Stories From Syria: Manar
White Helmets volunteer Manar shares the story of her displacement from Daraa to Al-Dana
Stepping off the green bus in Al-Dana into the oppressive August heat, I felt utterly cold. Riding up north in the bus, staring out the window, I saw my life and everything I knew quickly disappear behind me. I watched my world crumble like a pillar of salt. Everything I knew was gone. I did not know anyone, nor did I know this new strange place so far away from home. I was an empty slate, a blank canvas, I didn't even know myself. Everything that made me, my friends, my family, my hometown, was taken from me. In that moment, all I had, the only thing that I possessed, was myself and my memories. And so I remembered.
I remembered my home in the rural village of Daraa in the southern side of Syria. In the countryside, life was good, simple, especially when it came to social and familial relations, which were more connected in the countryside than in the busy cities of Damascus or Aleppo. I had many friends from my time in school, and am still in touch with some of them, but my closest friends were my mother and my aunts. They spoiled me. You see, I was the only girl in my family, and so they treasured me. Cherished me. Put all the love they have in me and I lived a happy life among them. At that time, everything felt so simple. None of us could have predicted what was to come next.
One day, I looked up and I could see the sky falling upon me. I looked next to me and could see my friends and family falling around me. I looked forward and could see nothing, the homes too had come crumbling down, and so I looked inward. I wanted to help. When the bombings came to Daraa I trained in first aid and began working in one of the field hospitals as a nurse. Everyday people came into the hospitals. Systematic bombing by regime forces led to a large number of casualties. Life continued like this and the years passed. I thought to myself surely things will end soon.
Six years later I found myself still working in the field hospitals. It was spring, and with the season came the promise of a new start. Spring in Daraa was usually a beautiful time, a time when the natural world revives and reinvigorates after the colder winter months. The grass starts to grow and the cattle are once again released into the fields, excited as they run around doing laps in the field kicking their legs in the air and invigorated by the promise of new life after being housed indoors for the winter.
That year, spring had not come, as the ariel bombing of the winter continued to rain down upon us. I was working at the field hospital while an attack was taking place in my residential area. The hospital was at capacity, people were being rushed in. I looked up and found members of my own family brought to the hospital. That spring I lost my father, my mother, and my brother after our house was destroyed by bombing. That spring, I lost everything. That spring, while taking care of the wounds of my patients, a wound opened up within me, one that cannot be healed.
Stepping off the green bus in Al-Dana and into the oppressive August heat, I think back at my life, the choices I’ve made, the choices that were made for me. How did I get here?
I think back to one of the most difficult decisions I had to make— stepping onto the bus. A year prior, I had worked for the Syria Civil Defence when the first women’s centers were established. But now, the situation in Daraa has only grown worse, the bomings a living hell. I was afraid of getting arrested because of my work as a volunteer. By then, we were all familiar with the stories of those who disappear in the prisons of the regime never to be seen again. Death would be a blessing compared to living what these detainees would have to live, and so I chose to leave. But in doing so, I was leaving behind what little family I had left, the last extensions of myself, including my husband, who chose to stay with his family in Daraa. I couldn’t blame him. In the end, family is all you have.
But the word “chose” itself does not seem like the right choice. Who would choose to live like this? None of us had any say in the events that were happening. These choices were thrown upon us.
And so I find myself standing outside the green bus, facing my fate alone.
As I stood there waiting, I suddenly heard a young man calling out asking if there were any SCD volunteers. I had to come to Al-Dana to rejoin the Civil Defence at the Al-Dana women’s center. In those moments, I felt my fear dissipate a bit when the young man from our colleagues approached us. I introduced myself, there was another woman colleague who was also traveling on the bus to join SCD in Al-Dana. And so they greeted us and gave us a ride to the accommodation that was designated to receive us by the SCD administration. I send my regards to them, the people who helped us. They made me feel a bit less alone
Al-Dana city is located in the northern regions of Syria. Before the uprising, it was a small village, but after the huge waves of displacements, it became a city hosting thousands of displaced people, people like me.
I found that this new place in the north that felt so foreign to me was not so different from my southern village after all. It was small, but busy. I met so many people and we shared our stories with each other. I told them about Al-Dana, about my mother and my aunts, and about the cows in the springtime. There were many people like me, people who were alone, starting over, beginning their life new from scratch. I discovered that many of my colleagues were also unable to bring their family members with them. Together, we built a community, and I found solace, hope, and love with a new family. I met and married a fellow Civil Defence Volunteer who had also been displaced, and we became each other’s lifelines.
Most of the time, it feels as though the world has abandoned the Syrian people, left them alone and forgotten. That is why I chose my humanitarian duty—the only choice I’ve felt I’ve ever had since the sky came crashing down—so that no Syrian ever has to feel alone the same way I was alone outside the bus station.