Hiba (a pseudonym) was forced to flee Syria for safety. She made it to Amman, where she found CVT Jordan, and today she lives there with her children. You can download her story in Arabic and English here.
When I think about all that I have lived through, I think about mercy. I wish I could ask the world for mercy, to have mercy on the people. We are not affected any longer by what is going on because we have seen a lot. We have seen too much. Some days it seems that we don’t have mercy any more, not just in Syria – in other countries as well where they are suffering from hunger and war just like in Syria, because there is no mercy. This is why I wish to tell my story, so people will know what it’s like to survive war. So people can also think about mercy.
In my childhood, I lived in an older part of Homs in an old Arabian house like the ones you see on television. The neighbors were close and all knew each other. If a stranger was in town, everyone would ask him who he was and who was he visiting. We usually met with our neighbors on the roof. I went to school and I had friends from the neighborhood – on the way to school we’d pass by each other’s houses to go together.
I liked where I lived a lot, everything was good. We never got bored – maybe it’s because we had less responsibility. We were kids and we had no worries – we never got tired even if we did some work; our parents used to beg us to go to sleep. Life was very beautiful.
I lived there until I got married.
This was before the revolution. I lived with my father, my mother, my siblings and my grandmother. My father and my uncles had a bakery. I was spoiled from everyone. I am the only one who finished high school.
My father was everything to me; I was so attached to him. I learned cooking and the house chores from my mother but it was different with my father. He’d encourage me to study and I loved everything that he did – watching documentary films and science contests, even the news. If he was watching the news, I would watch it with him, and if he was watching a football match, I would watch it with him. He was my role model.
Everyone supported me to get my high school degree, but then my father got sick and he needed someone to take care of him. I got sick when he did, and the school year was to start in September, but my father was in the hospital for open-heart surgery. I couldn’t go to school knowing that my father was in the hospital. I went to school the first day and though he disagreed with me, I couldn’t keep going to class.
I went through more than one condition of sickness in the family: my sister was sick with Meningitis when I was in 9th grade. Her treatment went on for one year, and despite that, I could study and take care of her, but when my father was in the hospital, he told me to go to school in the morning and visit him in the hospital after school. However, I couldn’t do that, so I left school and stayed with him. After his surgery he was put in a private room and visits were not allowed, and he needed someone to stay with him. I stayed with him until he passed away.
Everything changed after he died. I distanced myself from all others around me.
When my sister got sick, I was strong but with my father I got weak. My father’s death affected me a lot. Before that, would play with the others in my family, but if I had something bothering me, I would discuss it with my father. Usually a girl talks to one of her sisters, but I felt that my father understood me better. His words used to make me feel better.
I would describe my family like beads of pearls; each of us has something special.
I would describe my family like beads of pearls; each of us has something special.”
In my family, we each liked to do something: my oldest sister liked knitting, the other sister liked tailoring – F. liked wool knitting, N. liked embroidery, decoration and design. I liked cosmetology, hair and makeup. However, I was more into studying, and two years after my father passed away I got into a beauty academy. It was a good experience because it took me away from what I was in.
We were very happy – we weren’t very rich and we weren’t very poor, we were just like any other family; simple, cooperative and loving.
The days before the revolution were the best days of my life.
But difficulties were beginning. My brother was injured in the beginning of the revolution in Homs when people passing by in cars would shoot randomly at people. My brother was walking in the street and he was shot. It was a Friday. He was shot in the head.
We heard about it at sunset time. The bullet hit him from behind, and he fell on his face. People wanted to get him out of the way so they dragged him with his face down and that caused some cuts and bruises to his chest, chin, nose and forehead. They thought he was dead because he had an open wound in his head.
The shooters were in cars of the Syrian security forces. They came to the town after Friday prayers because they didn’t want people to meet in groups.
My younger brother and others moved him to side of the street and waited until they found a car that would take him to a hospital – not all drivers would agree to take him to a hospital because security forces sometimes waited outside hospitals to shoot anyone coming for treatment.
He went to the hospital and stayed for 20 days. He was in a coma and there was a machine hooked to him for his heart. I stayed with him. When they raided the hospital I would say that I was a nurse in the hospital. The security forces came every other day. They checked to see if the doctors wrote that someone was shot by the forces.
I was scared, not just for my brother, but because the hospital was full of people like him. I was afraid and stressed. I didn’t want to seem sad in front of the security forces because I wanted to convince them that I was a nurse. I didn’t want them to know that I was with my brother.
I remember a man in the bed next to my brother’s, wrapped in bandages. The doctors said that there was no hope for him to survive. He was asking for his mother, and at times he would grab my hand thinking that I was his mother. He died, but before he died he gave me his mother’s name. Nine months later I was in the town where she lived, and I went to see her. I told her about him and I showed her a picture of him, and I told her how I helped him. I felt relieved after I told her about him. It felt so heavy until I met with his mother. I was relieved psychologically, and I felt that he is resting in peace. It was a sad thing.
After 20 days, my brother woke up. He lost his memory and he couldn’t see correctly, everything was damaged. He couldn’t sit up straight, he didn’t recognize us and he couldn’t talk. He underwent 15 surgeries. He got his vision back but he still has a hearing problem. They told us that we should keep reminding him of things and family and people he was close to.
While my brother was in the hospital one of my uncles was detained.
One week before my wedding, my brother was sitting on the chair, and he knew that I was his sister but he didn’t know which one. He hadn’t recovered his memory yet, he was on a wheel chair. Today he can walk a little, he went through physiotherapy.
I got married during the revolution. I didn’t adapt to the new neighborhood; it was a whole new world to me and everything was different.”
I got married during the revolution. I didn’t adapt to the new neighborhood; it was a whole new world to me and everything was different. I describe the day that I went from my old neighborhood to the new one as The Black Day. I didn’t want to get married; I was forced to. What made it even harder was that I was forced to leave my injured brother behind.
Also, I left the place where I spent my childhood to a place I knew nothing about; I didn’t know anything about my fiancé or his family or about the neighborhood he was from. When I left my neighborhood I felt that there was something black in my heart, and after that day, all my days were black.
This move was very difficult regardless of the revolution at that time. As I said, it was not my choice, and what’s worse is that my injured brother was the one who forced me into getting married. I didn’t know my fiancé and he didn’t know me. I didn’t know what to talk to him about and I didn’t know anything about his family. I didn’t have a proper engagement period where I would sit with my fiancé and get to know him.
I was married in Syria in May, three months after the revolution started. At that time it was only me and my mother in the house because my sisters were all married. I didn’t approve of getting married after my father died, and I was hesitant. But I got married and seven months later I was pregnant with my daughter.
After I got married I didn’t see my family a lot, and then we got separated.
The area I lived in with my husband was supposed to be safe, but then the bombing and the shooting started. That’s what made me leave. We weren’t the only ones who left, everybody did. There was a massacre and whoever wanted to live left.
There was a massacre and whoever wanted to live left.”
With the massacre and air bombing, it wasn’t easy to leave, we suffered. We were trapped and there were tanks preventing us from reaching the main road out of town. Snipers were on roofs and they would kill anyone in the street. Then there was a time when the air bombing stopped and the tanks retreated – it was an opportunity from God for us to live and we left.
However, even when we were going to the car, there were bombs falling from the sky. One hit the building next to my in-laws’. I saw people screaming and I saw the building collapse.
I kept thinking of how many people died in that building or was it empty and no one was in it?
I kept thinking of how many people died in that building or was it empty and no one was in it?”
I stood there for about five minutes, and I saw the bombs dropping from the plane. The plane circled around, coming back to drop bombs again while I was standing there. Everybody was screaming at me to get into the car; they thought that I was doing nothing.
But I was thinking of how many people lived in that building and I was wondering if anyone survived the bomb, and then my brother in-law took my hand and pulled me into the car. I left barefoot, and I was three months pregnant. I had nothing with me, just the identification document. I remember being very tired. There was no place for me in the car because it was full.
I was pregnant at the time, but all my in-laws had kids. I told them to go without me because if I died that would be okay because I didn’t have any children. They were concerned about me because I was still young, but if I died I wouldn’t leave orphans behind.
I am a weak person and I easily get scared and loud sounds scare me a lot. I have no idea how I was strong at that time. I felt that I had to sacrifice, I was weak on the inside and I don’t know what made me stronger. I am a very sensitive person – I don’t like it when I see children crying. I don’t like to think that kids are becoming orphans because one of their parents died, because I felt it when my father passed away. I wanted to make sure that everyone around me was well even if it was on my own expense. I was not feeling psychologically stable but I knew that I had to be strong.
Seeing that violence, I felt as if I was in a movie and it was zooming in on me being surrounded by all the destruction. It was like I was in another world. As the building was collapsing, I imagined that it fell on a mother trying to protect her children. I was very upset. I imagined people dying but I was leaving and running away. I had a thought that we should go look for survivors. Even after the car moved I kept thinking of the people. It could have been empty. Maybe the building was empty.
It’s very sad, you feel that you don’t have a heart to feel anything and you feel that the world is so empty. We used to see such things only on television but now we were living it in reality. It was a very bad and sad thing.
And then we left in the car.
Even with the violence and bombing and the massacre, I still felt forced to leave. It was very difficult to decide to leave. I felt like my spirit was leaving my body, it was very difficult and very cruel. I felt estranged inside Syria.
We went to a place where we knew no one, and different places are different in tradition inside Syria. I was a complete stranger with my in-laws. When we left, my mother in-law was not with us, nor my brothers in-laws’ wives. They had gone to Damascus, telling their husbands that they were leaving to protect their children and that they should follow them. But it was difficult for the men to leave because of the bombings.
My father in-law was with us and other people I didn’t know, about 22 families who ran away after the massacre. We had hidden them in our building – I remember that they were hungry and there were children crying. My father in-law brought things so I could cook. They told me not to bother cooking for all of them because they said that they were going to die. But I told them that it’s fine; I am cooking for the children who were crying because I can’t handle seeing them cry.
They told me not to bother cooking for all of them because they said that they were going to die. But I told them that it’s fine; I am cooking for the children who were crying because I can’t handle seeing them cry.”
Nothing was available, the area was being bombed constantly so we would take vegetables from neighbors. I stayed for six hours cooking for everyone, and they told me not to exhaust myself because I was pregnant. But I wasn’t feeling tired, I was concerned about the crying children. In all these events I didn’t know where my husband was. He left the house and didn’t come back.
I thought about how he didn’t care to know how I was doing in all of this, but when a child cried I’d stop thinking about him and start thinking that I should finish cooking. After they all ate, the children fell asleep next to their mothers. The bombing was still on and the mothers were trying to protect their children in case the house was bombed.
I first fled to a village called Bab-sba’a. We knew no one there, and my brothers in-law wanted to go back to help others leave. I stayed in a mosque for three days until I found my brother in-law and he took us to a house. We moved again but my husband still was not with me. I didn’t know where he was. He escaped the town because of the bombing but he didn’t even think of taking me with him.
We next stayed in a school building. For the first couple of days it was okay, there were many people in the school because their houses were destroyed. However, the military found out that people were staying in the school building. They surrounded the building with tanks and started to shoot fire. With the first shots, all the glass in the building was broken and the screaming and the crying started. The tank fired two missiles: the first one was a normal one and the second one was with Flechettes, which fires little pieces of steel. This can kill someone.
There was a sniper shooting at the building. It was hard to move around inside because there was no glass and the sniper could see us easily. Then something, I don’t know what, shot at the tanks and they moved backwards. My brother in-law told us to get out of the building right then. I started to move out of the building, but I stopped to help people get out because they had kids with them, and like I said before, I knew if I died I won’t be leaving children behind. Then the last person who was trying to exit the building was going down the stairs and the sniper hit her. I didn’t see any blood and her children started to cry. I was trying to call her name and trying to wake her up but she was not replying. I looked at her face and I saw no blood. I didn’t know where she was shot. I thought that she was shot in her belly, but then she moved. I helped her up and we kept moving.
There were four dead bodies near the door and blood was everywhere. It was my first time to see martyrs. I sat next to them and I tried moving them to see if any of them was alive, but they were dead.
I felt lonely. I felt very lonely, and I was very sad that they were dead and we couldn’t move them out and that their families didn’t know that they died. I really felt alone and that I really needed to see my mother. Then my cousin came with my brother in-law. I had blood on my clothes because I sat next to the martyrs. As we were rushing out, the sniper shot twice. I saw my cousin falling and then I fainted because I thought that she died. I woke up three days later to find myself in my in-laws’ house, and I didn’t know how I got there. I still had no idea where my husband was.
I really felt alone and that I really needed to see my mother.”
I returned to the town where my brother in-law lived. There, a terrible event occurred. I was in the upstairs apartment. My brother in-law’s wife was packing her things downstairs when we heard of a raid on houses in search for men. When they raided houses, many officers would come, two or three officers for each house, to scan the neighborhood and to detain men. They would take weapons if they found any; they would take phones.
Suddenly, the security forces pushed open the door and entered the house. I went down to be with her. The men were with the Syrian security forces – no one else would do that. There was another force shooting at the security forces but they shot back because they didn’t want them to enter the area.
There were four men and they were big in size. They didn’t have a whole beard, they had tattoos on their hands, they were wearing the security force uniform. They were carrying weapons and wearing military hats. One of them was wearing black rings on his fingers.
The tattoo was the Syrian eagle. It was green. There was an eagle on the uniform, but they had their sleeves up and the tattoo was on their hands. They spoke in a dialect used by the Alawites – it is a special dialect that is known in Syria.
One of them pointed his weapon at my brother in-law’s wife’s head and the other two were holding her. They were removing her Hijab and one of them pulled her hair backwards.
They didn’t say anything to me. They told my brother in-law’s wife that they were removing her Hijab and that she wears the Hijab for Allah, not in front of us.
I also heard them cursing God.
Later she said that they took her gold, and they broke many things in the house.
When I saw them doing that I ran away. My brother in-law’s wife is an older woman – I am younger than her. If they did that to her, they would do worse to me. They used to kidnap young girls or rape them, how would I face my parents or my in-laws? Death was better than that.
So I ran upstairs and opened the window and I threw myself out.
This was from the second floor. There were steel bars on the next level and I landed on them. They punctured my body: in my thigh and in my belly and in the back of my legs, in my shoulder and in my arm. And I was pregnant.
I was able to move myself away from the bars and I hid in a small room near the bathrooms. The forces then went out looking for me and they started shooting randomly.
They searched but they couldn’t find me. They stayed for a while and then they left. My brother in-law’s wife didn’t know where I was and she was calling my name. I tried to tell her where I was, but she couldn’t hear me because I couldn’t speak up. I was very tired and in pain. When she got closer, I told her that I couldn’t move and I asked her to go bring someone to get me out. My brother in-law and father in-law got me out. I was bleeding from my wounds.
Although I was in pain I was asking about my husband – if they’ve heard from him or about him and they told me that he was trapped in an area and when they told me that they were all okay I fainted.
When I woke up my wounds were treated and there was a nurse to look after me. We were in a camp. When my father in-law asked me why I jumped, I told him that I was afraid that they would take me. I didn’t think that they left my relative; I thought they took her and I thought that they raped her, so I told him that I jumped because I didn’t want them to rape me. My in-laws thanked me and prayed for my father. They knew that I endured a lot of pain just because I didn’t want them to touch me, so my relationship with them became stronger.
We went to a village called Qareytain, and there I met with my husband. I fought with him. I felt that I was a complete stranger to him. When I was there my family came to stay with me. A few months later I reconciled with my husband and I was about to deliver my baby, so I went with him and we settled in Jeyroud. I had my baby girl there. While we were there, my brother in-law was detained and killed. After that I met with my family again so they could help me with the baby while my wounds were still healing. 50 days later we moved to Jordan.
I left with my husband, my brother and his wife and kids, and my uncle and his wife and kids. We first went to Dara’a by bus.
It was very difficult.
We stopped at every checkpoint, and they would ask a lot of questions about me. They didn’t ask about my brother – I don’t know why, maybe because I was injured at that time. I could barely move and when they asked me why I moved with difficulty I would tell them that I delivered a baby newly, but they said that she is 50 days old. But I told them that I bled a lot after the delivery.
There were ladies to do the physical inspection and they didn’t frisk every woman; they would pick and choose whom to frisk. The man wanted to frisk me, but I told him that I didn’t want him to frisk me and he should let the lady do it. He said that it is not her job to do the actual frisking and that she was there to choose. I then told him that I refuse it. He said that he would stop the bus and detain me, but I told him to detain me.
My husband was with me, but he was afraid to speak and so was everybody, because if anyone would say anything, they would take him. So the woman frisked me. She didn’t like it, and maybe that’s why they put me in their minds because after that incident, I was frisked in all the following checkpoints. We stopped at seven more and at each checkpoint they would search our bags and frisk us and ask a lot of questions until we reached Dara’a. We stayed in a house near the desert, and when night time came and it was getting dark, we started the walk to the Jordanian border.
We walked from 8 pm until 3 am. It was a long time. By 3 am we passed the borders and we got close to Za’atari camp. We got into a bus and 30 minutes later we were in the camp. We arrived at dawn.
It was very difficult because I realized that I was leaving my country and that I wouldn’t be able to return. It was hard for me to say goodbye to my family. I had their pictures in mind all the way, I was thinking of them, thinking of when I would ever see them again. I also wondered if they were going to die and I didn’t know if I would meet them again and that was very difficult for me.
To me all these things were difficult but maybe others would think it wasn’t that difficult in comparison to their experiences. But to me it was very cruel, it changed my life, all of it: my jump, seeing the people injured, witnessing the building collapse, and my brother who was very healthy and ended up on a wheel chair and my jump that took me close to death, everything affected me.
Everything in the experience is painful. When I remember this, I wonder how can I still smile after being through all of that, and also facing the difficulties I have here?! I found out that I am a strong person.
It was very painful. I still look at my brother and think of the things he used to do for us when we were young. To me it’s a very painful and difficult thing.
All of this story is about destruction. I think, “Enough destruction.” Now I know that a person wouldn’t know how strong they are until they overcome such an experience. We should be like that; we should be prepared for anything, to face it with strength and sacrifice. I am happy with myself that I am strong and that I did what I did, although I was a weak person when I was in my family house. I used to get scared from cats and insects, and yet I faced tanks and bombings and people dying in front of me.
I am proud of myself but it affected me. I don’t see life colored anymore.”
I am proud of myself but it affected me. I don’t see life colored anymore. We used to draw rainbows and the sun and the moon and flowers but now it is not the same anymore. I don’t think of it this way.
Now I think of it as colorless, and I have to color it the way I want to. The sun is not as big as we used to draw it on paper.
Now we are okay and my prayers are for the others, I can only pray for them.
Today in Jordan, thank God for everything, we feel safe.
I face challenges for my children’s sake; despite what I am going through I have to provide for them, to make them feel that they are missing nothing.
I live with my mother, my injured brother, my other brother and my children. My husband and I left each other when I was pregnant with my son.
We didn’t get a divorce, but in 2014 he went back to Syria. We were arguing all the time; he was careless and irresponsible. He met with his friends here and he spent most of the time with them. It was as if he had been imprisoned in Syria and he found his freedom here. So problems happened between us and he decided to go back to Syria. We haven’t heard from him.
I am not in contact with my in-laws; I don’t know any of their numbers. I asked the Red Crescent about him and they told me that he didn’t cross the borders, then I found out from his family that he was in Syria but he didn’t go to them.
When we asked around about him we heard he wasn’t with his family. At that time I was pregnant with my son. People said different things: some said that he is dead, some said that he is not in Syria, and some told me that he is dead and his family are not telling you because they don’t want you to marry someone else. Some said that he remarried and he has kids, and some said that he is detained and that he has divorced me.
Personally, I believe that he didn’t go to Syria and he is still here, because he is a coward. While I was in Syria he left me and ran away; why would he go back to Syria?!
So I am taking care of my children and family. It’s bad. I can provide food for them with the 45 Jordanian dinars (JDs) I receive, but it’s difficult to provide other things. Sometimes I buy food for half of the money and the other half I keep for expenses. It’s very difficult especially now that it’s school time.
I applied to get the retina scan from the UNHCR to get assistance, but it’s been seven years now and I didn’t hear from them.
The financial challenge is the most difficult. I wanted to get a job but because I don’t have certificates from Syria I couldn’t. I even tried to work as a volunteer but they also need papers, and this is very difficult.
I went to CVT because I was tired and I was lonely. I don’t have friends in Jordan. We don’t even know the neighbors, and I hardly ever go out. I am always at home, so I thought coming here would help.
It helped on so many levels.
First I got to know new people. Second, there are things I didn’t expect to find here like talking about something that I thought I could never say – like talking about my mother, for example, or the events I have in my memory. And the physiotherapy was very useful. I gained a lot by coming here.
What I learned from the center here was very useful and I’m still using it. Here at CVT, I learned that the mind and the body are connected together, so when memories come to my head I change my place; I might also watch something that can change my mood, and I might do exercises like the breathing exercise and the here-and-now exercise. I also can change my behavior, I learned that from coming here and I still use them.
But I also think after what I went through, I won’t get anything. If there were justice, what happened wouldn’t have happened, and there wouldn’t be the cruel past. It would be very difficult for me to demand it now because humanity doesn’t exist. I told a CVT counselor that justice is humanity, and if someone doesn’t have it, it would be difficult to expect it of him, even from a friend.
I can’t change a thing. I don’t want to say that I am a good person and that I am responsible for the whole house but if my husband had half the sense of responsibility, he wouldn’t have left us. What justice am I supposed to get after that?!
Someday, I would like to get resettlement and travel, not for my sake but for my children. That’s what I am hoping for. If I am to stay here I would like to have a job as a volunteer, to help people and children because it might make me feel better psychologically, it would give me internal calmness.
I wish I could change the financial situation. I wish I could find a job that I desire like voluntary work because that’s where I find myself, away from people and away from problems. I find myself with an orphan or taking care of a sick child or an old person.
Some days, I feel that no one can do anything.
Nothing will change if we haven’t changed, that’s what I want to say.”
About the past I just want to say that “God changes the fate of no people unless they themselves show a will for change.” Quran verse
This means our situation will not change unless we change from within – it’s a verse from the Quran but no one takes it into consideration. Nothing will change if we haven’t changed, that’s what I want to say.
*Hiba chose this pseudonym for confidentiality and security purposes.