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Marah's Syria Diary: A Wartime Proposal From My Father's Friend

Syria, an older man, an impossible choice.
Syria, an older man, an impossible choice.

DAMASCUS —Aspart of a collaboration between Syria Deeply and Rookie, we’re publishing the memoirs of a teenage girl living in the midst of Syria’s war.

Marah, a teenage girl from one of Syria's besieged cities, shares her stories of life in the war. She recently moved to Damascus to continue her education, in the face of the ongoing war that has destroyed her local schools. Her father was killed in the violence and she now lives with distant relatives in the capital. Earlier installments can be read here and here.

He is a handsome man in his 50s, with a white face and green eyes. A gray line passes through his hair. He is well educated, and has never been married. He is an old friend of my late father. He even resembles him, inside and out. He lives far away, in Sweden, and we call him Uncle Amjad.

He told me he'd send me money to help us. I refused and swore I'd send the money back. He praised how my mother raised us. He said my father was lucky to have had her as a wife. At that moment, he started thinking about this young girl who enchanted him with her strength, her pride and her mind.

Later, he asked me if I would marry him. He told me I'd be his spoiled princess. He said he'd make all my dreams come true. I'm seriously considering it. I feel he is my savior, the man that would take me on a magic carpet from a land of despair to a land of wishes and ambitions.

Why not? I could go to Sweden. I could study there and have a good life and Uncle Amjad would take care of me and treat me like a princess, being so many years younger than him. It sounds so much better than staying here, in this country that is falling apart.

Mother knows best

I told my mother about it. She was furious. She yelled at me for a long time. And then she calmed down and started explaining to me how dangerous it would be for me to agree to his offer.

"He is 30 years older than you," she said. "You won't be able to understand him. He won't understand you either. Try to find your own way. Don't let anyone take you into a fantasy that's not for you. You're still young. Please, don't waste yourself like that. You'll regret it. Marriage is not about relying on someone else completely; it is about sharing. Such a relationship will never be balanced. He would just be like a financier for your ambitions, instead of being a life partner."

Despite everything I think I always trust my mother, no matter what. So now my notions of Uncle Amjad have been dashed, and I am afraid of a potential union.

Would marrying this older man when all other options seem so bleak be really that bad, like my mother thinks it is? Or is it, in fact, a step towards a peaceful life, with no problems, no pain? Is that too much to ask? I need your advice, please.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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