Syria: My Mother, Alive


Time and time again, I keep putting off writing this article. For someone who lost her mother to a lethal bullet, writing about mothers, and about Mother’s Day, is not completely therapeutic. Even if we agree that writing has magical powers, some kinds of pain are simply too colossal. They wear down your body and soul, and are immune to medication.

I tell myself that I would write about my mother before Mother’s Day (observed this year in Syria on March 21) as I would then be more objective and neutral. I don’t know who it was, exactly, that told me I had to convey to you the burning reality of Syria with a professional coldness. Of course I am not neutral in any of my positions. I am a daughter of this land, I have a mother buried in it, and I also have a memory. And I have friends in prison, whose dreams have been shattered by a tyrant. Shards of those dreams have pierced me too.

I postpone writing about Mother’s Day in order to take advantage of the emotions that consume me on this day, which  enable me to describe my pain. Perhaps, in this new and violent state of sadism, I might experience some happiness, should one of you tell me that my article brought tears to your eyes.

I fail miserably. Finally, I tell myself—in order to escape writing—that this celebration is a made-up day. Hafez Al Assad replaced International Mother’s Day with this day in order to put an end to Norooz celebrations, which mark the beginning of Spring, by the downtrodden Kurds in my country. And then we are accused of being obsessed with politics. How can we not be so when even our family celebrations are imposed upon by a dictator?

My friend Amira asks me about the topic of my next article. Without even thinking, I respond: My mother. And I force myself to write.

You have every right to hate what I am about to relate, for it was written as an attempt to confront my sadness. I approached the task planning to smack it down, but it faced off with me, and left a residue of sorrow in my language, which I might transfer to you.

My mother, Marina, was a housewife, who attempted many times to turn my sister and me into proper society ladies. With my sister, she succeeded.

Mother married my father after an endearing courtship in which they exchanged letters which still lie in a corner of our house in the occupied part of Aleppo, and which, as you know, I cannot reach.

My mother was an only child, of parents who got married late in life, and I used to joke with her that an only child is usually spoiled by her parents. That was far from the truth. Her parents died early, leaving her completely alone, with no siblings or relatives. This made my father, my sister and me all she ever had in terms of family.

My mother, who was used to life as the wife of an Orthodox priest who always insisted on values, good manners and loving relations, took loving care of the details that were important to him. She cared for us lovingly as well, through all the arguments she had with me, and all the small decisions she had helped my sister make.

My father died young, after a heart attack which wouldn’t even give him a second chance. In the blink of an eye he left my mother, alone and with two girls to take care of. My sister Leila was about to start a family, while I was difficult, always independent and argumentative about everything. I would be expelled from school for not assenting to the teacher’s requests, or for writing an essay about how violent our school was.

After my sister got married and left home, for nine years my mother and I lived together by ourselves. Our relationship flourished during this period, until the start of the Syrian revolution, when she read a blog post I had written entitled “Our people deserve freedom.” At that point she started enforcing her role as a mother, advising and arguing with me. And I, in turn, began enforcing my role as a rebel refusing to succumb to family pressure.

My activist friends and I had started photographing ourselves during protests with our backs to the cameras, but my mother could still pinpoint me among the crowd of backs, even in a hazy photograph taken with a cell phone camera. “Marcell, is that you at the Salahuddin protest?” she would ask. I would lie and say it wasn’t me. And she would pretend that she believed me.

My mother would cry every time she heard the revolutionary song, whose lyrics went: “I am going to the demonstration, with my blood in my hands/I will come back a martyr, mother/Do not cry for me.”

Yet she lived the revolution with me. She remembered the names of friends who got arrested and prayed for them. She helped fix the shoddy stitching on the new revolutionary flags, which we would distribute secretly, and in our social and family circles she would defend me, taking the blame and the blows on my behalf.

Each time the volatile security situation forced me to travel abroad, my mother would pack my bag. And she would stick a snapshot of me on the corner of her computer screen. One week before she was killed, she said to me: “You and your sister are all that is left of my world. If you leave, half my world will end. Do you realise that?” And although I understood well why she was so afraid, I’d get angry. Once I selfishly uttered a response I regret to this day: “I am not more dear than the children of other people, and you are no different from the other mothers. If I was in prison, wouldn’t you want my friends to protest for my release? Isn’t this what you brought us here to do?” She closed her eyes and wept. Then she said: “Memo, do you know how proud I am of you?” And I smiled. I believe it is those words that makes me the strong person I am today.

A week later, officers at a military checkpoint decide that the car in which my mother is traveling, on her way back from a friend’s wedding, is somehow suspicious. They shoot at the car, and a military bullet hits my mother directly, killing her. It killed my mother. My mother—the woman who believed in love, beauty, family and the right of Syrian mothers to live a life free from fear and anxiety.

One bullet ended everything. It went through her body, also killing much of me and my soul. A police office says to me, reflecting the regime’s callousness when it comes to our souls: “It was the mistake of one person. Don’t take it personally.”

One day I will write for you about her death, her funeral, and my loss; but today I wanted to introduce you to my mother alive.

To you my mother, every year you continue to be alive in my memory. And I hope you are as proud of me today as you were back then.


This Post is published as a part of Dispatches from Aleppo, Global voices.

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