Queens of Syria: The Royalty of Bravery
Guest post by Eliana Reeves (intern at Counterpoints Arts), written post Refugee Week.
“Oh, my sorrows! I am so unhappy… I shall leave as my city turns to dust.” The women stand in rows with their hands covering their mouths, their voices ringing through the performance hall. There is nothing but three benches, a screen, a microphone, and twenty-five Syrian refugees who have relocated to Amman, Jordan. Clothed in black hijabs and niqabs, they gaze at the audience with piercing eyes as they tell the tale of Troy and of the women left behind in the aftermath of the destruction of the city.
This is a pivotal moment. They’ve rehearsed for seven weeks, and as they did, their numbers dwindled from fifty to forty to thirty to the ones on stage now. Each have contributed their stories, their hardships, their most intimate feelings of fear, loss, and hope and together have found a way to share it with others.
Many have lost close family members. Some have lost siblings, others parents, others children. Many have seen those family members shot in front of them, or have knelt beside their corpses. All have witnessed the murder of the only home they ever had. One woman, Suad, explains that she spent five years renovating her house with her husband, and that they had to flee before they got a chance to live in it. It is now almost certainly rubble. She still thinks about the memories they could have created in it. She now has almost nothing to give to her three young children.
There is an unspoken bond between these women despite them being strangers before the beginning of this process. As they map out the places they have been since war broke out and the people and items they were able to take with them, they stop often and bless those who did not make it as far as they did. Hearing their pasts and learning their history, it is terrifying to think that they believe they are the lucky ones. All of them are nervous about the repercussions of this project; at first, they are hesitant to open up about their ordeals. But as time passes, they begin to find solace in a group of people with common experiences.
Most women bravely chose to show their faces and their names, despite the consequences of being tied to a film that clearly portrays the horrors of their country under president Bashar al-Assad. Some who chose to remain anonymous wish to return to Syria to find their loved ones.
One exercise the women partook in was a debate about the value of love versus money. All wanted to believe that love was more important, but all agreed that money has become the most vital thing to them. They need to support their children and provide a roof and food, and love does not supply any of these. One woman concluded that they had “forgotten love because of the pressures in [their] lives.” Love does not keep you living – funds do.
But perhaps as painful as their loss of life and financial security is their loss of future. Every woman had a plan and a dream whilst living in Syria. Now they cannot afford to look anywhere beyond the coming day. Fatima wanted to be the queen of her household, but she had to leave everything she owned. Maha was attending school regularly, but she had to give up her goal of completing her education in order to take care of her children in their new environment. Suad always wanted to become an actress – now she finally has the chance to, but at the cost of the demolition of her homeland.
These women do not deserve their fate. They were caught in the crosshairs of a war fought amongst men, and their lives have become collateral damage in a crisis they did not take part in creating. Each carry burdens they did not earn and death they could not control, and each are desperately trying to piece together the little fragments remaining of their lives before. And yet, they stand on an empty stage having put in hours upon hours of work from which they get no benefit except the exposition of their trauma. They choose to reveal themselves, to share the darkest moments of their lives, to try something new despite the drastic changes they have had to undertake.
That choice, for each and every woman, is a miracle.
They are perhaps more courageous than the men on the front lines of the conflict. They are the ones holding together their families and caring for the next generation who will grow up nationless and attuned to violence. They are the ones putting food on the table and moving from house to house to house and they decide, again and again, to unlock their private lives.
“Troy is but a smoking city… The sacred groves are desolate, and the sanctuaries of the gods are awash with blood.” One day, these women yearn to return to the home in which they grew up, to rebuild their houses brick by brick, to walk down the streets of their neighbourhoods instead of running, to give a life to their children without fear. But for now, they patch together as much comfort as they can find, and wait for the day the dust in Troy settles.