She’s not actually Syrian and, for that matter, she doesn’t even live in Syria. But she was born and raised in Syria so I think she counts.
I met her on a taxi and that taxi ride changed my life. After I had been in the Middle East for a while, I decided it was time to figure out what the big deal about Ramadan was, so one year I did the Ramadan fast. No food or drink from sun-up to sun-down each day for a month. (I confess that it was winter so the days were short-ish and I wasn’t too thirsty. I don’t know if I could do it this year, when Ramadan falls in a July!) So one weekend during Ramadan I went out of town to visit friends. In the Middle East one of the most common forms of inter-municipal travel is shared taxis, where you pay per seat in the taxi. Once all the seats have been sold, the taxi heads off for the destination city. So I was taking the taxi back home after my weekend away, during Ramadan, and she was another one of the passengers.
Not very many foreigners fast during Ramadan, so I suppose I was a very interesting person to talk to on that particular taxi ride. She sure seemed to think so. She and I bonded as she asked me why I was fasting and what I thought about it, then what had brought me to Syria and what I thought about it. Then she told me about her family, her siblings and her parents. They are Palestinian but have been living in Syria since the establishment of the state of Israel when her father had to leave his home in 1948. He was a young boy at the time. He married a Syrian woman and have lived in Syria ever since. Even so, no Palestinians have been able to return home, though.
My new friend was the oldest among her sisters, but her brothers were older. A man from a neighbouring country had seen her at a wedding or some such event, fallen in love, and asked for her hand in marriage. He was from a good family, so her parents agreed. They wed and she left the home and the city where she’d lived her whole life to move in with her new husband, a man she hardly knew and whose family barely knew her.
Now she was on a taxi home. She was going to spend the last two weeks of the month of Ramadan and then the big holiday that celebrated the end of fasting, with her family. Her husband’s younger brother was accompanying her as it would be inappropriate for her to travel alone. She’d been married all of 5 months at this point, and I jokingly asked her if she was getting pregnant anytime soon. She told me she was already 5 months pregnant!
I love this friend of mine, who I’ll call Mara here. Mara is vibrant, vivacious, and everything in life is a joke for her – but in the good way. She told me she was rebellious before she got married. She had a job outside the home and refused to cover her head. But her father insisted that she behave more properly and so she did. She told me that she’d call me to visit her family during the holiday and I gave her my number, not expecting her to call. But she did. I went to their house and got lost on the way so never made it, but we tried again and I eventually did meet her family, who have since adopted me as one of their own.
She and her sisters tease me about how I got lost that day. They tease me about how much I love the way the second-youngest sister makes tea. Mara’s youngest sister jokes that she wants to sleep next to me every night because she’s my favourite. Mara went back home after the holiday, but her family kept in touch and have to this day.
But Mara also makes me sad. I visited her in her husband’s home once and I don’t know if she’s happy. She misses her family very much, she misses Syria very much. She has two gorgeous children and she loves them dearly, but everyone seems happiest when she’s with her sisters and her brothers and her parents, back in Syria.