A tale told by Hayat

This is the harrowing tale of a woman called Hayat who comes from Zebdeen a village in the Ghouta of Damascus. Hayat is an educator and this is her passion. From a young age she started working in a kindergarten and after completing her education she became a full time teacher there and then a headmistress.

Hayat wears a headscarf and lives in an ultra conservative society, yet she is very secular. She believes in education for girls strongly-that girls should be independent and shrug off the yoke of subordination. Hayat was given her own fair chance in life by another woman who saw her potential and urged her to continue her education.

In 2013 things in Zebdeen got strangely sinister. There were demonstrations in the streets that quickly turned ugly with the appearance of armed men-men whom Hayat could not identify for they were mainly strangers to the village-they had infiltrated through from Douma and there was a foreign presence as well. A heavily bearded man who spoke in a strange dialect and whose name was Abu Abdel Rahman. Hayat found out later that he was Tunisian and from there had travelled to the land of Syria to "cleanse" it from sinners. Very few men from Zebdeen carried arms and those who did were attracted more to the image of the fighter rather than the actual narrative behind the image "For those who carried arms, there was plenty of money- all of it coming from Qatar", comments Hayat.

Soon these men noticed Hayat and the school Hayat worked at and they began making demands. Many things had to change they told her otherwise they would close the school down. Early morning salutation of the flag was banned-unless she changed the flag and that was unnegotiable for Hayat. Social studies was also forbidden from schools. The reason was that social studies covered topics pertaining to the unity and sovereignty of Syria. This went against their understanding of an Islamic Umma that united Moslems worldwide.  Then came the big surprise!! Physics too was banned!! That was because of the definition and description of energy. Energy was described as "it can neither be created nor destroyed but only changes from one form to another" These qualities they argued were unique to God only. God only is the creator and the destroyer. This particular definition was considered blasphemous and Hayat to avoid trouble skipped over the lesson entitled energy.

Things gradually got worse towards the summer of 2014 when exams where due. Hayat was given the job of being a liaison officer between the Syrian Ministry of Education and the terrorists controlling Zebdeen. These where no exam centers in Zebdeen and Hayat had to arrange for students to leave Zebdeen and enter the government controlled area.

With difficulty it was arranged and Hayat had to leave with her students and reside outside Zebdeen the whole duration of the exam period. A school "Zahi Sameen" was provided by the government which Hayat quickly turned into a boarding house. In glowing terms Hayat speaks of the Red Crescent and how they provided food and useful items like sheets and cushions for the school students for the whole month or so of their stay.

Each journey Hayat undertook with her students was more horrendous and more hazardous then the one before-until the final one – when she was caught.

It was the summer of 2014 and there were three school buses on their way out of Zebdeen towards the exam center. The checkpoint monitored by armed men stopped the buses and everyone was thoroughly searched including Hayat.

In her handbag they found her mobile with her list of contacts some of whom were government officials. They also found her voting pass showing she had voted for the president and that produced great wrath and Hayat was arrested.

She was taken to the interrogation room and kept there for nine  hours. There, the Tunisian Abu Abdel Rahman, was in charge and his first question was to ask her why she had voted for president Assad and why she was in touch with government officials. Nothing that Hayat answered could assuage his anger and she was ordered one hundred lashes and summoned to "Majles Al Tobah" which roughly translates into English as the council of penance, but Hayat was a woman of substance and the people of Zebdeen loved and respected her. She was a mother figure there. The idea that she would be lashed one hundred times was abhorrent to many and they started gathering up in their tens to march to the interrogation center and demand her release. Wishing to avoid trouble and having no real backup Hayat was released and on that night she took the decision to escape from Zebdeen. The teachers in her school smuggled her out of Zebdeen. She left her husband there but took her two young boys with her. Her first stop was at Douma, in a safe house.

For Hayat the transfer from Zebdeen to Douma was like travelling to Paris. In Douma everything was found and they didn't believe in rationing anything. There were "rivers of money" says Hayat and an abundance of everything. Women there wore full make up and had tattoos done on their eyebrows. Hayat stops her tale there and comments "When they finally came out after the liberation of the whole area from terrorists, we could tell the women who came from Douma apart- they were the fatter ones, the healthier ones. The ones who weren’t bowed down with grief and hunger.

 Qatari money had burned their lands but had kept them in glowing health."                     

 Later on she made her way to government held areas where she became an activists talking regularly about life for women under Jabhet Al Nusra. Sadly, Jabhet Al Nusra never left her alone even after she had escaped them. One day as she was working in Jeramanah she heard the sound of a mortar falling nearby. Her heart stopped and she ran out looking for her two sons. The mortar had fallen on Seyouf Square in Jaramanah. Both her boys were there in the park nearby playing on swings and that is how her eldest died -  as  he was pushing his brother on a swing (had he lived he would have turned fourteen in twelve days). Her other son was also injured. Like a horror story Hayat rushed from morgue to hospital, burying one and nursing the other. She never told her husband of the death of his son and he never found out because he too died when a mine exploded under him.

Today Hayat has returned to her house which had been rubbed by AlNusra. Her sister has given her, her children's bedroom with two beds and two wardrobes. Her remaining son keeps on remembering that had his brother lived he would have taken one of the beds and one of the wardrobes.

When I met Hayat last week she had stopped crying. Everything in her had dried up except her solid determination to continue her work as an educator and to give other girls a chance in life like she herself had once been given.


Reem Haddad

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.