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A stolen dream



By Marah Alnader.



All across the world, the sun rises with the hope of a new day and the promise of goodness. Everywhere except Bukamal, that is. One morning in April 2014, the sun rose on ISIS. They appeared in our city out of nowhere, leaving no corner unstained with blood, hiding the daylight with a dark cloud that rained ruin.


I was a second-year law student when ISIS invaded Bukamal. Studying law was something I had dreamt of for years. But when ISIS arrived, they forced their tyrannical laws on women, men and children alike with the intention to terrorise us all. You couldn’t escape the sight of blood. If those cold-hearted killers had any culture, it consisted of nothing more than destruction.


Thanks to their laws, the roads were blockaded and girls were denied an education. In their arrogance they ignored all rights, especially women’s rights, controlling when we could leave the house and forcing us to wear baggy black clothes that covered us from our heads and faces right down to our feet... As if living in an oppressive society with no social justice wasn’t enough for the women in my country.


Eventually I was forced to postpone my last year of university. ISIS stopped me every time I tried to travel to Aleppo for class. They said it was a “city of infidels”, which is what they called every place not under their control. I was racked with grief as exam season came and went and my male classmates moved on to the third year, then the fourth… Over the years, I kept on top of my studies as best as I could in the hope I’d eventually be able to reclaim my place in university that I had worked so hard for.


Then one day we decided to leave the city, hoping to live somewhere where we could breathe without bloodshed and tyranny. We packed our things; my small black suitcase held my books, my university ID card, some jewellery that I cherished because it was handmade in Bukamal, and a wristwatch belonging to my father.


It was a journey of death; a journey into the unknown. The car zigzagged as we drove, trying as much as possible to stay hidden from the terrorist organisation. At last, we arrived safely in Idlib.


It was 9 a.m. in the city that flew the flag of freedom. At the time, Idlib was not under ISIS nor Assad’s control, and its residents could live without constraints and fear. As I was getting ready to cross the Syria-Turkey border, my mobile rang.


“Marah, Marah, Marah…”


“What?” I replied.


“Marah... your house was bombed. The side facing the main road.” It was my neighbour from Bukamal.


I was distraught. That was the lawyer’s office I had hoped to open one day to fulfil my mother’s dream, may Allah protect her, and my father’s, God bless his soul. My father had been my strongest supporter ever since I’d started school; the dream in my mind was one he had created for me and that he, too, had hoped to see come true. He seemed to be thinking about that dream whenever he repeated his famous words to me: “I’m proud you’re my daughter. I’ll give you a room in our house for your lawyer’s office, and we’ll hang your name on the wall, and I’ll show you off to everyone.”


It pains me to say that my father’s time came too soon to see our dream come true. But before he left to meet his Maker, he asked my mother to promise to see it through, so he could rest assured about my future.


For a time, I could only weep. I lost all my ambition. But then I got back on my feet and told myself to carry on. Yes, I carried on. And now I am a graduate of the College of Law, Kahramanmaraş University in Turkey. I’ve learned enough about international law and human rights to hope that one day I can hold all those criminals accountable and drag them through the courts to prison to make them realise what it meant to steal my freedom and annihilate my dream.


It’s not easy to separate a person from their land. It’s like trying to separate the soul from the body. We carry within us beautiful memories of childhood, our homes and schools, our neighbours and relatives, and Eid celebrations in our family home. Memories those criminals stole from us.


I am not the only one who will do everything in my ability to hold harbingers of doom responsible for that dark time when they ruled over us. When that day comes, we will all get a little of the justice that we deserve.


By Marah Alnader.



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