By Mariam Khatib
Every Syrian has a personal narrative that is difficult to articulate. It is challenging due to the psychological trauma, physical abuse, and inability to make sense of the gruesome reality. My account is not the most devastating chain of events to occur, but it is painful to consider that life may have taken a different course had the Syrian government toppled peacefully.
I am an American Syrian who lives in Georgia, but I have strong ties to Aleppo. I was born and bred in the timeworn lands of a city with a heritage from the 3rd millennium BC. The Citadel, one of the oldest world castles, was the reference point for my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and the majority of my family. Today, it is tarnished by the bullets and bombs of the regime, reflecting the reality of its citizens. Syria is thousands of miles away, but I receive daily updates via Facebook and I am aware of their happenings.
Born in 1936, my mother Haleemah could not tolerate the chaos, constant artillery fire, and the unexpected turn of events. After regime soldiers detained her two grandsons multiple times for partaking in peaceful protests, Mama suffered a stroke and then fell into a coma. The coma was followed by a lack of performance; she became disabled and required assistance in her everyday functioning.
As soon as I received a call regarding my mother’s stroke, I booked a flight to Jordan. I knew that this trip was daring, but all I wanted was to see my mom, embrace her and say a few words before she departed. I decided to cross into Syria via bus to avoid hurdles in Damascus for there was no time to waste. My two daughters and son accompanied me, because this might be their last encounter with their grandmother. The unanticipated trip was risky, but with the escalating situation, life the very next day was not guaranteed. Our route of typically five hours took many detours to avoid the clashes and war torn cities. After a long, strenuous trip we finally reached Aleppo, but the true challenge was ahead of us.
Hospital trips to Abdullah Aljubary, an area in Aleppo, became journeys with checkpoints manned by regime forces that persistently stopped us to inquire about our whereabouts. We played the beseeching game and promised them that we simply wanted to visit my mother who was ill with a low chance of survival. One of the visits kept us on our toes; I called my son and told him to meet me at the entrance of the hospital so we can grab him. He hustled towards me, which caught the attention of a regime solider who swiftly picked him up.
I was ordered to leave my 21-year-old son in the hands of the merciless soldiers for three long hours. He never shared the details of his captivity until we returned to the United States. He was held at gunpoint to his head and became a worthy prey especially when they found out he was an American citizen. It was a mocking dialogue between two soldiers who were debating his future. After my nephew implored them for hours to let him go, they strip searched him, took all of his money, and let him go.
Bassem’s experience was grim but nowhere near what his cousins endured in jail cells. I am indebted to Allah for Bassem’s freedom which could have been my last waking moment with him! The very next day, my brother insisted that we depart the blessed land. We had no choice; we surpassed yesterday’s detainment with the mercy of Allah, but could not guarantee what was ahead. Regime soldiers began searching the neighborhood door to door for ID’s, and my American citizenship was not going to make my case stress free. I left with a heavy heart wanting to stay alongside my mother whose days were numbered.
Two weeks later the home of my childhood was demolished in Bab Al Hadid by the regime shelling. My family survived the attack because they were in the basement taking cover from the shelling. This began the displacement process for many family members who took refuge in the house. My mother was taken to another residence temporarily while her paperwork procedures were completed. She no longer could live in Syria as her diabetes medicine was scarce, and she needed physical therapy to heal from the stroke.
After 76 years, my mother was forced to leave the only country she ever knew. She was taken to Yemen after waiting in the Damascus airport for three days, just to get on a flight. After only a month there, she passed away from another stroke on the first day of Eid Al Adha in 2012. Haleemah couldn’t handle the separation from all that she loved and was accustomed to. She couldn’t bear to leave her birthplace, and protested by completely leaving this world of injustice and oppression. I could not help but think of her every time I stumbled upon the following verse:
Qur’an 22:40 “[They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.”