Her son is badly injured.“He was a fighter with the resistance army and they were removing a roadblock the regime set up on the street when he was hit by a missile,” she explains. He has had three surgeries and needs another one.”Her daughter Aya is their best hope.“My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family,” Nezar says.
“If the war had not happened I would not marry my daughter to a Saudi.
Yet their voices are rarely heard because their lives are lived behind closed doors, their private tragedies not shared with outsiders.“If you see how Syrians here live you will see why they marry their daughters to whoever will take them,” Um Majed says.
The vast majority do not live in the camps set up by the Jordanian authorities.
They flood into cities like Amman where they live on the charity of kindly Jordanians and aid organizations.
At the Turkish bath, the would-be bride was paraded like a prizewinning filly: her mane tugged to check she wasn’t wearing a wig, a walnut cracked between her molars to make sure her teeth were real. A Syrian hostess’s reputation can rest on the balance between the olive oil and lemon juice in her tabbouleh salad.
In a society where women, especially unmarried girls, do not mingle with men not related to them, or even venture outside the home at risk of being labelled sexually loose, many families relied on matchmakers to find the right bride for their sons. In the Middle East, the groom or his family are expected to provide maher, roughly translated as dowry.
Um Majed raises a cynical eyebrow at this innocent archetype as she strikes a match and lights a cigarette. They want beautiful girls, the younger the better.”She pauses and takes a drag of the cigarette.“The Saudis usually ask for 12-year-olds.”As she sees it, life has become about exploiting or being exploited.“I have to feed my children,” she says.“What does freedom mean? If he is a good catch he will approach the girl’s family with a fully furnished flat, perhaps a car, and bank statement proving his savings.
She became a matchmaker when she approached a local Islamist charity for food and the manager asked if she “knew any pretty girls.”“I have 10 families looking for grooms,” she says. Zayed Hamad who runs Kitab al Sunna, a Sunni Islamist charity that helps women refugees and receives funding from Saudi Arabia, says he receives 100 phone calls, emails and even text messages a month from grooms all over the Middle East looking for wives.
AMMAN, JORDAN—Nezar’s face is tight with expectation as she arrives for the meeting.
She is a heavy-set mother of 12 and as she arranges herself on the small sofa in Um Majed’s living room she removes her black veil and the pious black gloves that allow her to shake hands with men who are not her relatives.
Some are looking for a bargain.“Some believe if they marry a Syrian girl it is cheaper,” he says.
“I get approached by the brothers but I say it is not my responsibility to find them brides.”He says it is a good thing as these girls will have more secure futures.*Eman is a typical Damascene beauty with her pale skin and hazel eyes.
At 29, she is considered an older bride and has two daughters from her ex-husband whom she divorced because she caught him in bed with his sister-in-law.