Safa and Leena

Safa and Leena

Jordan, 2018

Watch out!! Safa yells from her friend’s doorway to the children playing outside, her brow covered in sweat.

– Why do they always play right in the middle of the street?

– Oh you know, you remember being a kid, it’s all a playground to them

– Yeah, maybe but I never got my foot run over by a car as Yasmeen recently did.

– Well, you did other things

– Can I help you?

Safa gestures towards Leena attempting to move a heavy gas canister.

– You’re 8 months pregnant, sit, you need to relax. And remember you caused your parents many, many other stresses!

You’re 8 months pregnant, sit, you need to relax. And remember you caused your parents many, many other stresses!

– Ahh yeah sure, but it was a different time, they could handle it better. In Syria, we had more room to move, to make mistakes.

– Sit, relax, it’s an instruction. Does Omar help you more around the house now?

– He tries, but he is at work mostly.

– You shouldn’t be carrying anything heavy.

Safa stares down at her bulging belly, seemingly enormous compared to her previous two. How has this one grown so large? She wonders if the two miscarriages between children have manifested to make one enormous baby. She thinks momentarily to her last birth, being turned away from the hospital because she wasn’t registered yet as a refugee with the UNHCR, only to convince them that the birth would be at her own risk. The baby was fine thankfully but was kept in an incubation container for two weeks, costing a huge sum of money and depriving her precious contact.

Leena sets a small glass of steaming tea down in front of Safa whose feet pulsate. They have become swollen and puffy, like two small cushions. She would soon have to squeeze them back into her shoes she left at the door. In the meantime she’s grateful to be sitting comfortably on the floor mattress. The mattress is covered in a dark sheet, different from the sheets covering the windows keeping the sun out. She thinks of the screaming children outside, knowing she should check on them but will wait another few minutes, enjoying this moment of calm and pause. It’s a mostly Syrian neighbourhood, they understand each other well here so she lets the children enjoy the play. The small glass with glowing green mint leaves steams through the beams of light cracking through the curtains.

Leena asks:

– How is Omar?

– Good, he’s fine, everyone relies on him so much but he still manages to be compassionate. He can’t be everywhere at once though of course. And…. he’s worried that the baby won’t be a boy.

– Ah yeah, Rami was the same after our third daughter.

– Omar worries often, even though he loves having daughters.

– They worry about these things, it will pass.

– He pulls his hair out thinking of needing to marry off three daughters to three good husbands

(both laugh)

He pulls his hair out thinking of needing to marry off three daughters to three good husbands

– Yes, yes, soon the girls will be getting a lot of attention!

– It’s already begun, Ula has had her first proposal!

– Ula?

– Yes! From Akram’s son.

– Ahhhh, 20 years old?

– 19, but without a stable job. She’s too young, she only turned 16 last month. We said, no, not yet, she hasn’t even reached maturity yet. I was 18 when I married and remember how little we knew then? She needs to finish her education.

– Yes, yes. What did Ula say?

– She’s furious!! She’s so stubborn, thinks she can take over the world. She wants to marry very much, we told her she will marry but there’s no rush, first she needs to grow a little more and he needs to show that he can have a stable job and secure a future for their family.

Leena stares over the rim of her glass at Safa, their familiar eyes lock onto one another. Living next door to each other in Syria has meant their eyes have witnessed a parallel life, Leena being several years older than Safa meant she was often her guide. Their family homes were side by side, with fruit trees and space enough to roam. This life they knew was ravaged by war but had previously been calm, humble but prosperous. Safa and Leena understood the world through each other.

Leena took the hand of her friend, gently massaging the fingers and the palm, rubbing and pushing at the flesh.

Leena pauses before revealing:

– I miscarried again.

– What? When?

– A week ago.

– Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t know you were pregnant.

– Because of the miscarriages I’d already had, I didn’t think this pregnancy would last.

– Oh Leena, I’m so relieved you’re OK, Alhamdulilah,

– Rami lost his job, he was getting exploited there but of course we need the money, the Jordanian workers were getting paid double what he earned and then they fired him for a minor mistake. Maybe he doesn’t really want another baby and maybe the baby didn’t want to be here either.

– The baby would have been lucky to have you. How is Rami?

– He’s miserable, he goes out looking for work but hasn’t had luck yet. He’s stopped helping so much and I’ve stopped asking. I was carrying something heavy up some stairs and that’s when I felt the stabbing pain.

– Oh Leena, I’m so sorry. I thought you were on the pill?

– Yes but I forget sometimes, I don’t mean to, I would prefer to not have anymore children either but I forget and it seems it’s Allah’s wish as at the times I forget, I get pregnant.

– I understand. Do your in-laws know about Rami’s job?

– Yes and they’re trying to help.

– I will ask Omar also.

– I don’t want to bother you with such things, you have enough to think about.

– But I have enough space to think about you.

Safa scans her mind for something concrete to suggest besides prayer.

Safa scans her mind for something concrete to suggest besides prayer. Rami has always been kind and proactive,she knows he will find something soon but will it be soon enough. Perhaps Omar can help. Safa’s father had always taken this role of making sure people were taken care of. He would have done his best for Leena, she was another daughter to him. May he rest in peace.

Leena helps Safa up, pulling her from the ground to a standing position. The warm breeze blows through the curtains. They go to the door to look out on the children. A group of kids race around the street, weaving in and out of parked cars causing a blur of movement. At the end of the block, Rami and Omar turn the corner into the street, walking together as they make their way home. Both with tired, smiling eyes, extending their arms to their children as they approach.


Safa and Leena are inspired by the many interviews generously and bravely given by women in Jordan in 2018. A fictional account has been written in order to preserve privacy. Safa and Leena exist as an ode to the stories, experiences and characteristics of some but not all displaced women from Syria currently living in Jordan, the research was centred around early marriage, sexual health and reproduction.

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