Updated: Oct 30, 2019
“My writing will not change the results of the fighting or stop the bombs falling on our cities” – says Sandra who lives in Damascus, Syria. What can writing about war change? A lot.
It can even become a form of therapy.
That was my last evening in Syria. The next morning the driver would take me back in the direction of the Lebanese border. We were sitting in a café and Sandra was finishing her coffee. She was exhausted. Her kids were sitting right next to her talking about what happened in school and laughing while dipping their fries in ketchup. “The worst moment of my day is when I know the kids are coming back from school” – Sandra said. – “I can never be sure if they come back” – she added.Everyday apart from raising two of the sweetest kids, Sandra is taking care that the world knows what the situation in humanitarian aid in Syria is like. She is working with media, and improving communication by helping teams in one of the most sufficient humanitarian organisations in the region. But the fact that she is doing everything possible to help others doesn’t make her automatically immune to the same problems everybody has during that time in the country. And that is especially because she lives in the eye of the cyclone of the Syrian war.“Around the house, we really need to be careful of what we say and how we comment on the situation in our country” – said Sandra. And she did not mean that there is a growing atmosphere of distrust nor that there is fear of secret service infiltrating the society, following people around and listening to their conversations. “The children, they hear everything. Consciously or subconsciously they can fell what is going on – all the stress and fear or the changed tone of your voice. Before you know it you can see that they are the most affected by the situation” – Sandra added.
Children are like little sponges – they perfectly absorb the atmosphere of uncertainty. Later the stress they accumulate inside their little bodies can be noticed in the painfully straightforward questions they suddenly start asking, in their play or their drawings.Sandra told me that once during a class at school kids was asked to draw a thing they are most afraid of. Their school desks were suddenly filled with sheets of paper on which snakes and hairy spiders were crawling right next to armed men with beards shooting guns at people covered in blood. Even the children who never saw the war from a close distance felt it in the air and through their drawings, they started to throw out of themselves images of fear they took from their parents, teacher and news reporters.The conclusion Sandra made from this experience was simple. If you want to get rid of the war fears from your children’s heads, you need to deal with the fears you have in your own head first. That is why she started to look for mechanisms, which would help her throw away from her head at least some of those bombs, planes and the propaganda that is constantly present in the news and in the reality of Syria’s capital.The problem is though that people in Syria become more and more lonely these days. Friends and family pass away as a result of numerous attacks, they run away to other cities or are displaced all over the world. It is getting more and more difficult to trust somebody and open up your heart to someone. Very few people in Damascus can afford a visit at a therapist office. The demand for psychological help in the country is so big that the few offices left in the biggest cities are really struggling to accept if only the patients who are in the biggest need for help.
But Sandra found another way to get rid of the monsters of war from her head. And through that, she rediscovered something that helped her to find people who felt and thought in a similar way. Every once in a few days she posts her reflections about people she has met and situations she has been through on a Facebook profile she created. More than one thousand people now follow the profile.Sandra writes also on the exercises she is making with her children before going to bed to help them forget that they are surrounded by pictures and words of war. Her writing became a type of therapy and it helps to deal with sad and tragic everyday events. Although she writes her posts in Arabic thanks to Facebook translating tools people can follow her profile even if they don’t understand her language.In one of her first posts, which she published on the profile she wrote a poem that started with the following words: “It is a blessing for me that I can stay in this tired country, tired just the same way like I am.” Sandra defeats the feeling of exhaustion and fear of war with its own weapon – she changes the fear into beautiful although sometimes deeply sad stories of solidarity in everyday struggle. In one of her last posts, she wrote: “I understood that we are all at the same war, we live through one same story of hope and hopelessness, optimism and pessimism, joy and sadness.”On that last day I spend in Syria she said: “My writing does not change the war nor stop the bombs.” What does it do then? It can release people from a claustrophobic, small room full of fear and help in reaching out to someone who might be far away but feeling the same thing while sitting in front of the computer screen. Someone who goes through the same story as her – a story of hope and hopelessness, optimism and pessimism, joy and sadness.
Follow Sandra and her moving letters from Syria on the Facebook profile: http://bit.ly/2sWWyhy.
Anna Wilczyńska Arabist, publicist, Arabic language interpreter, author of the islamistablog.pl .Travels regularly to the Middle East, visited war-torn Syria in 2017. Works in legal aid centre in Krakow assisting asylum seekers and refugees in Poland.