Born in the 1960s, Sami was the sixth child of parents who worked as farmers in a mountain village in the coastal Tartous governorate. Only one family lived in the village, and the number of houses could be counted on two hands. The residents were all Alawite farmers.
In the 1970s, some of the villagers who had secondary or, later on, university degrees, were able to find government employment in public sector institutions and ministries, while the rest stayed working in agriculture.
Samia still remembers the journey each day to the neighbouring village’s school. The area remained somewhat isolated during her childhood. There was no transportation and no paved roads — only groups of children in worn-out shoes, wading through mud and water in the winter.
Samia’s father believed his daughters were entitled to an education, to a certain extent, to secure a better future for them. However, while the older brothers went to a larger city to pursue a university education after receiving their secondary certificates, the daughters stayed in the village “waiting for their fate” and to get married. Over time, all the male siblings married, moved out of the family home and built nearby houses to live in. The daughters also married, living with their husbands in the village. However, their father did not allow Samia to marry before finishing her secondary education, so years passed, and she was left alone with her parents at home.
Through a friend of one of her brothers, Samia managed to find a job in a state institution in Tartous. She was a single, employed woman, caring for and supporting her ageing parents, raising her siblings’ children, and helping her brothers’ wives with their chores. Samia and her married sisters continued working in agriculture on their family’s land.
Samia says that she is satisfied and accepts her path in life, and feels that she was fortunate because her father allowed her to study, enabling her to find a job that supports her independence. Living with her parents and her brothers’ children and grandchildren, surrounded by neighbours, she has redecorated the family home, built a modern kitchen, bought a colour television and added an extra room for hosting relatives and other guests. Her days passed repetitively though with a sense of familiarity and calm as the number of houses and residents in the village grew.
“Daily life obscures the details we’d rather not pay attention to,” Samia says. “My father started to age, and my brothers started having frequent private conversations with him. But I did not want to pay attention.”
The monotony in Samia’s life started to change in the early 2000s as her father, feeling he was nearing the end of his life, decided to give all his properties to his sons. His possessions consisted of a large plot of land, including the family home and the neighbouring homes of his sons. He divided the land and everything on it between his sons and transferred ownership to them. Of course, tradition did not dictate leaving anything to the daughters, including Samia.
“Even though we now live in a village with more than 15 houses, we are still a tribe that works in agriculture,” Sami says. “Women in tribes do not inherit land; the land is for men capable of farming, protecting and preserving it.”
“This is despite the fact that I, my sisters, their daughters, and my brothers’ daughters have devoted our lives to this land, which my educated brothers only get involved with when dividing the annually diminishing harvest.” She adds, “Nevertheless, the brothers have precedence over the land, that’s fine. This is an old custom that applies to all of us. I don’t need the land, but I do need the house.”
“Like any traditional woman in my society, I never contemplated it much or debated it: as long as I live under my father’s protection, what more could I possibly need?” she says. Samia’s father died in early 2012, followed by her mother just a few months later.
After the mourning period for her mother ended and before the 40-day memorial, Samia’s oldest brother asked her to leave the family home so he could prepare it for his eldest son’s wedding. “Just like that,” Samia says. “No discussion. No argument. And as a ‘favour’ to me, he offered me accommodation in a room attached to his house, which was previously used for storage.”
Samia rejected the offer, preferring not to live in an old room in her brother’s house. Nor did she want to leave the family home where she was born, the one she rebuilt and refurbished. “But I was like someone shouting into a well,” she says.
Samia asked her brother for financial compensation to help her build her own room on her father’s land. Her brother refused, astonished by the audacity of the proposal. Samia says, “I remember the moment I demanded financial compensation from my brothers. Silence fell upon the room, and astonishment was evident on my eldest brother’s face as if he had seen a ghost. One of my sisters’ husbands tried to ease the situation, delivering a lecture about being a pleasant, contented, traditional woman, and saying that my nerves were just strained due to our parents’ deaths, that this was why I was talking such madness.”
After the meeting, Samia’s oldest brother has her two weeks to leave the family home.
“In the following days, everyone visited me; all of a sudden, they remembered me, the whole tribe,” Samia says. “Brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, neighbours, relatives near and far. All of them came to ‘fix my situation,’ I, the woman allowed herself to demand an equal share from my brothers in their inheritance. None of them cared that this lone woman was losing her home, her privacy, her security and her future.”
Still, Samia was forced to leave the house in which she was born and lived. “After that, once again, life returned to its monotonous rhythm in the village, as if nothing had happened.”
She refused to live in the room attached to her brother’s house, and instead applied for a loan, guaranteed by her job, and bought a small house in a neighbouring village. She adds: “I am still repaying its installments to this day.”