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The Two Faces of the Sea

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Mar 08, 2016 / 0 Comments
   
“The Mirror”, Artwork by Syrian Filmmaker & Visual Artist Ammar Al-Beik, 140x110cm, "Lost Images Series", 2013.

For the past five years, the sea – a small three letter word– has delivered more than its share of pain to Syrians. But two Syrian women, ‘Om Mohammed’ and ‘Om Issa,’ had not planned for this fateful encounter with the water. Om Mohammad was fleeing the inferno of barrel bombs that were dropped on Darayya, a suburb of Damascus. Meanwhile Om Issa was fleeing her homeland to protect her son after government security services began tracking him in order to force him to serve in the regime’s military.

 

There is no place left in the country for mothers or their sons.

 

Om Mohammed and Om Issa met on a dark and desolate shore of the Aegean Sea. Led there by a stranger, accompanied by their sons, they were going to attempt the strange journey to the opposite shore. The sea and the traffickers are also dictators oppressing Syrian mothers and their children.

 

Onboard a flimsy rubber dinghy, 100 hundred hands, big and small, kept their 500 fingers intertwined in desperate prayer, but their prayers were not enough to persuade the sea to forgive them and release its hold on the decrepit boat. Soon enough, it became apparent that the life jackets the passengers were wearing were fakes, filled with sponge. And the sea water absorbed by the kids’ life jackets was salty and heavy, very heavy…

 

 

After the boat capsized and dumped them all into the sea, Om Mohammed and Om Issa had to keep their children near them and try to pull the younger children to the surface. Gasping, the mothers explained to the children that the kind and generous sea exists only in schoolbooks; the sea has another face that is greedy and selfish and treacherous.

 

For over 40 years, the women had mastered the art of handling water in their everyday lives. They had cleaned their homes and bathed their children with it. But this salty water  they did not understand, and were unable to swim in the blind and raging sea. And for an hour that stretched on longer than any normal hour, they cried tears saltier than the sea water and continued to gasp and count the children, until suddenly the sea changed its mood and calmed down, and everyone floated to the surface, alive. After a short while Om Mohammad, Om Issa, and all their children landed on the shores of Greece. And on that day, life began anew…

 

I am from a country where fate may intervene to rescue women or to guarantee their murder. I am from a country ruled by mood and madness, where a meddlesome fate spares some women their physical, spiritual, and intellectual death, while allowing many others to be crushed by barriers, wars, prisons, and extremism. I am from a country where women’s lives depend on the whims of the prevailing mood.

 

Women may be oppressed, but they will not be defeated.

 

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, about an old man who wanted to celebrate catching a giant marlin. On the way home, his catch was devoured by a group of sharks circling his boat. Even so, in the end he had succeeded in catching the fish.

 

Who today celebrates  the women who conquer the desert and the sea to deliver the promise of a brighter future for their sons and daughters? Who writes about their flight from countries ruled by dictators and repressive societies? Oppressive regimes that have been violating women for 40 years, using them as décor at  their government agencies and selling their images in the media, trying to convince the world with their empty slogans and meaningless sermons?

 

For at least 40 years women have been repressed and marginalized in Syria and in its neighboring countries, where women are deemed unable to make decisions for themselves. That is why, except for a few token women’s organizations, society has not been prepared to accommodate an active role for women. As a result, society has been limping on one leg, after it had shot the other. And at the first challenge, it fell flat on its face.

 

On International Women’s Day, I can’t help but think of the story of Om Mohammed and Om Issa, as it reveals the defects of our society and the untold repression it harbors, bitter, salty, and suffocating.

 

I can’t help but think of the sea as a bridge between two kinds of lives: one meaningless and one meaningful. I can’t help but think of the injustice imposed on men, women, and children from every segment of society by repressive authorities who have long denied them any freedom or room to breathe. If there is anything we can do to ensure that, 40 years from now, we do not see another wave of women battling the sea, facing death, and seeing their lives controlled by fate, I see nothing more important than continuing the fight to protect our freedom of choice.

 

Women must not be prevented from choosing the life that they see fit. As no one can enjoy freedom of choice amidst tyrannical repression, let us stand together against repression. All the deserts of political, social, and economic systems that support repression must be drowned.

 

May the women of my country be blessed.

May all women who fight against the ugliness of this world be blessed.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Center for Mediterranean Integration or any of the Center’s members and partners.

 

The article was published in collaboration with the World Bank MENA blog.

Caroline Ayoub

Caroline Ayoub is a Syrian refugee living in Marseille, France. She is  co-founder and project manager at SouriaLi Radio. Caroline has a Master’s degree from the School of Law and Political Science at Aix-Marseille University, Human Rights and Human Action Department.

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