Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

No Happy Endings

Will my sad neighbour ever get to hold her children again?
By Lilas Hashem
  • Women learn how to read and write in a literacy course in Idlib's countryside. (Photo: IWPR)
    Women learn how to read and write in a literacy course in Idlib's countryside. (Photo: IWPR)

When I moved into my new home, my neighbour Hamsa, 26, came to visit. She told me the story of her life and I listened patiently to her tale of suffering.

After Hamsa failed her exams in the third grade, a young man named Amer proposed to her. Her family agreed and they got married six months later.

Amer had a job in a local concrete factory and the couple rented a small house. They had a simple life. Hamsa became pregnant with her first child and gave birth to a girl on January 28, 2010. She named her daughter Rayan. Then she gave birth to her second daughter, Rajaa, on March 20, 2011.

After the revolution began, their situation began to deteriorate. The concrete factory closed down, so they were forced to leave their home and move  to Amer’s parents house.

Hamsa didn’t complain because she wanted to stay with her daughters but she hated living with her parents-in-law.  

She decided to cheer herself up by restarting her baccalaureate studies, and also applied for an education ministry competition that could lead to employment.

She won the contest on March 26, 2013 and waited for a job. Having passed her baccalaureate, she also enrolled to study law in the following autumn but couldn’t complete her studies due to lack of money.

Her suffering truly began when her husband told her that he had joined the shabiha, or regime militia.  When Hamsa opposed him, he beat her and threatened to divorce her. But for the sake of her children, she felt she had to stay with him.

What comforted Hamsa was that she began working as a school assistant. She was managing the burden of the household and its expenses while her husband didn’t lift a finger.

This went on for two years. She had gone from a law school student to a simple school assistant.

Then the fight to liberate Idlib began. Hamsa was wracked with fear, because as the wife of a  shabiha member, what might happen to her and her children?

When the fighting intensified, Amer took his wife, children and parents to a basement in a secure area. They survived for three days with little food. The cellar was full of people from the shabiha and their families.

When the food began to run out, Hamsa looked for dry bread crumbs to moisten with water so as to feed her hungry children.

On March 28, 2015 – the day of Idlib’s liberation – Hamsa woke up but found herself alone with her daughters.  

Her husband had gone out on a shabiha mission and the other families in the basement had fled. Amer’s parents, who never liked Hamsa, had abandoned her.

A few hours later, a time which felt like an eternity, Amer came back and took Hamsa and his daughters through the shelling to the city of Jericho where they again found themselves amidst fighting and siege.

Hamsa had to sell her daughters’ earrings to buy food and phone credit to call her relatives. She learned that her family was in Aleppo at her sister Faten’s house, so she decided to take her husband and children there.

Since she didn’t have enough money to travel, Faten sent her 10,000 units of phone credit that she sold to pay for transport. Transport had become much more expensive because of the security situation.

However, worse was yet to come. After a while staying with Faten in Aleppo, Hamsa managed to find a room to rent with another family. Amer fell in with a gang and began smoking cannabis and taking drugs.

That was the final straw for Hamsa, especially after Amer began again to beat and humiliate her.

She asked for a divorce and Amer agreed, but he insisted on taking custody of their two daughters. It was Hamsa, in the end, who bore the punishment.

Hamsa went to live with her parents after they returned to Idlib.

Amer remained in the shabiha and married a woman who was also a pro-regime activist.

Hamsa learned a while ago that Amer was beating their daughters Rayan, now seven, and six-year-old Rajaa. He hit Rayan so badly that he broke her ribs and gave her concussion.

Then, because his new wife didn’t want his daughters around, he gave them to his parents to raise.  

My sad neighbour Hamsa doesn’t know if she will ever see her children again or get the chance to hold them in her arms.

Lilas Hachem, 31, is the mother of two boys and fled to Lebanon with her husband when regime forces entered Idlib. She returned eight months ago to the Idlib countryside and finally went back to her home when the city came under opposition control.