Ahmad Miz’s mother died of bone cancer when he was only three years old, leaving him and his two older brothers behind.
Ahmad’s mother had entrusted his paternal aunt with the care of her children in the case of her death, and so Ahmad moved to his aunt’s house in the Mashrou’ Awwal neighborhood of Latakiya. Ahmad’s aunt already had five daughters and three sons of her own, but she never made Ahmad feel any different than her own children. Though no one ever told him the reason behind his mother’s death, Ahmad always felt that there was something wrong, especially because his father never visited or even asked after him. When he asked his aunt why, she would always give the excuse that his father was busy with work.
Ahmad’s father worked at the electricity company. He suffered a bout of illness that was later attributed to someone casting the evil eye on him through black magic, so his family and siblings accompanied him to go visit one of the Sheikhs in Idlib, seeking treatment for his condition. Afterwards, he was cured, and went back to work as usual.
When Ahmad’s father got remarried, Ahmad and his brothers went back to live in their father’s home, though he used to spend the holidays and special occasions at his aunt’s house at first. Little by little however, those visits grew more scarce, until they stopped altogether.
In the new house, Ahmad lived with his father, grandmother, stepmother and her three daughters. His stepmother treated him very badly, beating him sometimes. She had not managed to bear a boy of her own, and she took this frustration out on Ahmad with her harsh treatment. Ahmad’s father was soon struck down with the same illness that he had suffered from before, which not only impacted his health, but his mental stability. He left his job, and his wife had to provide for the family by cooking for different families in her own home.
“Many women worked in their homes, taking on sewing, knitting and cooking jobs for other families,” says Ahmad. “It was a time when the general social outlook did not accept a woman working outside the home.”
Moving into his father’s home was a difficult experience for Ahmad, especially given how differently he was treated from his stepsisters. He began sleeping longer and longer hours and keeping mostly to himself, though he did talk to some close friends, unloading the burden of his thoughts as a way to escape his reality.
At the age of fifteen, Ahmad took up handicrafts, drawing on glass, on textiles and other materials, skills he had learned skills from his cousin as well as from some after school activities.
After graduating from secondary school, Ahmad transformed from introvert to rebel, trying to find his own identity. During that time of his life, he learned how to play the piano, took up calligraphy and acquired new handicraft skills in special workshops. He took part in art exhibitions as well as theater performances. These served as an outlet for him, a way to tame the chaos within and calm his inner turmoil.
“Music gave me inner peace,” says Ahmad, “and theater gave me a way to express my deepest self without constraint.”
It soon became difficult for Ahmad to continue practicing his different crafts as they were expensive hobbies to pursue, and it was difficult to sell the resulting pieces. All the materials the work required created a mess in the house. Despite all this, he insisted on continuing the work, honing his professional skills and managed to earn enough money to set up his own studio at home, even though his family had no faith in either his talent or skill.
After this, Ahmad was called forth to complete his obligatory military service. “In the army,” he says, “I felt completely alienated. The commanding officer treated us in such a way so as to break us down. I followed the advice of one of my peers, who told me to just blend into the herd. Not to reveal either too much intelligence or any stupidity, and no skills either. Just be completely inconspicuous until the service is over.”
During his time at the army, Ahmad saw a different side of Syrian society, meeting people from classes unfamiliar to him. He gained new insight and experience, which allowed him to embark on a new phase of his life, as he says, to face it truly.
After he finished his military service in 2008, Ahmad traveled to Jordan and worked at a restaurant for a few months before coming back to Syria. He returned entirely broke financially, but having gained some valuable experience.
Following this unsuccessful stint abroad, Ahmad worked on broadening his social network, befriending people from all walks of life; meanwhile, his relationship with his family was quite fragile.
Ahmad took up volunteer work at an NGO, which led to an exhibition of his craftwork. This in turn allowed him to mix with and meet ever more diverse groups of people, from financial donors to disabled beneficiaries and others.
“When I worked with the disabled,” says Ahmad, “I felt how fortunate I was, that I could do so many different things without requiring help from anyone.”