“Leave, because we won’t be able to protect you”

Faihaa tells me what it’s like to be a Syrian girl in these turbulent times

Faihaa at our volunteering event last week

I met her at a student-volunteering event this weekend. She introduced herself with a vibrant spark in her eyes, and fell into step beside me as we walked to our volunteering site.

We exchanged pleasantries and she mentioned that though she was Syrian, she had just flown in from Egypt. Curiosity got the better of me, and I couldn’t help but ask her about the situation there.

“I love my country, but there is a war going on. I miss the way it used to be before.”

She spoke of times when her life sounded just like mine — she was a well-educated girl with a stable job, two siblings who she loved dearly, and old parents who were proud of her and everything she had achieved. She even fell in love with a man, a German-Syrian mix, and they were engaged to get married. It was around that time that the civil unrest began.

“He wanted to escape to Germany, and he wanted to marry me and take me with him. But I loved Syria. I didn’t want to leave my country for a man. So I told him to go without me. Obviously the engagement broke off.”

Soon after that, the company she worked with had to shut down because of the political crisis. But that didn’t stop her from volunteering with local NGOs to help war-torn victims and refugees. She just wanted to do whatever it took to help her fellow countrymen and women find stability in what was fast becoming an extremely hostile environment. Which is why, when her employers called her to tell her they had an opening in their Egypt office, she hesitated to take it.

“I didn’t want to leave my parents and siblings behind, but my mother and father said to me: ‘Faihaa, you must go. We do not have enough to protect you here. And Syria is no longer safe for a woman like you.’ It’s ironic, because I could have moved a year earlier and been in Germany by now.”

But Faihaa’s determination to make a difference to her country did not wane. She took the job in Egypt and simultaneously started applying to colleges in London for a Masters degree in politics. In fact, when she said politics, she quickly picked up the fleeting hint of surprise in my expression, and she laughed.

“You wonder why I say politics? Because my country is in a mess. The government plays dirty games, and the only way to change that is to be one of them and beat them at their own game.”

What argument could I possibly have to that? And just as I recovered from the passion in her voice, it fell to a more wistful tone as she confessed that she had left behind another lover in Egypt to come follow her dreams in England. Will she ever see him again? She hopes so. But will she be able to? She isn’t sure. Because her situation stands as follows: she left Syria for Egypt, and Egypt for the UK. But now, both Syria and Egypt need visas for her reentry — something she knows she probably won’t be granted.

“But I know Allah has a plan for me. I’m going to wait and watch,” Faihaa says with a knowing smile and a twinkle in her eye, as we merge into the crowd at the volunteering centre.

She’s been in my prayers every night since.

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