A poem written by a Syrian sister 

Titled
WHAT I WAS…

I was a student, once.
I graduated from a prestigious university and shook hands with its founder when I received my diploma.

Now my hands grasp at others’ unwanted clothes;
They Cling desperately to donated gifts for my children;
They Shove aside other mothers who might win these prizes instead of me.

I was a teacher, before.
I taught English to Syria’s brightest and used up the electricity marking books late into the night.

Now strangers speak to me slowly, like a baby, asking “Do…you…understand?”

And I fool myself that I’m sleeping when night falls
That there is no light but the stars’ to see by.
Really I am doing the same as in daylight, just on my back.

I was a neighbour, back then.
I made baklava and brought it to Aleema when she was ill.
We car-shared on school runs.

Now I live next to strange men who shout and fight late into the night, whilst I clutch my children;

I live Next to foreign women who pull my hair and accuse me of cutting in the lunch line.

I was a woman, long ago.
I wore make up, I went shopping with friends in Damascus.
I brushed my black hair before a dressing table mirror.
Now I wash with wet wipes.
I search for donated shoes that fit;
style is a rare and happy coincidence.

I queue to use portable toilets filled hourly by thousands of ill and unwashed strangers.
Those that bother to use them, at least.

I was a wife.
Ahmad brought me bracelets from the market on his way home from work.
He got grumpy when I woke him in the morning but smiled when he heard me singing.
He hugged our children,
And kissed me before he left,
And went out humming, as he always does.
As he always did.
Now I tell my name to the English girl before me and shake my head when she asks for my husband’s name
She nods and tries to look understanding.

But what can she understand?
This girl, barely more than a teenager,
Never having known war, never having loved, never having had to run from chaos to strife, never having lost?
What can she know?

But then
I remember,
and I forgive.
For I was her,
once.