Those of us who went to observe the Syrian election were dispersed across the country on Election Day. Some went to cities in the war zones like Homs, Aleppo and Sweita. For whatever reason, I chose to go to Tartous. I want to see some ordinary people in a part of the country that was not under continuous threat. I think what I saw there was uniquely significant. Initially I rode in a car with some MPs, one of whom was able to translate for me. Then I rode with the Mayor of Tartous to the next stop. Finally I was transferred to a car with a driver and the translator who had joined us at the previous voting station. Lobana, my translator, spoke with as much authority as the others as she protectively steered us through the dense crowds of jubilant voters. She took my arm and only let go to transfer me to one of my early MPs or the Mayor.
Lobana, a matronly woman in her 50s, said that translating was a side job for her. Her regular job is supervising the English teachers in Tartous province. She said they had called at the last minute for her to translate for me. They had wanted a translator who knew the people of the region and who was respected by the other officials involved. As we continued to drive from one voting site to the next, we found ourselves laughing together as Lobana searched through her ample purse for a ringing phone. She apologized for the distraction and I said ‘I do this all the time’. When she finally found the phone, it had stopped ringing but she said it was her son and she wanted to call him back. I said, ‘you are my twin, sister.’
As our journey continued I asked about her family. She said she was a widow with 2 children. The younger one, a boy, is currently doing his exams for college. He calls and asks her for advice with his studies. Normally she would be home at this time coaching him, she said, but translating for me was too important a job to pass up. This election is very important to the Syrian people. Over and over as we interviewed people, they said that they were voting for Assad for security and for civilization. The roads in the area are lined with images of martyrs, young men from every family, dead in a war that these people never wanted. I didn’t think to ask about Lobana’s son, but I think that since he is going to college, he will not be drafted. Young men who go to college in Syria have their military service delayed until they finish school.
Lobana and I had built something of a trust, and as we traveled to one of our final destinations, I asked her if she had voted yet. She said she had not, but that she would when her work for the day was finished. She laughed congenially and pointed out that the Election Commission had allowed that any Syrian could vote at any voting station so there would be no impediment. The phone rang again, again her son, but there was no way to get a live connection. I asked if it was the hilly terrain, but she said it was more likely a precaution to protect voters (from cellphone triggered bombs?).
As we rode along, we shared some working single mother stories. Then she said,” You know I used to be a ‘rebel’, a ‘peaceful rebel’ of course.” She said she wasn’t born locally, but had relocated from Hama. She said that her brother had died in a Syrian prison a number of years ago. The family was never told exactly what happened to him and his body was never returned. The family was very bitter about this. Her brother’s death was devastating for them, but the government’s refusal to return the body was incomprehensible and made letting go very difficult. Her mother wrote letters to officials and pleaded with authorities for 10 years, but all to no avail.
After her husband’s death, she had moved to Tartous with her mother and her children. I’m not sure about this, but it might have been her in-law’s home town. In any case, when she settled in Tartous, she earned her advanced degrees in English and began working as an English teacher. Eventually she was promoted to her current position.
I asked if, after all that, she would vote for Bashar Assad. She said that although it is hard to let go of the pain of the past, she was indeed going to vote for Assad. She said that she had to admit that her life had never been better than it is now. She is a respected member of the community who has good relations with her neighbors and her peers at work. Her children are happy and well and becoming well educated. They have good prospects for the future. I could see the pride in her face as she spoke. She had worked hard and earned a future.
She said she has never been happier and she doesn’t want to lose that. She wants the war to end and believes Assad is the only one who can end it. She wants her orderly civilized life back. And, I’m sure wants to protect her son from having to enlist during a gorilla war that has killed so many of the youth from that region. She said that sometimes you have to accept certain aspects of the world and let go of the past if you want to make a life for yourself and your family. It is more important to look to the future.