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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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Photograph of a large mural of a woman painted in blue on a wall in Naples

A mural of a woman's face in Naples

Oriel Mizrahi/Unsplash
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