Three years after Syrian intelligence ransacked her Damascus home, Felicie Dhont stares through the window of a bus driving north in Jordan, rubbing her six-month pregnant belly.
The 23-year-old smiles, watching olive trees, wheat fields and wild red poppies whizz by, reminiscent of the nearby Syrian countryside she loved before the war reduced so much of it to rubble. “Syria, ah, Syria!” she says, pointing to a green sign directing drivers to the now-closed border-crossing.
Jordan’s border towns are as close as Dhont is going to get to Syria for what could be a long time. Since the 2011 uprising and subsequent army crackdown – when a journalist staying in her family home was picked up, jailed and tortured – her stomach has been feeling “like this,” she says, wringing her hands. A 20-year-old student at the time, she never again slept in the home she grew up in. As a critic of Syria’s government on social media and in cafes, she didn’t stop looking over her shoulder until, finally, she left the friend’s house where she was staying to resettle in Egypt. Weeks before her first child is due, dreams of raising a family in Syria remain on hold.