Not long ago, I was shrouded in darkness. Then I saw a light at the end of the tunnel: I passed my government exams and graduated from high school. This was the moment I had always dreamed of and had fought hard for. My heart skipped a beat, my emotions ran wild, I felt like my joy was too great to be contained by the world itself. I had a new lease on life!

Now, I embark on a new journey: I have left al-Ghouta, my war-besieged hometown, and enrolled at a university in Damascus, our capitol, to continue my education. I feel more mature and aware. That might sound silly, but I truly feel like earning my high school degree has changed me. I feel like a new person, on the threshold of a new life, after having weathered so much suffering. I will open the door to this next phase with strong arms and a steady heart. I will try my best to live up to this dream that for so long seemed impossible to attain. In spite of the rigid educational system here, which dictates what you can and can’t study according to your grades, I will find a way to study a subject I love. I am well aware that this is but the beginning, but I am certain of the importance of this first step.

I called my mother in al-Ghouta to tell her the news. Her trembling voice revealed her happiness as she congratulated me. She asked me to share the story of my success with my two sisters. They had left al-Ghouta a month earlier and moved in with our great-uncle in al-Tal, an area far from the capital. My mother stayed behind, as leaving the city requires a lot of money and even more paperwork, neither of which she has finished putting together. I heeded my mother’s advice and went to pay my sisters a visit, crossing many checkpoints on the way. We spent a happy, joyous evening together—the kind of night I haven’t had in way too long.

But it seems all our fun had angered the fates, because the next morning al-Tal was hit by heavy shelling. The city went on lockdown; no one was allowed to leave. I spent two days locked up in my great-uncle’s house, filled with a terror that has become all too familiar to me. It’s unbelievable how this quiet city turned into a battleground the moment I arrived!

I wonder why we are denied joy. Will I never be allowed to feel real happiness again? I don’t know what happened or what will happen, but I know that I am stronger than I used to be, and I will overcome all obstacles to live in a new world—one I will create for myself. ♦

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.