Marah's Syria Diary, Part 2: Lost Dreams

A teenage girl living in one of Syria's besieged cities shares her stories of life in a time of war. She dreams of getting an education, but the ongoing violence has destroyed local schools.

Syrian refugee children play in a school in Damascus
Syrian refugee children play in a school in Damascus

As part of a collaboration between Syria Deeply and Rookie, we’re publishing the memoirs of a teenage girl living amid Syria’s war. Marah, as she’s chosen to be known, lives in a city under siege. She was 15 years old when the uprising began. This is the second a series.

Losing my education

I begin my article by asking for help. I feel like I am lost in the middle of a rough sea. I don’t know where these crushing waves might take me — to a safe place or to forgetfulness and loss?

I am very concerned about my education. It’s my greatest priority. I grew up in a family that appreciated education. They enrolled me in a kindergarten that I will never forget. It was expensive, but my parents did not mind because all they cared about was to provide us with the best education from the very beginning.

I excelled in that kindergarten and went straight to second grade. My parents and grandparents were proud of me and reinforced my self-confidence. Middle school was fantastic. I drifted with my friends, and thanks to my always-conscious mother, who was my savior during that critical pre-teen stage, I was able to obtain my middle school diploma.

I loved my school immensely and I loved my teachers — especially my Arabic teacher. I adored the topic. School, for me, was like a playground or a picnic that I enjoyed with my friends. My parents never hesitated to provide for my school. Their goal was that I obtain the best education, refine my personality and arm myself with a degree that would protect me from misfortune.

Then high school took me from childhood to the beginning of maturity and awareness. As the years went by, my fondness for my friends and teachers grew. I would see my friends during vacations and share all my secrets with them. Rahaf was the closest friend I had. After she lost her mother, I saw her way of thinking changed. She became like a mother to her little siblings.

No option but move

One year after the beginning of the revolution, the conditions in my city worsened and the missiles strikes intensified. My father decided that we should move out to a safer place. His only concern was to protect his family. We moved to a completely new area, and I enrolled in the local school, which was a bad fit. We had no other option. I formed some superficial friendships, and during one semester, I did not even manage to open a book. I thought constantly about my old friends and teachers, but staying in this new area was mandatory.

Finally, the condition deteriorated in the area where we had resettled, which made my dad decide to return to our old city. My sister and I were very happy that we were going home. But when we returned to our city, we were shocked by the amount of destruction. The schools were all destroyed, and after a while they turned basements into classrooms so we could be protected from the missiles.

These new schools were dark with dim lights similar to candles. They were smelly and had very poor ventilation. They were hardly real “schools.” They felt more like ponds full of diseases. My father refused to send us to such dungeons, but my mom insisted that we go. A new phase of concern started for them, right there. Should we invest time in such schools that don’t even have accreditation?

What happened?

Now I am trying to prepare for Syria’s standardized high school tests, but I don’t know whether I will pass or whether my score will be officially recognized. Will I take the tests in my city or somewhere else? Will my mom agree to let me go? So many questions stop me from focusing on my studies. My mom refuses to send me out to any other neighborhood because she’s afraid of checkpoints and the risks a young lady like me might face. I’ve come to hate the fact that I am a girl.

Can you believe that my mom, the one who always believed in the importance of education and planted that belief in me, has suddenly changed? Her excuse comes down to one sentence: “I worry about you.” I will never understand that fear or accept what she says. My dream had been to enroll in university, choose a major I like and then start my career. Can I still do that? I don't know.

What happened? My mom used to push me forward. I want to study. I desire to live. I desire what’s beautiful. I miss my teachers and my friends. They have all left the city. I miss seeing the handsome boys gathering in front of my school. When I was little I liked dreaming big, but now my dreams are fading away. My dreams are limited by the checkpoints. Isn’t there someone to help my voice be heard?

Everyone is busy with the war, and it seems like no one cares. We don’t know how this will end or how it will affect us. I want life, but not this troubled and confusing life that I live now. I want to complete my studies. I don’t want to be a neglected period on the margin. I do not want to lose my dreams. Help!

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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