“A Woman’s View” – essay by a Russian-speaking wife of a jihadi in Latakia

An essay written by a North Caucasian Russian-speaking woman and wife of a Russian-speaking jihadi formerly based in Latakia province in Syria (and not connected in any way with The Islamic State group) was posted on 8 July on the telegra.ph site. As part of my work I collect posts/essays/poems etc by Russian-speaking fighters — almost all of which are written by men. Because this is comparatively unusual I thought I’d quickly translate and share it. We don’t often get a glimpse of the lives of the Russian-speaking women who have accompanied their husbands to Syria — and the overwhelming majority of what has been written is about IS “jihadi brides” or women connected with IS in other ways.  Anyway the original piece has some rather fascinating  photos of the interior of the house that the woman describes, which I have also posted here.

In August 2013, I arrived in Sham [Syria] for the first time. At that time we lived in a remote little village in Latakia Province. The overwhelming feeling of happiness about the fact that finally, you are here, masked [a sense of] shock and awe: how to live here? Many of us had come from large megalopolises, from Europe, many of us had been pampered with care, coziness and comfort. But now there was none of that…what was next?

Woman and byt [daily life] — these are things that are continuously connected throughout life, and a woman cannot give up on this or escape it, so it was essential to get used to a new life.

That village was lost among numerous hilltops, and we were surrounded only by pine forests and olive groves on the slopes, The houses were mainly very, very old, made of stone (I got one of these, Alhamdullilah), but there were also new ones. They were abandoned and very littered. So when you first went into one of these houses, you had to take some time to comprehend and understand: where to start cleaning? In my house there were two rooms and a street kitchen. A hall ran through all three of these rooms, which you could go through, the rest was jam-packed. What with, it was impossible to say for sure, just with everything.

At that time I was very lucky because immediately upon my arrival I ended up with a family of wonderful ansars [local Syrians], who showed me the best aspects of religious education, piety, adab [good manners, decency within the context of Islamic etiquette] and help for mujahireen [often translated as “foreign fighters but the term is used, in Russian at least, to mean all foreigners who are “on the path of jihad,” which incorporates more than just fighting, and so also includes the wives of the fighters]. They gave me a lot of help in preparing my new home.

So the house was cleaned. What next? In the kitchen there was a rotten table and a sink with outlet pipes that led nowhere. In every room there was a sort of fireplace with a chimney. In one of the corners of the far room bricks of around 5 cm high had been made with cement on the floor — this was a bath. The other part of the bathroom was on the street. It wasn’t so bad in the summer. But in the winter it was a trial.

That the house was very old showed everywhere. Even in the walls. To make it warm you had to have the fire very high, but it was just a waste of time, strength and firewood because every 10 minutes it got cold. In the daytime when you went about your business you could get away without the fire, but in the evenings it was only warm on the side where you were facing the fire. Every so often you had to turn around to the other side.

There was a little generator for the electricity supply that produced electricity for several homes. Regarding LEDs, which we now use) no one thought about them, I think. A flashlight was essential when it got dark but you couldn’t do without candles.

There was one shop. Mostly it stocked tea — that’s all. Sometimes you could order something from someone going to the town.

But in spite of all these hardships (so they seemed to me at the time), everyone was happy. There was lots of work. As well as the cleaning and cooking (sometimes on an open fire) there were daily excursions to the mountain for kindling. Sometimes we took ropes and a sickle and went out to get firewood, we chopped down thin, dry branches and carried them home on our backs.

In our village there was a spring with clean, and I thought, very tasty water. Although the spring was 5 minutes from home, the trip there almost every day was a favorite thing. As well as getting drinking water there we also washed the linen. Since we had husbands, of course, they poured the water that we used at home into a tank that was on the roof. But there were also locals who for a very long time carried this water in little cans from the spring on their backs. Afterward they got onto the roof and poured it into their tanks. In one day they could carry 100-200 liters, and they did that every day.

Of course, one can pay special attention to the fauna; plenty of lizards, spiders, crabs, frogs, crickets and snakes all lived quite peacefully with us.

But I am grateful to Allah for the fact that he showed me Sham from various aspects. Now we live in the town. We have regular electricity. Comfy and nice apartments. The bathroom is inside the house. Most people have a washing machine. There are lots of shops with food and clothing.

Everyone must decide for himself where is best to live, this is just my opinion and just my story and how I see local life.

I am very grateful to Allah that He gave me this experience, in its own way, it was a trial. He taught me through this to deal with practically any situation around daily life and women’s issues, whether it be cleaning, cooking, washing or tending my own garden. And He connected me with various local people, but I can say one thing, that I know the Ansars. Ansars with a capital A. Who give, share and care about you just like they’d care for a daughter or a sister.