Sawsan gets up and goes off into a small room. She comes out with a suitcase filled with memories. ‘It’s a big deal that I’m going to have my picture taken. I used to be a model. Here, take a loot at some of my pictures. My face was on the walls of stores and magazines – to promote make-up products mostly. That was a long time ago, but it still means a lot to me. When you’re modelling, you have a whole team making sure you look good, feel good – and that made me feel very special, important even.
There are more memories in the suitcase. Her daughter’s first bodysuit. A pillow case. Ultrasound pictures. ‘Life has taught me to be tough, as a result of all that I’ve been through. I had hopes of becoming a business woman. At fourteen I had no choice but to quit school and start working. My father was sick, he could no longer provide for us and there were hospital bills. I worked at a supermarket. A couple of years later I left to work in Dubai and earn a living there for a while. I married at 21, but found myself in divorce proceedings again after six months. That man and I could not get along.
It’s weird. You can start life full of promises: you’re wanted as a model, you’ve got whole teams working hard to make you beautiful, you’re doing great in school. Becoming a business woman doesn’t seem unrealistic at all. And you have the feeling you’re special. But just a couple of things happening can turn everything upside down. I’ve had to learn that I can’t attain any goal that I set for myself. And I’ve learned to love myself and care for myself nonetheless. That could be something small. I’ve always been someone, for example, who likes to share with everyone else. My father taught me that it’s okay to keep something for myself sometimes and just enjoy it. That’s not easy for me, but it does help remind me that I matter.
She laughs. ‘The lesson my father taught me has come back to haunt him! In 2011 the young man who lived next door asked for my hand in marriage. At first I didn’t want to, mainly because he was younger. But it was more complex too. His mother, for the same reason, refused. She wanted him to have a younger woman. And my father was against the idea because this woman was rude – he didn’t want me to have a mother-in-law like that. Still I fell for him after three years of saying no. That’s right, he persevered for three years! He kept asking me. Good things come to those who wait.’ Again she laughs. ‘We married and by saying yes to my husband I did exactly what my father had tried to teach me: I decided to do what I wanted to do and not what I thought someone else expected of me.
It’s difficult to explain why I chose this marriage. There were all these obstacles and I didn’t even love my husband to begin with. I told him so. But there was something about the way he treated me. Completely trusting. He was honest with me. About the life he could offer me, about the things we could and could not afford. When I decided to get work as a taxi driver, he supported that idea because he believed I would be good at it. He said: ‘I know that you will always come home when your work is done.’ He took me seriously, treated me as an equal, and that gave me confidence.
My father and mother consented to our getting married when I became pregnant with our first daughter, Cinderella. That’s how they are. My mother has always taught me to honour family with loyalty. That it’s important to provide love for your family and stability. It goes without saying that she tries to do the same as a grandmother in the lives of her grandchildren. It’s remarkable what can happen when a child is born, isn’t it? Being reunited with my parents. Let alone becoming a mother myself… that feeling is indescribable. I remember holding Cinderella for the first time. I started crying. It was as if a dream was coming true that I had never known I had.
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‘We married and by saying yes to my husband I did exactly what my father had tried to teach me: I decided to do what I wanted to do and not what I thought someone else expected of me.'
Sawsan (33 years old) about her wedding