Walking home after collecting money from a local charity office in her Damascus neighborhood, Hajar, 35, is fatigued. She carries a food aid basket and the medicine she collected there for her elderly husband.
Like other young women in Syria who have no family and no employment prospects, Hajar decided she would find a man who would provide security. That man is the 70-year-old father of a neighbor, who requires round-the-clock care from his younger wife.
Originally from Damascus, Hajar, whose education goes only as far as a high school literature degree, lost her entire family when their home in Jobar was shelled by the government. She found herself living with neighbors for two months.
“I lost my mother, my father and my three siblings all on one day,” she says, crying. “My married sister is the only one I have left but she’s married to a man who is [angry] and stingy.
“She lives with her in-laws in a small house they all fled to. Her husband has no work and they could barely put up with each other, so how would they fare putting up with [me]?”
With the neighbors’ financial situation worsening, they spoke of kicking Hajar out of the house – the burden of supporting one more person became too much.
One day one of the other women in Jobar visited her, seeking a wife for her 70-year-old father. The woman would be responsible for taking care of the man, a widow; in turn, he would provide for her.
“I have no income, no family, no home, no work, no brother to lean on,” Hajar says. “I had to agree to whoever wished to marry me. To me, things couldn’t get worse than the life I was living.”
Nour, 28, is a civil engineer from Damascus. She says she had always dreamed of meeting an ambitious, educated and cultured man with whom she could lead a stable and financially comfortable life.
But as the conflict entered its third year, she started thinking of her future and how the number of potential suitors was dwindling. So when an illiterate 35-year-old named Malek asked for her hand in marriage, she accepted.
“There is a large education disparity between us,” she says. “All we do is exchange ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening,’ or we talk about the war and whose house was shelled and who died. We never talk about anything cultural or anything that has any real essence.”
Thinking it her best chance for financial security, Leila, 23, married young – then watched her husband’s income dry up after he was injured by shelling and had his foot amputated.
“In the end, we must adapt to life,” she says. “I work as a school teacher in an educational institute to provide for us.”
But Leila’s mother says her daughter is still too young to feel her desires and needs are unfulfilled by her husband.
“They now live on what her in-laws give them and what she makes,” her mother says. “But is this sustainable?”