As part of Syria Deeply's ongoing effort to highlight civilian stories, below is a conversation with Maha, a 28-year-old widow from Aleppo. Like one of thousands of young Syrian women, she has been living in Gaziantep since the death of her husband early last year. Beyond the violence, she says the memories make it hard for her to return home.
My husband was a peaceful activist. We were married in Aleppo on Oct 22. 2012, and our life was lived mostly in Aleppo. We met on the Internet. [Laughs.] We started talking and realized we were born in the same area and we both had the same interests. So we kept talking for four months. Then we met in person and we fell in love.
His name was Mustafa. He studied English literature, and at the time we met he was working for an export-import company. I was a fourth year in college.
How did he die? We were at a demonstration in Bustan al Qasr, and at the end of the demonstration, we were exposed to shelling. We had gone there for a project. We had started a community cleaning campaign -- it's an [opposition-held] area, there's no government at work there. So we wanted to create an initiative to clean it. In the future, we had planned to open a school for children there. So we went to Bustan al Qasr that day to advertise the projects and to invite families to send their children to our school.
After it happened, some people sympathized a lot with me as a widow, saying that your husband died in the revolution, he's a hero. You feel that there are eyes watching every move in your life and what you'll do. It's hard. Sometimes you just want to feel your sorrow as you want and live as you want.
Money is an issue now. It's a big issue for Syrians in general. Most of us have left our homes and jobs. You feel insecure now in many ways. After Mustafa died, I moved to Turkey. I was alone. My family was still in Syria. The first four months I suffered from money issues. Well, I suffered from everything, but money was [major.] I didn't feel at that time [of grief] that I could work. My sister helped me, and I had a little financial help from a friend as well. Five months after I moved, I was able to start working.
When he died I felt I had to just leave. The first thing I was thinking was that I had to leave my home. When I first visited our home in Aleppo after the death, I couldn't handle it. I started screaming. I couldn't handle being there without him. I went to my parent's home in Damascus for two weeks. At that time, a lot of people were talking about him and me and how he died -- about how he had been peaceful and about his wife and his principles. People talked about it on Facebook and on opposition TV. I began to be known, and being known is something that makes it dangerous to stay in Syria. So I decided to leave.
When I first got to Gaziantep I went to the hospital. My friend from home had been injured, and I went to the hospital where he was. I spent a lot of days there, taking care of him. It was consolation that I could be there to take care of someone. I spent my time not thinking about what had happened to me. A disaster had happened. He was horribly injured and I had lost my husband, it was a consolation for both of us.
I have a job now. I work with a Syrian relief organization. I go to my job, and on the weekends I see my family. They came to Gaziantep four months after I did.
A lot of girls and women communicate with me, those who've lost their lovers or their husbands. You know there's someone with the same situation, who's feeling what you're feeling. When I know that a girl has lost a husband or lover, I send a message to her.
In the future, I have to go back to Syria, [but] I don't know if I could go back to Aleppo again. I love it and it means a lot to me, but I don't know if I could handle the memories there. My emotions right now just feel up and down, up and down. So it depends.
It's been more than a year. The memory becomes something different. You express your feelings differently, your sadness. It takes on another form. At this moment, I don't feel secure at all. I can't guarantee the future. I still feel fear for my brother, my friends who go to Syria. I don't want to lose anyone else in my life.