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My Syrian Diary: Reading Hellen Keller, Dreaming of Better Days

Marah lives in a city under siege. She was 15 years old when the uprising began. This is the fifth in her series of memoirs of living in the midst of Syria’s war.

Written by Marah Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

As part of a collaboration between Syria Deeply and Rookie, we’re publishing the memoirs of a teenage girl living in the midst of Syria’s war. Marah, as she’s chosen to be known, lives in a city under siege. She was 15 years old when the uprising began. This is the fifth in her series of articles.

This is my life. / Life is beautiful. / Life is a song. / The days of our life are sweet.

These are the lyrics of an old song my mother repeats to encourage us in our circumstances. But our tragedies repeat every day. The only thing that changes is the pain — it gets worse every day.

Now that it’s spring, I wake up in the morning with the sun shining and it gives me hope. I go to school, which was once a playground. But the sad updates I hear from friends once I arrive slays me. When class ends, I go back home and help my busy mother with her household chores. My family and I sit for lunch together. That part is wonderful. We talk, we share, and sometimes, like any other family, we argue. After we finish lunch, it’s time to do homework. I study for two or three hours, but honestly, I usually can’t focus. I resort to my cell phone. This device is my only window to the world outside of my small town, and I use it to communicate with my friends and relatives abroad.

My Mom wishes the reception would cut off or my phone would crash, because she believes that my phone is behind my mood swings. When a friend of mine outside the war zone mentions that she is shopping, or in a restaurant, or in a park, or perhaps mentions that she studies in a university, I get so angry because I am stuck here and cannot do those normal things.

My anger usually manifests in how I act at home, like when I rebel against my mother. However, my mom has never taken my phone away from me because she understands that it is my only escape, as there is no electricity, TV or computer. When the communication network gets cut off, and I can’t talk or communicate with friends, I feel an emptiness. I’m a little better when my mom brings me books from the now-abandoned library. The last story I read was “Helen Keller,” about a woman who continued her life and studies despite being rendered deaf and blind. My mom hopes to empower us with strength, patience and persistence, but we kids no longer believe in words. We only believe in what we see, and that is an indescribable reality.

Some people might think that I’m exaggerating, but the truth of our daily life here is worse even than what I’ve said. The only thing that gives me a real sense of hope is attending the physical education class my mom teaches the local first grade students. I enjoy playing with them. When I hear them laughing, I turn into a little girl again. But school has now ended for the summer, so I have lost even that joy. I sometimes visit with friends who are still here, but it’s not as much fun as it used to be: we just sit and repeat the same depressing stories over and over.

So, this is how I spend my days. When night falls, darkness covers everything and there is only the light of melting candles. I can’t study at night, even if I want to, because there is no electricity. I spend some time in front of the screen of my phone, and then I try to sleep. How difficult it is when one tries to sleep but her eyes do not cooperate.

My thoughts besiege me at night. I miss those who left, and I wonder about our future.

While I study, I hope that when I finally graduate from high school, I will live a life that’s useful. I will work hard on that. I want to start a new life and have a career. I try hard to convince myself that life goes on and that it might smile on me again, but I don’t know if this is going to really happen.

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