My name is Stephen Sheftall, and this page and donation drive is for my good friend Sheila Weaver. She is in Syria, and needs to get out ASAP!
I'll keep this part as brief as I can, but I have known her since we were in middle school, and she was my prom date in high school. She learned to speak fluent Arabic here in Austin from the University of Texas and first went to Syria as part of a UT study abroad program. Cut to the present and she has been living in Syria, and as you may know, life there is very difficult. Now she and her husband need to escape, and I am asking you to help me make that happen. The $8,500.00 is the anticipated total of all expenses, with a majority going towards airfare, government documents, and fees for multiple countries. I would appreciate anything you have to give, no amount is too small to help. Without further rambling, here is Sheila's story:
Hello there, my name is Sheila Weaver. I'm a 27 year old native Texan who happens to be living in Syria. I'm sure you're asking yourself "Why?!?!" ; so here is my story. I studied Arabic as an undergraduate at the University of Texas and was quite good at it; good enough that my department offered me a Flagship Scholarship to study Arabic in an immersion setting in Damascus, Syria. This was in 2009, during which time I met and fell in love with my now husband Bashar.
We met and were engaged in 5 days, it was pretty much love at first sight. We struggled to actually get married due to legal issues with my residency, but eventually I made it back to Syria in 2011 and we were married on Valentine's Day of that year. Little did we know that a month later, the civil war would break out in Syria... much to our chagrin because Bashar was to turn himself in to serve his mandatory military service in June of that year. We spent three intense stressful months together, and like a blink of an eye he was gone. It has since been a year and nine months and we have recently been informed that he should be released from duty within a month or two depending on the processing of his paperwork. This news has finally given us a glimmer of hope to get out of the country and be able to start our family together in the US.
Unfortunately, our story is a lot more complicated than just him being stuck in the military for almost two years. While Bashar was serving, I was looking for work in the meantime while living with his family. At first, since there were still a lot of foreigners left in the country, I couldn't find a descent job; only making about $200 a month for maybe the first nine months after our marriage. Although, in December of 2011, I was offered a job at a school and I was able to save a descent amount of money since my salary jumped from $200 to between $500 and $900 a month depending on my class load. Our main expense at the time were military bribes, which we mainly paid so Bashar could visit for a day or two out of the month. These bribes, until now, cost us between a fourth to a third of my salary each
month. But then, things got bad... real bad, real fast.
My husband's family's home was located on the South side of Damascus. It was a slum and most of the people living there were fundamentalist Sunni muslims, which was an adjustment for me, but at the end of the day it was still home. Because of the overly conservative nature of the neighborhood, and since
I was an American, I decided to wear the scarf as long as I was in the area so as not to be harassed or kidnapped or the like (I would take it off once I got to more open-minded areas of the city). I tell you this because this is the mentality of the Free Army backers in the country, and eventually the Free Army
infiltrated the mosques and markets of our neighborhood. In the months and weeks leading up to July 18th 2012, things slowly got more and more tense in our neighborhood.
The Free Army started to burn businesses that opened up on their designated "strike days", which were intended to ruin the economic freedoms of the Syrian people, thus causing chaos and resentment towards the government for not doing anything to open the markets up. We also started seeing more and more protests at night made up of teenagers and young adults wearing masks and crying out for the down-fall of the government in the "name of God". On Fridays, we used to hear them cry out for the death of America and its leaders, but that too slowly changed to the death of the Syrian government and its leaders.
Then people started showing up missing in the neighborhood, to be found brutally tortured for allegedly "supporting the government" regardless of their religion or religious sect. One man we knew had the president's name carved into his chest by a knife, was shot point blank in the head and was disemboweled by the Free Army insurgents that had kidnapped him and eventually dumped his body on his doorstep. These events caused most of the non-Sunni residents of our neighborhood to sell their houses or pack up and leave. My husband's family is not Sunni, but despite all of this my father-in-law refused to leave...that is until it happened.
On the 16th of July, 2012 things got so bad in our area that the Syrian Army forces had to come in and intervene to stop the clashes and riots being caused at the hands of the Free Army. The next day, things were even worse. The Free Army insurgents started shooting civilian buses, the same buses that I rode into town every day, and the Syrian Army were forced to open fire to retaliate. I was at work, and had to have my father-in-law pick me up to take me back home. As we
walked to our house gunshots were all around us. I couldn't walk anymore and stopped in the street gasping for air through my sobs. That night was very intense, as my brothers-in-law tried to convince my father-in-law to leave. He still refused.
By the next morning, July 18th, things had calmed down and I went to work like normal. I came home and took a nap at 2 pm and was woken up by my sister-in-law around 4 pm. She came in, and didn't say a word, and then left. Then she came back, and had this look on her face but she couldn't speak. That's when I knew something was wrong. She told me, you need to pack a bag. I had already packed a bag a long time before that, something my good friend Stephen Sheftall always told me to have with me in times of an emergency. I left my room and through the chaos being waged by my husband's family, I was able to piece together that there had been an explosion at the Ministry of Defense and at the National Security office.
The Free Army insurgents that had spread out throughout the city used this to try and attack the infrastructure of the city. We, being one of the only non-Sunni houses left on the block, were an automatic target. Our neighbors had seen my brother-in-law on the balcony and screamed at him that Jihad has come and that he was going to die with the dogs that had oppressed them as Sunnis.... About the same time that we looked out the window and saw our neighbors outside of our house with swords and guns and knives, the mosque next to our house was taken over by the Free Army who then started to call out for Jihad and for all the "Freedom Fighters" to take up arms against the enemy.... I have never heard something like that call come from a mosque before, and never want to again. This was the moment that I imagined us becoming a mass grave in our own home. Scariest moment of my life, hands down.
Soon after we got news that the Syrian Army was on the way, to squelch the insurrection. I was in contact with my husband. He convinced his commanding officer that he had to leave immediately, and caught the next available flight to Damascus. Once the Syrian Army arrived, all hell broke loose. We stayed under constant fire from 5:00pm that evening until 5:00am the next morning. Bashar arrived to Damascus, but as he was waiting in the bus that would have taken him into the city mortar shells were fired at the airport. He was forced to run back to the airport while mortar shellings landed within feet of him. We are all lucky to be alive.
At 6 am the next morning we packed up as much as we could carry, me with my two cats, and we made our way to the highway to get out. As we stood desperately trying to get a car to stop, the bombings started up again. A taxi driver looked me in the eye, and as he did so I screamed to him "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!" He stopped. We made it out alive and then made our way to Bashar's uncle's house. It was at this point that we were officially internally displaced. It was also at this point that all of our savings were lost. My father-in-law is not a fiscally sound man and was not able to support his family, especially since his workshop was left behind at the house under the bombings. The problem with war that most people overlook isn't really the safety concerns, what really kills is the economic destruction along with our favorite... war-profiteering. Not only were we slammed with displacement but now since the state of the country had been shaken the economy was also hit very hard. Since that time we have experienced a non-stop wave of super inflation, causing prices to double even triple what they used to be.
We also had a very hard time finding housing, since at the time most of the refugees from Homs who had remained in the country came to Damascus. Housing prices had also sky-rocketed, adding to that landlords began a war-profiteering scheme of only accepting rent in a full year advanced payment. I, being the only one with savings left, was then made financially responsible for a 7 member household on top of our monthly military bribes and now advanced rent payments, new appliances for Bashar and I to live alone and the cost of moving (yes we were able to salvage most our belongings)... needless to say all of our savings were tapped out. It has since been nine months and we still have not been able to save.
Finally, our airfare to the States will cost us a pretty penny as well. I have calculated a rough estimate of all of our expenses and it comes out to about $8000. We would like to ask for $8500 just in case we run into more inflation or more travel issues. Trying to travel with a husband from a black-listed country is making this process even more difficult and more expensive.
I've carried the weight of what has happened to us for so long, and almost feel embarrassed about admitting to our living situation. I hate asking for help and am a big control freak, but with the instability of this country anything can happen in an instant so we can't take the risk of waiting to save up the money. This is a lot to ask, and I'm just so humbled by everyone's continued support for us. Any donations or shares of this statement make a huge difference. There are more stories that have happened, but this is the one that has basically ruined us financially. I thank you again for all of your help. 5% of all donations will be given to a charity (TBD) to help refugees of the crisis in Syria.
-Sheila L. Weaver and Bashar-"
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