Isra’a, a woman of our times

Posted by Kay.

Forward by Susannah, a friend of ours who visited Beirut recently and met with some of the Syrian women who are among at least one and a half million people who have been forced to leave their homes and flee to camps in Lebanon.

Hearing her experiences while there were precious and fascinating, I was hearing stories untold by the media who are no longer even there. And like many places in times of war, fear and displacement, she discovered a community longing for creativity, passion and expression.

Susannah: “In 2014 Isra’a was one of a group of Syrian women who performed in a production of antigone-1the Greek play Antigone in Beirut. The play tells the tragic story of a girl caught up in a vicious civil war, her brothers, on different sides, are both killed, one is a hero of the ruling regime, the other an enemy whom she is forced to disown, Antigone refuses and must die –  a story which is thousands of years old but one these women understood only too well – they discussed the themes of the play with a passion that was awe-inspiring.  Here I met Isra’a.

Syrian women in rehearsal for 'Antigone'

Syrian women in rehearsal for ‘Antigone’ photo Tabitha Ross



I found that the women always looked beautiful, taking great care with their appearance, they refused to surrender to the harshness of their circumstances.  A couple of  friends in the beauty industry kindly donated eye shadows, lipsticks and nail varnishes, and the women were thrilled.


Isra’a’ sent some selfies to show she had put the make-up to good use (they’re here at the end of this piece) and Kay asked if she could feature it all.


The Shatila camp in Beirut

The Shatila camp in Beirut

At the moment Isra’a lives in the Shatila camp in Beirut. This is her story, translated into English for ThandieKay.




“Every one of us dreamt of a simple life. All that mattered was to live with no fear and no loss. This is how we lived before the 16th of December 2012.

It’s a date that no one in who ever lived in Yarmouk, Syria can forget. The biggest mosque in Yarmouk was bombed from the air, the Free Syrian Army having entered three days earlier.

The day of our leaving was horrific. My family and I were having lunch at my grandparents. We thought we would go for lunch, and then come back home when things calmed down in our area. At 4 am in the morning we were still at my grandparents and we decided to go back home to collect some things and leave for Lebanon thinking we would go for just a couple of weeks until things would definitely calm down. Blackness covered everything; we could hear our footsteps on the broken glass that lay around everywhere.

We took a few things from the house: an olive green suitcase I had put few clothes in. I left behind all my memories, my life. I shut the door behind me and left.

We took a few things from the house: an olive green suitcase I put few clothes in. I left behind all my memories, my life. I shut the door behind me and left.


The besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, queuing to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. A UN official is calling on warring sides in Syria to allow aid workers to resume distribution of food and medicine in a besiege, urging the Syrian government to authorize more humanitarian staff to work inside the country, devastated by its 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo/UNRWA) UNRWA/AP

Our journey was long, I was walking but I felt that I was moving backwards rather than forward. Waves and waves of people were leaving; it was like a tide. And I just followed.

People were carrying blankets, some a bag of bread, others were carrying fans, others birds in cages.

Some people had lost their wives, their mothers, their children. There were people standing by the windows of their houses screaming, “Don’t leave the camp, stay.” I kept walking. I zoned out. I could see confusion on people’s faces, “Where are we going?”.

When we arrived at the Al Wasim mosque, I heard someone calling me, “Isra’a! Isra’a!” It was a friend. We hugged and cried.

By 8am the light was dim. I felt that even the sky was bleak and worried about us. We kept walking with the waves of people.

I was wearing nine-inch heels. I couldn’t feel my legs. These were the shoes that I had been wearing when I left the house three days ago.

Isra's's shoes

Isra’s’s shoes photo Tabitha Ross

The long walk.

We arrived at Al BatikhaWe arrived at Al Batikha roundabout. We stopped so that we could be picked up and taken to Al Somarya bus station. While waiting I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in two years. We looked at each other from afar and smiled a smile of pain. The bus to take us to the bus station had just arrived. I didn’t look back. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the camp. Maybe because I thought I was just going for two weeks and coming back, or maybe because that wasn’t the last image I wanted to have of the camp. We left the traffic and the people, the fear and the anger, the tension and the loss, and left. We had no idea what was waiting for us in Lebanon.”

Susannah:Isra’a and the other women worked on the play for two months and performed in one of the most popular theatres in Beirut to full audiences. She threw herself into the production with extraordinary focus and revealed herself to be a brilliant actress.

Antigone performed in Beirut  by Syrian women

Antigone performed in Beirut by Syrian women


Life in the camp is hard and small luxuries like make-up scarce, not that this in any way defeated them-even felt pens were put to good use!  The supply of eye shadows, lipsticks and nail varnish were, in this scenario about far more than vanity.  Isra’a sent pictures of herself and her obvious joy in make- up was contagious so I asked her to talk a little bit more ….’

“When I wear my make up every morning, the main thing I really care about is my mascara. I don’t think make up could be complete without mascara. I don’t use an expensive one, in fact mine is a very cheap one from a street stall.

Isra'a selfie from her phone

Isra’a selfie from her phone

All the girls that I was working with on the theatre project used to ask me where I got my mascara from.

They imagined I have this fancy expensive one! One day I brought it to the workshop and they all looked at me with disbelief.

This is the same brand I used when I was in Syria. It took me long time to find the same brand here in Lebanon.

The one I brought with me from Syria lasted me forever- I kept diluting it with water until it was completely gone.

I love make up, I can’t afford to buy expensive brands. I always managed to do a good job with the local brands- the ones that cost $1 each.

Isra'a's Nail Art

Isra’a’s Nail Art


 Hoping to have you back for more beauty blogging from Syria in future Isra’a!

Antigone organised by
Aperta Productions 












Isra'a selfie from her phone

Isra’a selfie from her phone

Isra'a's Nail Art

Isra’a’s Nail Art


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