Amani. She welcomes you in with open arms. Orders you to sit and leaves, only to return with treats. Gently, but firmly she insists: eat! There’s an impressive woman hiding there behind that calm exterior. ‘I was spoiled as a child and didn’t know my left hand from my right when I got married. Now I’ve survived a war and cancer. I have a healthy marriage to a man who believes in women’s rights.’
When I was fifteen I had never given any thought to anything. Not to what I wanted to do in life, nor to education, nor to what it means to be a woman – let alone to any kind of responsibility. I wasn’t interested in learning anything. I could read and write and didn’t see the need for anything else. I didn’t care about further schooling or building a career, nor about taking care of a home and a family. I was perfectly satisfied having others do everything for me.
I was fifteen when I fell in love. He was eleven years older: an adult who could protect me. I felt safe and that was that. I wanted to get married. I quit school, chose my own dress, we had a big celebration, and that’s about how far into the future I had decided to look. It was my husband who decided I would go back to school. ‘We can afford it,’ he said, ‘and I think it’s important for you.’ That’s how he is. He is the kind of man who will make dinner or clean the house when I’m tired. When we were just married, he did so even more, so his parents wouldn’t discover that I didn’t know how to do any of those things.’ She laughs. ‘He’s not looking for a cook or a cleaning lady. He wants his wife to be his equal. Someone he can share making decisions with. And with patience and respect he has helped me become that woman.
I was diagnosed with cancer, and the war in Syria broke out. Amid all of that I mothered four children and had to build a family together with my husband, develop a vision for our children, be an example. I’ve grown wise. I’ve learned what love is. My husband has always led in that area, but I’ve taken my responsibility as well. While I never took school seriously myself, I now give my daughter no rest about the importance of schoolwork. Her quitting school in order to get married? Never!
In stead of leaning completely on my husband, I’ve learned to love him. When our first son was born for example, I knew nothing about taking care of babies – he had to do it all. But I didn’t think: this is easy living. I learned from him instead. When my husband got sick, I was able to care for him. And when I was sick with cancer, he in turn cared for me.
Presently my medication is putting significant pressure on our financial situation. The last thing we want is to take our kids out of school because of tuition, because their future means everything to us. But it’s come to that: our oldest has quit in order to work. My husband can’t do it anymore due to his own health. ‘Mom, dad, you always sacrificed for us as well,’ my son says.
My great hope is that my son will decide to return to school, but at the same time I’m so proud of the family that my husband and I have built. I always wanted to teach my kids how to care for eachother. That meant I had to give the right example. The people of Lebanon have always shown us kindness – from our landlord to the greengrocer. But leaving Syria gave me the feeling of being a fish out of water all the same. Syria was always my second mother. I could venture out into the street at night without a problem, the life was affordable, we had a nice home, our loved ones all leaved nearby. Leaving meant running from place to place for three years straight. Now we have a roof, but financially it’s a struggle. The fact that my son provides for us now is, ironically, the fruit of the vision that we had for our family.
I’ve become a woman with a family that supports me through everything, and who is strong enough to make extremely difficult decisions for her family, if that’s what’s needed. My only real worry is my sickness. Will I be okay? And what will happen to them if I’m not? I can’t control my health, it’s just one of those things you can’t take responsibility for.’
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'He wants his wife to be his equal. Someone he can share making decisions with. And with patience and respect he has helped me become that woman.'
Amani (34 years old, fled from Syria) about her husband