I love reading and writing. I came to writing late in life and discovered a world where I feel like a fish in the water.
I heard that stories are the best teachers. When people listen to a story, a part of their brain responds as if they are living the experience.
I was a teenager when I first heard her story from one of my aunts. I still remember where I was that day. Her story moved me to tears and I felt her anger and despair. That is why I am telling Sana’s story, to honor her life and her struggles.
Picture a newlywed couple with the dream of forming a family and providing a good life for their children. George, the husband, traveled ahead of his wife to a foreign country to prepare for their life together. He wanted to find a job, rent a house, connect with the expatriate community, and explore the possibility of opening a business there.
Sana, his wife, stayed behind as she was pregnant about to give delivery. He hoped for a boy to carry the family name. She wanted a girl to help her with family chores. She got her wish. A beautiful healthy baby girl came to the world and was the light of her mother’s life. A year later, he sent for her to join him in their new life.
Sana took to her new life with hope and gratitude. She cared for their little girl, helped her husband with his business, cooked, cleaned the house, and did her wifely duties. She did all that and brought to the world another daughter.
She worked hard and saved money to send her daughters to one of the best schools in her home country. She left them in the care of relatives whom she thought were trustworthy. At that time, the girls were six and ten years of age. She sent money to these relatives for the girls’ education and living expenses. Little did she know what her beloved daughters were subjected to.
Lori, the youngest daughter, was sexually abused and made to feel she was preparing for a life of prostitution. Her older sister, Patricia, who was beautiful and highly intelligent was shamed for her short body frame and made to feel like a maid. The girls grew up miserable and traumatized.
After more than a decade of living overseas, Sana finally decided to return to her home country and live with her daughters. She invested all her savings in a business partnership with a friend of hers, someone she thought she could trust.
It did not take long for her to notice that the money was disappearing. She confronted her business partner only to learn that he used the money she invested to build a school in his native village. He had rented out the school to the government and spent the rental money on his own family.
Sana was left with two traumatized girls, a nice apartment, and no money. A civil war broke, and the struggle began.
Patricia dropped out of high school and took low-paying jobs to support the family. Lori stayed in school to finish her studies.
A Civil War
A civil war broke two years after Sana moved back to her home country. The community where she lived was surrounded on all sides; electricity was cut off most days, food and clean water shortages were widespread, neighbors started fleeing to other countries; friends stopped calling and stopping by. Life became harder and harder. In all of this, George, the husband and father, was absent. He stayed abroad and seldom sent money to his family.
The civil war was devastating. Young men and women with bright futures were killed defending their community. Within that small community, groups turned against each other. People who previously lived a nice life became poor, and some experienced hunger.
A year into the civil war, the rapes started. Rapes of mostly young female adults were sometimes ‘civil’, at other times came with beatings. Life became a nightmare. Men and young men in Sana’s community had to take up weapons to protect their families. A few young women followed suit. A score of people young and old died in the four-year civil war and the nation’s economy was devastated.
Under threat of annihilation, the community came together, helping each other in any way they can.
Lori, Sana’s youngest daughter, joined a militia and became part of a group of security vigilantes. In the absence of the police who were no show, a group of them walked the neighborhoods at night to protect the people.
Patricia was the one who took it the hardest. As she was the beautiful one, she was expected to marry well and to live a good life. She had hoped to help her mother and young sister this way. Instead, she ended up a high school drop-out without much prospect. She held two low-paying jobs to put food on the table. Being highly intelligent, she used her gift to tarnish people’s reputations to relieve her anger and resentment.
Betrayed by her close friend and business partner, with no money left, and feeling constantly under threat, having herself being raped, Sana gradually lost her sanity. From a loving person and a devoted mother, she turned cold and bitter, and with time started behaving as if she were insane.
What took away whatever was left of her rational mind was one fateful evening when her daughters shared stories of what they had been put through before they all lived together. As she sat with her daughters at night in the light of a few candles hearing the bombs fall all around them, something in her broke.
That night, Sana left the apartment alone and came back after several hours. The next night, as she was about to leave the apartment, Patricia blocked the front door. She refused to let her mother leave the apartment and insisted on knowing where she wanted to go so late at night.
Sana sat her daughters down and said, "The night you told me what happened with you was the worst night of my life. I went out for a walk. I did not care about the bombs or about dying.
‘I walked the streets feeling angry and ashamed that I’ve failed you. I remember taking a knife with me to protect myself. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I think that I killed a man who slept outdoors because of the heat. I don’t know what I did with the knife."
When she finished talking, she looked at her daughters. Shock and disgust were clearly etched on their faces.
With surprising calm, Patricia said, "Mom, we won’t tell anyone. But from now on, you cannot go anywhere without one of us. We must protect people from your madness." The girls decided to protect their mother and to protect people from her.
Sana was deeply wounded by the betrayal of her relatives and her business partner, angry for the fate of her daughters, and afraid of the future. She remained upset until the last moments of her life and never forgave those who hurt her daughters.
It is said that post-traumatic growth has the potential to improve relationships as family and loved ones become more cherished, and a stronger sense of connection to other victims is built.
When the civil war was over, Patricia talked to Lori a lot about the importance of letting go of the hurt of the past and re-learning how to love. Observing her mother and her sister over the years showed Patricia how much the three of them had in common. They suffered from the occasional nightmares, the fear of people, being cautious in everything they did, and the dread that people may know about their shameful secrets.
Patricia and Lori were never really able to shed the shame of the abuse, but they learned to savor the simple joys of life.
With time, they developed deeper spiritual awareness, a greater appreciation of life, and recognition of previously unnoticed opportunities for their lives. They often quoted words their grandmother used to say, "If I can survive that, I can survive anything". She had taught them that great wisdom can come from great suffering.
© 2021 Liliane Najm