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We feel that we found our self after we lost it in the war

My home Syria is a beautiful place, but war took it from us. As refugees in Amman, rehearsing and performing Euripides’ The Trojan Women gave us a way to explain our new lives, and what we have lost. 

At twenty-three years old, today I live in Amman, far from my home in Damascus. Participating in the Syrian Trojan Women project, and later the Queens of Syria film, had a significant personal influence on me and on the other women who took part. My participation in this project made me bolder and more confident of myself and changed me for the better.  It gave me a way to cope with the difficulties of asylum experience. It also made me feel like I am doing something about what has happened, and is happening, in my home country.  Feeling that you have do something, anything, even if it is just to say the right word, is good feeling, for sure.  And I think the rest of the women who were with me in this project have the same opinion. None of us had ever acted before, but the workshops eased us into the process.

Photo by Lynn Alleva Lilley, via 'Queens of Syria'

Most of the women involved did not ever imagine that they may stand on stage and tell their stories to a live audience looking at them directly.  This experience earned them great courage.  One of the women told me that she has become stronger and more self-confident and she is very happy with this. Others also said that they always dreamed to be an actress and this experience gave them the opportunity to achieve one of their childhood dreams.

The impact the play had on the community of refugees in Jordan, and in our lives, is felt, but indirectly. In our society theatre in particular is not a very popular artform the same way it is in the West, but there is documentary about the project, directed by Yasmin Fedda and has won the best director award at the Abu Dhabi documentary Film Festival.  I think that the spread of the film across cinema screens or even television and which is the most popular will convey the idea of the project to the community – that is, that everyone can do something and nothing is impossible.

We have faced a lot of difficulties during this project. In particular, among the women there has been fear, dread, and a lot of problems because acting is not a popular in our society unfortunately, especially for women and society's perception of women who participate in the theatre. Unfortunately, we started with 50 women and just 25 women stayed to the end of the project for multiple reasons, including the dread and fear of the theatre and performing, or society's negative perception of theatre, and family problems – especially with husbands.  Many of the women left the training because their husbands prevented them from continuing, but many women faced this and insisted and eventually persuaded their husbands to stay and continued in the project and I think that the survival of 25 ladies until the end is a success in itself.

Still from 'Queens of Syria', via Queens of Syria

Being a refugee in a theatre production trying to perform a play can cause many problems, in addition to the difficulties of rehearsing the play itself.  We received invitations from the University of Georgetown and Columbia in America to perform the play there, but it did not happen, unfortunately, because half of the women do not have passports and even those who do have passports unfortunately had their visas to America rejected by the American embassy in Amman – without any apparent reason.  It was frustrating. But that did not stop us from continuing, the event happened and we were there via Skype and talked with the audience and answered the questions. It was a great experience, and after that we performed the play in Geneva, Switzerland after we received an invitation from two organizations, Tällberg and CERN.

For the last two years I have faced lots and lots of challenges here in Amman. All the other women have also suffered just like me, but this project was the best thing that happened for us since we came here to Jordan.  We feel that we found our self after we lost it in the war.

Photo by Lynn Alleva Lilley, via Queens of Syria

After coming to Jordan our lives totally changed, with nothing but challenges, from finding a house to rent to trying to find a job.  It's illegal for Syrians to work in Jordan.  They have to get a work permit which is costs a lot of money, and if they work without the permit they may be arrested, or at least they would be exploited by employers. Trying to find a house is also difficult, now Amman has many Syrian refugees looking for housing.  But participating in the play, the workshops and the performances, made us forget this suffering and made us know that we can do something whatever the situation is. It made us stronger in facing the challenges that refugees face – but those challenges are still there. 

The importance of this project stems from being a projection of the epic of Euripides on to the Syrian tragedy through real life testimonies, told by women who were witnesses to what happened and who have suffered because of this war – to know that history repeats itself and that the tragedy of war does not change, even if the man has reached the development at all levels as it is now.  The fundamental part of war does not change. Unfortunately, despite the media, and the armies which are deployed on each satellite channel, the picture of what is happening in Syria is still blurry, vague and confused, so I think that this play may have to explain the truth about what happened in Syria and the fact that the Syrian people are very kind and peaceful one way or another, away from the storms of the media. 

via Queens of Syria

This is what I hope. Now when the people talk about Syria they talk about war, death, torture, rape, destruction and apprehension. So one of my biggest dreams is to make people around the world know that Syria is a beautiful place with kind people, but the war stole it from us. I love my home, Syria is my paradise. Don’t ask what it feels like to have to leave paradise.

 Queens of Syria opens 6 July in London at the Young Vic Theatre before touring the UK

This article was first published 2 March 2015

About the author

Reem Assayyah is a 23 year old woman from Damascus.  She was studying as a hardware and network engineer at Damascus University but could not graduate because of the war.  Now she lives in Amman, where she participated in the Syrian Trojan Women project, and is now the Project Coordinator for the Oliver! Project that will start soon in Amman.


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