Mother and child in the Zaatari Refugee camp, Jordan. Photo: Mohamed Azakir / World Bank
The Arab world celebrated Mother’s Day on Monday, March 21st. In Syria, Egypt, the Gulf, Jordan, Palestine, Libya and Sudan, mothers were cherished and showered with love and gifts. The date also coincides with the beginning of spring.
But for the past four years in Syria, Mother’s Day has coincided with the anniversary of the Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011. Everything has changed since then; even the mothers themselves have changed. Since the Syrian uprising, the role of Syrian mothers – the hardest workers, the greatest of multitaskers – has grown ten-fold.
But for me and the people in my town of Moadamiyeh, Mother’s Day has yet another meaning. The first demonstration in Moadamiyeh was on Mother’s Day in 2011. I still remember every single detail about that day. We cooked and prepared a cake for my mother. All of my brothers and sisters-in-law were at our house.
The town hall is only 150 meters (500 feet) from our house. As we celebrated with my mother, we heard noises outside. From the window, we saw a crowd gathering in front of the town hall just down the road. It was something completely unusual, and it didn’t take long before the regime’s forces began to beat the demonstrators, arresting dozens of people, dragging them away. We watched as they grabbed my cousin on the street. The quiet 16-year-old was simply passing through on the way to our house. He was not even involved – he was there by chance. We watched helplessly as they arrested him. We couldn’t defend him. Our blood went cold in fear and shock.
We came back inside to find the luxurious feast we had prepared in celebration of Mother’s Day still there on the table. Our faces were yellow, but my mom was angrier than all of us. My cousin had lost his mother years before, and she was overwhelmed with worry. She asked me and my sisters-in-law to clear the table. Nobody wanted to eat anything. We never celebrated that day.
By the next year, the general situation in Syria had greatly deteriorated. The number of martyrs and detainees in Moadamiyeh increased. A group of friends and I decided to organize a visit to the families of the martyrs and detainees for Mother’s Day. We asked a group of children in Moadamiyeh to create paintings for the mothers. But as we were preparing for the event at my friend’s house, I received a call from my mother. She was angry and asked me to come home immediately.
My sister-in-law had gone into labor. The house was in chaos. My mother needed me to take care of my nephew and niece while she went to the hospital. That day, my sister-in-law gave birth to a lovely baby boy whom they named Mohamad Khair. Everybody told my sister-in-law Mariam that Mohamad was the best Mother’s Day present a mother could ask for.
Four years later, on Mother’s Day 2016, little Mohamad Khair no longer has a mother. His mother, father and brother were killed together when a mortar shell hit their home in August 2013. Mohamad celebrated his fourth birthday with my father and mother in besieged Moadamiyeh. March has come and gone five times, and every year it seems things are getting worse in Syria.
There are dozens and dozens of sad stories to remember on this day. And while Syrian women, and mothers in particular, have taken on new familial roles over the past five years – a fact certainly worth honoring – celebrating this day is hard when so many mothers have lost their children and so many children have lost their mothers.
Miram, 11, front right, was eating breakfast in her home in Syria, when a bomb fell on the kitchen and killed her mother. She was brought to her brother’s family outside of Beirut, where she now lives with her cousins, brother and his wife. UNHCR/E.Dorfman
Rihab and her children in their apartment in Qobayat, Lebanon, stand around an empty chair, cloaked with their father’s robe. He was killed when a shell hit their neighborhood in Homs, Syria.UNHCR/E.Dorfman
But despite the sadness, Syrian mothers should be proud. It’s not really a celebration, but all the Syrian mothers deserve appreciation for the support and strength they’ve provided over the past five years. Syrian mothers should smile.