Illustration by Hannah Kirmes-Daly.
Radio Hakaya is a community radio project started by Brush&Bow in a refugee camp in North Lebanon. Radio Hakaya's podcasts feature individuals whose communities have been directly affected by the war in Syria and the displacement of Syrians to Lebanon. Each podcast presents a subjective opinion that, combined with the rest of the series, provides a mosaic of differing perspectives and experiences, exploring the reasons why people fled Syria, the living conditions in Lebanon and what the future might hold.
All recordings are taken, translated and edited with the help from members of the local community.
Interviews and Editing by Roshan De Stone & David L. Suber.
Editing and Translations by Fadi Haddad.
Illustrations by Hannah Kirmes-Daly.
This is the fourth podcast of an 8-part series. It is an interview with Rayan, a 24-year old widow from Homs, living in a refugee camp in Lebanon’s region of Akkar, with her two small children.
Rayan speaks of the first demonstrations she witnessed in Homs in 2011, remembering how quickly peaceful protests escalated into civil war.
Married during the siege of Homs, Rayan explains the fear people lived under, noting how some men would get arrested just for having aname similarity. She tells the story of how she escaped Homs to follow her husband’s movements, from one city to another, until they finally decided to flee to Lebanon.
Rayan’s husband died a few months after arriving to Lebanon, consumed by a drug addiction. A widow at 21, she found herself raising two small children alone. Sitting in her tent for most of the day, she speaks of the impact war and displacement have had on Syrian women.
Her story reflects the collective sorrow of many Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s camps, people whose lives have endured an eight-year long limbo that none imagined could last so long. Rayan's story is a symbol of the resilience shown every day by so many Syrian women and men, both in Syria and abroad, waiting for a political solution to the war that is destroying their country.
Her experience represents only a fragment of the very complex puzzle of memories and opinions Syrian women in Lebanon hold of their present state and or the war in Syria. As such, it should be heard in relation to the contents expressed in the previous and forthcoming podcasts.
Listen to the podcast in English or in Arabic below
Read the transcript
Podcast #4 Rayan: Women in War
Welcome to Radio HAKAYA – حكايا the official podcast series of Brush and Bow. These podcasts report on stories and challenges of the Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian communities in Lebanon. By focusing on individual stories, we hope to convey the complex realities of life here in Lebanon: people’s memories, present experiences and hopes for the future. We would like to remind you that the views published on these podcasts are the participants alone and do not reflect the opinions of Brush and Bow.
Today’s podcast is an interview with Rayan, a Syrian widow living with her two children in a tent by the Syrian border in Lebanon. Rayan is an example of the resilience shown by women who have learnt to navigate a patriarchal society in the context of war. In this podcast, she speaks about her experience of the transition between the early uprisings in Syria and the unfolding civil war. She reflects on the last 5 years she has spent in Lebanon, and the difficulties of living as a young widow with two small children in such a hostile environment.
Rayan: I come from Homs, in Syria. I am 24 years old and I have two kids, a boy and a girl. If I was still in Syria, I’d be studying at the university, as I love studying and I want to become a translator. I speak some English and Italian.
In Syria, before the war, there was such a level of security that we could go to the market at 2 am in the night, I swear. We would gather at midnight with my aunt and relatives and go the park, to the markets…with no problems.
As a little girl I was very naughty; I could barely stay in the house at all and would spend the day in the street with friends drawing with chalk on the floor or playing football. We were outside all the time.
Interviewer: When the revolution began, were the people at demonstrations all men, or were there also women?
Rayan: At the beginning they were all men, but soon women joined too. Now everybody who took part in those protests regrets it. Nobody could have guessed the protests would have taken us here – to war, killings, exile. We thought it was just about words.
What we lived during the war was so hard that words could never convey the meaning of what happened; the destruction, the fear, the fear for our children. It was too hard. And then the constant moving, trying to seek safety, one morning in one place, the evening in another. And all this with children… I didn’t have kids back then, but I remember the little kids of my aunt and my uncle.
During the revolution it was hard to find medicine if somebody was sick. It was hard even to find bread and gas for cooking. This was because entire areas were being sieged by the army, so any supplies of gas and bread had to come from outside the besieged area.
Interviewer: How did you manage to get food?
Rayan: We Arab people have the habit of storing food reserves for the winter, things like sugar, rice and cereals. Because the food becomes much more expensive during the winter. So most of the houses had stocks of food.
Then we moved out of Homs to another area, for better safety. However, we soon found out men were more in danger than women there. Because if women could move around freely, but men could not. If there were caught they would be conscripted for military service of two years. At the beginning it was every Syrian between the age of 19 and 21, then it was everyone.
Interviewer: And if they don’t go?
Rayan: They’d be in trouble, they could be arrested and taken to jail. Sometimes people might be arrested for mere names similarity, like there is a person called “Mohammed” that has done something wrong, and they would arrest another ‘Mohammed’ instead.
Where the men went, problems followed. We went to Yabrud and problems started in Yabrud, we went to Aleppo, and problems started in Aleppo. Then my husband went back to Yabrud with other men. I didn’t go with him. He went through the dangerous routes, to avoid checkpoints, while I took the highway, since I as a woman could move freely as long as I carried our family documents with me.
Rayan: Now, I personally believe the situation in Syria is much better than it could ever be here in Lebanon. For example, the kids here are confined to this tent. Only this tent. They have no other place to go, the only other place they can go is outside the tent, in the street.
Here our kids can’t learn anything. My daughter hears other children saying swear words and starts repeating what they say. She can’t recognize what the difference between right and wrong.
We mothers are tired, our minds are tired and we don’t manage to educate the children on what’s right and wrong, on the does and don’ts.
Everything I have hear inside my heart is gone, shut down.
Sometimes my daughter askes me “mum please draw me something”, and I reply “I don’t want to”, because for example I am sad, worried or upset. This is the reason why we can’t support our children psychologically and in their education.
I’ve been in Lebanon for 5 years now. I consider them as the garbage years of my life. Everything I lived here in Lebanon is marked with only bad and dark memories.
Interviewer: How can you be so strong?
Rayan: How can I be so strong? I am not strong. I pretend to be. I try my best for my kids, because they have no one left but me to learn from and trust. It is really hard. If their father was here, it’d be much better. If he wasn’t dead, we would be better off than now, but I can’t do much about his death, so I must be strong for the kids, because if I am weak, they’d grow weak as well. Sometimes, when I go through a tough emotional moment, I really want to cry. But then I tell myself I can’t cry. And I hold it in because I cannot let the children see me sad or desperate.
It often happens that people tell me “Gosh! you are a 24-year-old widow? That’s so wrong, such a pity!” They say this because I am alone, with two children and no husband, and I’m so young. It makes me angry when they say that about me; or when I think my children will grow up without a father.
In Arab societies there is no freedom for women, especially in war time and exile.
For example, suppose I have a cellphone here in Lebanon -not that I even have one, mind you- its forbidden for me to have a Facebook account, and if I had Whatsapp I would be allowed to talk only to girls and my phone would be checked to see with whom I was texting, to see if I had written improper things in my messages.
In Syria it wasn’t like this. But now, because we are in a foreign country, we don’t know anybody. I don’t have Lebanese friends or neighbors. We meet the locals only when we leave the camp to go to the hospital or to the clinic.
We follow religion to know how to prevent committing bad or shameful deeds. Religion educates us about the right and the wrong. For example, religion says a man and a woman who don’t know each other can’t talk over the phone. Since I know this is wrong I must not do it, but sometimes I want to. Just to have someone to talk to about what I feel in my heart, about my life here or about my husband. And I’d be relieved and happy after having spoken, whether my listener was a man or a woman, I would not mind.