenes all around.
About the Author:
Aloosh Devrim is a journalist whose family struggled against Hafiz Al-Assad's rule and policies. She has traveled to the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East for her work.