My Life Outside Syria: Diary Entry 74
Marah, a teenage girl from one of Syria’s besieged cities, recently arrived in Switzerland as a refugee, where she is struggling with her first pregnancy and the potential breakup of her family.
PEOPLE DIFFER IN their behavior, opinions and world views – and this is why societies differ from each other. We see, for example, that people living in rural areas are different from those living in urban areas. Beyond that, even though your neighbors might live in the same environment and the same community you do, and even if they follow the same social conventions you follow, it can sometimes seem that they live on a different planet. This means that individual differences are stronger than societal norms.
The environment in which I grew up is very different from the one my husband, Karam, experienced as a child. I had a loving family that included my wonderful parents and my great-grandparents. The love and harmony in which I lived strengthened my sense of family bonds – and in my current life, I miss my family’s traditions, like our gatherings and celebrations.
Despite the fact that we come from the same country, Karam grew up in an unstable family environment. His father and his mother were in constant conflict. While his father was highly educated, his mother did not possess the qualities to keep her family intact. This might be because she was very young when she married and she was uneducated. For this reason, Karam is not very close to his family.
His relationship with his mother is complex, and he sometimes blames her for his unhappy childhood and adolescence. The constant disputes between his parents were perhaps due to that educational gap. I am not sure of the reasons, but I know that his past environment still affects him today. The lack of love and stability in his childhood has made him determined to give his baby the best he can offer. He also openly asks me to follow in my mother’s steps, not his mother’s.
However, the lack of love during his childhood affects our relationship and sometimes puts us in challenging situations. He does not like it when I challenge his opinions, and he gets upset with things I do that I see as my natural rights. I always try to deal with these challenges wisely, because I know that he has a great heart.
If these differences exist within our society, how vast are differences between the East and the West? Day after day, I keep discovering how big the differences are. But are people different? Or have different traditions created this gap? Although men and women are equal in the East, and although women work just like men, men are the ones in charge of providing for the family financially. However, here in Europe, they both carry the same responsibility when it comes to financially providing for the family.
People here are very frank. If they like someone, they make it clear; and if they don’t, they make it clear as well – which, I believe, makes relationships transparent. In the East, on the other hand, the society is built on compliments and consideration. People have to be considerate of each other’s feelings and circumstances, even when they do not want to, which puts a lot of pressure on people. Social life here is limited. Most people spend their weekends at home, while in the Arab world people spend their days off outdoors or visiting friends and family.
Here, people want to eat healthy food, while all we in the East care about is how our food tastes. We spend a whole day preparing a dish that we consume in minutes. For this reason, elderly people here are healthier than those in our countries. We do not pay much attention to saving, while here money is treated with a great deal of concern.
Freedom here has no limits, as long as it does not affect others, while where I come from freedom is limited. As a woman from a society with its own traditions, conventions and religious standards, I do prefer some limitations on freedom. I believe that some limitations can sometimes reduce problems and prevent mistakes. Because of the many differences between the two places, I am not fully integrated within European society yet.
I believe that in some aspects, European society is better, but in others it is not. Each society has its own characteristics that carry on. I sometimes wish we could merge the two – that could make a balanced civilization. Although I know my dream is impossible, dreams provide me with strength and hope – not because they keep me away from reality, but because they provide me with some hope that the world can be a better place in the future.
With the differences between the two societies and the changes that have happened to my own body because of my pregnancy, I am altering. I have gained some weight, my clothes do not fit me anymore, and my features have changed a little. When I look in the mirror, I see a different-looking person, but I do know that I will go back to the way I looked before.
These changes to the way I look seem to make my husband very loving and protective. He cares a lot for me, and he does not even want me to do the easiest of housework. I love and enjoy his attention, and sometimes I think I pretend to be a little tired in order to get more of his attention, but I try to stop myself because I don’t want to act like a little child anymore. I want to be a real partner, and I have put a lot of effort into convincing him that I am a grown-up, that I am capable of making decisions and taking responsibility inside and outside of the house.
He understands the emotional and physical changes that I am going through, and he keeps encouraging me to continue with my studies. I think he encourages me because he also cares about his baby. He appreciates and values the importance of educated mothers. Despite the differences between us and his family, which can make life hard sometimes, we do get along very well. At the end of the day, differences are not bad – they provide our lives with texture and flavor. If all people were the same, life would be boring and we might have had more problems. This is what I believe for now, though my opinion, like everything else, could change with time.
Marah (a pen name) is a teenage girl who lived in one of Syria’s besieged neighborhoods before fleeing the country in 2016. She now lives in Switzerland.