Just as the Dahlia flower symbolises “staying graceful under pressure, especially in challenging situations” – Dalia is living out exactly what her name stands for.
Dalia* is a smart, modest and well-educated woman who graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting & Finance from Elazhar University, and is married to her husband, Faris* in Palestine. Her bright mind won the heart of her husband – an extremely intelligent and capable man who not just graduated with a Master’s Degree in Engineering from Montreal, Canada, but also received a Certificate of Excellence upon his graduation.
Despite doing so well in Canada, Faris decided to return to his homeland to live with his family. He started working as an engineer in projects, but all projects were forced to stop due to the war. Sometimes, he managed to get repairing projects in Gaza, but none of the projects were completed as war did not cease.
Dalia thought that things could get better over time, but it went the complete opposite way – it just kept getting worse.
“Life was difficult, and difficult, and difficult.” After coming back from Canada, Faris never had a steady job, making it financially challenging for the family to sustain themselves. “But as long as me and Faris (are) together, we can go through it”.
In 2008, the Gaza War, also known as the Gaza Massacre broke out. Dalia was pregnant for 4 months with her first child, and was extremely terrified by the sound of bombs that hit her neighbourhood. All the windows in her house were shattered. Throughout her pregnancy, the war was raging all around her.
“There is no safe area. Every part of Gaza is subjected to sudden bombardment. There is only a dangerous area and a more dangerous area.”
“But by God’s grace, we are safe.” Fortunately, Dalia’s family lived in an area that is slightly less dangerous. 5 months later, Dalia gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And when the war subsided a little, the family continued on with the simple life, and had 3 more children joining the family.
However, in 2014 came another Israel-Gaza conflict, which killed thousands of lives. At that time, Faris, who did not like the idea of migration, was forced by the circumstances to make a decision – he had to leave Dalia behind and find money for the family to survive.
“The journey was too dangerous for my young children.” Dalia was torn apart, but she couldn’t join her husband as she had 4 young children with her, and one of them was still a new-born…
The journey to leave Gaza was dangerous. Due to the war, all the borders in Gaza were closed down. There was no way out, and the only airport in Gaza had crashed many years ago.
The only way to get out of Gaza was this – the underground tunnels.
When life leaves you with no choice, you have to take the risk.
Dalia knew that Faris had to take the underground tunnel to get out, but she had been told that many tunnels had collapsed at the time, leaving people dead and buried underground.
Dalia did not want Faris to go on such a risky journey, but there was no other way to bring food to the table if Faris stayed in Gaza.
The day Faris left, Dalia was fearful that she would never see him again.
For the next few days, Dalia constantly kept in touch with Faris over the phone, and tried to stay on the line with him as he crawled for 30 hours through a one-meter low underground tunnel to get from Gaza to Egypt.
That was the longest 30 hours of Dalia’s life, as Faris slowly crawled his way out of the place they both called home. She was so afraid that the tunnel would collapse, and she would lose her husband forever.
Thankfully, Faris managed to get through the tunnel safely, and took a flight from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur to find a living.
Dalia was relieved, knowing that her husband was safe – but then came a new challenge in Dalia’s life – to survive in the war-torn Gaza alone without the love of her life.
After Dalia’s husband left, another war started in Gaza. She was alone with her children and her parents, feeling extremely scared and helpless.
“I felt very lonely and I was afraid I might not see my husband again.” In the midst of war, all Dalia wanted was to keep the children safe, and to survive through all the shootings and explosions so that the family can be reunited again.
Being separated from the love of your life was already tough enough, what more trying to stay alive with 4 young children in a place with a full-blown war.
“It’s hard to live without someone you love. You live without a life.”
Finally, after living in war-torn Gaza alone without Faris for a year, the borders were reopened in 2015, and Dalia decided to leave Gaza to reunite with her husband.
The family packed their bags, sold what they had to get some money, and took off on a new journey.
Alone with her 4 children, aged 7, 5, 3 and 1 at that time, Dalia left Gaza through the Rafah Border Crossing. The journey wasn’t easy, they had to walk for hours, and spend a whole night sleeping on the ground.
The children and Dalia were extremely tired and worn out, but Dalia said she pressed on so that they could see their father again.
The family finally made it to Cairo Airport, flew to Bangkok, then took another flight to Kuala Lumpur.
Dalia and her husband were finally reunited, and they restarted a new life in Malaysia.
However, despite having a Master’s in Engineering, Faris isn’t allowed to work legally here, and is currently selling Shawarma Wraps for a living. Dalia faces the same fate, and isn’t allowed to work as an accountant here as well.
The Picha Project met Dalia at the end of last year, when one of the Picha families told us that she cooks amazing food, and was in need of a job to sustain her family.
After meeting Dalia, we were charmed by her amazing character and delicious cooking. During the past few months with Dalia, we couldn’t help but feel that life was extremely unfair to Dalia and Faris, who are both extremely intelligent but aren’t given the opportunities that they deserve.
But throughout the past months, we have never once heard Dalia and Faris complain about life, or whine about how they should deserve better than this. No matter it’s a cleaning job, cooking job, or office job – they would do it just to ensure that they can sustain their lives and family stays together.
All Dalia and Faris wanted was safety for their children, a roof over their heads, schools for them to learn, and food on the table.
According to Merriam- Webster dictionary, grit in the context of behaviour is defined as “firmness of character; indomitable (impossible to defeat) spirit,” and we can’t find a better word to describe Dalia other than her being gritty.
Her unwavering determination to keep her children safe, undefeated spirit to keep moving on in life despite losing so much, and unshakable courage and strength to stand strong for the children through the war.
Dalia, you’re our hero.