The Cheeriest of Warriors

Saturday July 5, 2014

My first weekend in Amman was spent getting to know the patients at the centre. We had iftar with the girls on the 2nd floor, and as they became more comfortable with us started opening up more.

There are three young girls on the second floor: Youmna, Safaa, and Warda. Youmna is 5 years old and absolutely adorable. If a bunny had a voice, it would speak like Youmna (and say “Sarah spin me, spin me!” over and over), and have the dimples to match. Safaa and Warda are sisters (age 5 and 9) and are night and day. Where Warda is loud and energetic, and fond of hugs and kisses, Safaa is much more reserved. Once Safaa gets to know you though, she will insist on sitting on your lap and being carried with you wherever you go.

Then there are the three teenagers: Rama, Bara’a, and Fatima. Rama is 21, has been married 3 years, and is pregnant. Her husband is named Fahadi and she’s constantly on the phone talking to or texting him. Bara’a is rather shy, though once she opened up she took me around the house and taught me the names of everything from fan (marwaha) to eyelashes (irmoosh). Fatima was the first girl I met, and within 5 minutes of meeting her insisted I dance with her. I wasn’t sure if I should at first – Fatima is one of the only ones not an amputee or in a wheelchair, and I didn’t want to make the other girls upset. Yet she insisted, and Bara’a DJ’ed while Sherin and I danced with Fatima. Soon Safaa and Youmna joined us and hopped around dancing to Nancy Ajram.

There are 8 women as well, though most of them keep to themselves. Soumayya has her 1 year old son living with her, and I swear I’ve never seen a baby smile as much as baby Fahad. A new patient came to stay at the centre named Kahart AlAsad, a Kurdish woman from Afreen, who studied in Dara’a. As she told us her story, Sherin and I sat in stunned silence. She was the commander of an all male battalion in the Free Syrian Army, and had been shot by a sniper from Assad’s army. She was at the centre under an alias for a week to heal before leaving to be snuck back across the border to stay with her family in Afreen.

“How come you joined the army? Wasn’t it shameful for you to be fighting as a woman?”
“Yes of course. But I don’t care, let them talk. I know what I have to do and I know what I’m doing is for the good, Allah knows my heart let him, not them, judge me.”
“Did your husband support your decision?”
“At first no. He said he didn’t want me out fighting, it wasn’t safe. But I was determined. Every day I trained with the men, like the men, for hours in the cold, heat, and rain. Finally he said ‘okay, okay, you’re serious, you can do this.’ Syria must know that women are strong, we are fighters, we are able. I went up the ranks and became commander.”

She showed us pictures of her battalion, her four sons, and videos of her interviews with Al Jazeera. She warm eyes, the kind that seem to smile when they twinkle, and seemed happy to have someone to listen to her. When we asked to take a picture with her, she happily agreed. She hobbled to her room, put on her battalion jacket, Free Syrian Army scarf, and held up the peace sign insisting we do the same. “This is all we want – peace. And…no more Assad!”

Of the men downstairs, with the exception of a few refugees who were volunteering at the centre, and a few of the younger boys who had been injured as civilians, most had been fighters from Dara’a, Aleppo, and Homs. The centre, since it is so conservative, prefers we spend our time with the women though we eat sohoor and sometimes iftar with the men downstairs. They laugh and joke, and even though I don’t always understand the jokes (and no doubt some are about Sherin and I) their lively spirits are contagious.

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