Marah

This is my life
Life is beautiful
Life is a song
The days of our life are sweet.

Those are the lyrics to an old song my mother keeps singing to keep our spirits up. But things are getting worse for us every day.

Now that it’s spring, I wake up every morning and the sun is shining, and it gives me hope. I go to school in a building under what used to be a playground and hear sad updates from my friends. After school, I go home and help my busy mother with her chores. Then she, my brother, and I sit and eat together. That part is wonderful. We talk, we share, and sometimes, like any other family, we argue. After we eat, it’s time for homework. I study for two or three hours, but to be honest, I usually can’t focus very well and I end up on my cellphone, texting friends and relatives.

My phone is my only line of communication with the world outside my small town. I think my mother sometimes wishes my phone would crash or that the network would be shut down. She blames the phone for my mood swings. Whenever a friend who lives outside the war zone mentions that she is shopping (one of my favorite activities in my pre-war life) or eating at a restaurant or sitting in a park or studying at a university, I get angry, because I’m stuck here and can’t do any of those things. And when I get angry, I tend to take it out on my mom.

She still hasn’t threatened to take away my phone, though. She understands that with no electricity, no TV, and no computer, my cellphone is my only means of escaping our awful circumstances. Sometimes the network is cut off for hours or days, and during that whole period, I feel totally empty.

My mother has been bringing me books borrowed from the library. The last one was a biography of Helen Keller. I think she wanted me to be inspired by Helen, who continued her life and her studies despite being deaf and blind. But I no longer believe in words. I believe only in what I see around me, a reality that no words can describe.

You might think I’m exaggerating how terrible things are here. But believe me, the reality is even worse than what I’m telling you. The only thing that pulls me out of my despair is playing with my mother’s first-graders. She teaches physical education, and she lets me into their class sometimes. When I hear them laughing, I feel like I’m six years old again. Losing this spot of joy in my life is the main reason I don’t want the school year to end. Summer vacation means hanging out with the few friends who are still around, just repeating the same depressing stories over and over.

So, this is how I spend my days. When night falls, darkness covers everything and the only light comes from melting candles. I can’t study at night even if I want to, because there is no electricity. I spend some time staring at my phone, and then I try to sleep.

My thoughts besiege me at night. I miss the people who’ve left town, and I wonder about our future. I hope that when I finally graduate from high school, I will live a life that’s useful. I will work hard on that. I want to start a new life and have a career. I try hard to convince myself that life goes on and that it might smile on me again. ♦

Marah’s diary is produced in collaboration with Syria Deeply, a digital news outlet covering the Syrian crisis. It was translated from the Arabic by Mais Istanbelli.