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Trying to face the future while dealing with horrors of the past: A story of two Yemeni women

 

 

Amman, Jordan — The room was filled with a gentle breeze, brushing against magenta curtains. Mariam Lalahdal, covered except for her eyes, sat across from me. Beside her was Rania, her eldest daughter, also revealing only her eyes. Rania, likely in her late teens or early 20s, was at the threshold of adulthood, just like me. Despite our different backgrounds, we shared the common experience of navigating through our formative years.

 

When Mariam was 11, her family forced her to marry a 15-year-old boy. She didn't know the boy until the week before their marriage. Over the years, they had five children. Today, only two are with her, while two remain in Yemen.

 

Before the war, Mariam sold fragrances, and Rania attended school. Their lives were simple and normal, without a hint of the upheaval that lay ahead.

 

Then the war began.

 

The oppressive Yemeni heat became unbearable when the electricity failed. Rania recalled having only two hours of power each day, barely enough to escape the stifling heat. Jobs and basic necessities like food and water became scarce. Their streets, once familiar, filled with militia, and their buildings were reduced to rubble. "When bombing happened, it was dark, with the only light being the explosions," Rania said.

 

The family felt increasingly unsafe and began planning their escape. In 2016, they flew to Amman and were accepted into Jordan. Their only stability was each other. Once there, they applied for UN aid, but the process was slow and felt endless. The UN was overwhelmed with Yemeni refugees, and aid was limited to specific groups. Mariam explained that they had to choose between housing protection and a work visa; they couldn’t apply for both simultaneously.

 

The family prioritized finding a roof over their heads. Housing for a large family was hard to find, and jobs were scarce. Over the next nine years, some family members returned to Yemen for work but sent no money back.

 

Rania, determined to become a doctor, continues her studies in Amman with UN funding. However, her siblings receive no aid, limiting their educational opportunities. Despite losing a year of school due to the transition, Rania plans to return to Yemen as a doctor. "Yemen holds a piece of my heart," she said.

 

Mariam’s adjustment to their new reality has been challenging. She frequented a charity center for clothing, food, and necessities. Once, she was accused of stealing because the owner mistook another Yemeni woman in a niqab for her. The incident left Mariam in tears, and she stopped visiting the center. Her dream of returning home never fades.

 

"Becoming a refugee means your life is no longer normal by any means. But you must accept your life and live it out," Rania added.

 

Uncertainty pervades their lives. Nothing is guaranteed, and survival is a daily challenge. Mariam and Rania’s story mirrors the experiences of many refugees. Limited aid and financial support make it hard for displaced individuals to find stability. The endless cycle of survival offers no simple solution. Their hope and optimism for a return to Yemen keep them going.

 

This story highlights the resilience and determination of Mariam and Rania, who, despite their circumstances, hold on to the dream of a better future in their homeland.

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