Nadia Saeed grew up in the village of Ras al-Ain in the Qalmoun area in Rif Dimashq Province. She lived a simple, rural life within her large family of nine boys and five girls.
Nadia spent most of her time either doing housework or studying, as she wasn’t allowed to leave the house unless accompanied by one of her brothers or parents.
Harvest season and the time of working in the fields were Nadia’s only outlets, the only occasions during which she got to spend time with women and girls from the family outside the house.
“Cherry-picking season, considered one of the best seasons of all, started at the beginning of spring,” says Nadia. “We would go out to the orchards right after coming home from school and fill crates with the cherries we picked. When evening came I’d sit with the girls and women and we’d sing and dance and spend a wonderful time together until it grew dark.”
Nadia’s father had a serious accident when a huge piece of farming equipment fell on his leg as he was trying to replace the part. He could no longer work outdoors and was forced to remain at home. A while later, his health worsened, and his leg was amputated at the thigh to stop the gangrene from spreading. Because their father could no longer work the fields at all, Nadia’s brothers were forced to leave university to work in his stead and ensure an income for their family.
Nadia married at the age of seventeen, after she had received her middle school certificate and gone on to study nursing in a professional institute in Damascus.
Her marriage was a traditional one, where the bride and groom did not meet properly before their official union. When the groom first proposed, Nadia rejected the idea because she felt she was still too young, but according to the rural norms and traditions by which she had been raised, girls did not have the right to any opinion on their own marriages if the parents had approved the union.
Nadia said it took some time before she and her husband were able to live together comfortably.. At first she was afraid of him, which was why it took a long time—around three years—to have her first child.
Nadia grew quite comfortable in her life with her husband, who was a house painter and decorator. Her life changed after she got married, and she enjoyed far more freedom than she had in her parent’s house.
One of Nadia’s most cherished memories is of the first time she went to the market by herself, to the Souk al-Hamidiyah in Damascus. “My life had only ever been confined to housework and study,” says Nadia, “and I was never allowed outside my village. I wasn’t even allowed to use the telephone at home because of the conservatism of the rural area where I grew up. When I saw Souk al-Hamidiyah I was totally astonished, I had never seen such a beautiful market or such lovely old historical areas. It was the happiest moment of my life. I felt so free.”
Three years after their first child was born, Nadia’s husband suffered an accident to his leg and couldn’t work anymore. He couldn’t collect any disability payments for his accident and his boss offered him no compensation or help except driving him to the hospital for emergency treatment. With time, his situation worsened further, and so Nadia was forced to take up work as an emergency-room nurse in one of Damascus’s hospitals. Despite her husband and brothers’ objections, Nadia insisted on helping her husband during his time of need.
Nadia had to shoulder several responsibilities during that time and was under substantial pressure. She was responsible for all the household finances, for paying the bills and ensuring her husband had his required medications. She says she had some help from her husband’s family, but it wasn’t enough to cover the family’s many expenses.
Nadia continued working until 2011, when she was forced to leave work due to the siege on the Qabun area after the Syrian uprising began.
Today, Nadia is mother to a six-year-old girl. “I won’t raise my daughter the same way I was raised,” she says. “I won’t forbid her from mixing with different people or living her life normally. I will give her total freedom to live life on her own terms, but in accordance with certain principles.”