Arabs parenting women

The refugee hitchhiker who haunts me

She stood by the Katara exit kiosk with two boys by her side.

I slowed down to a stop, expecting her to cross the road. But she walked up to the car and in Arabic interspersed with a few English words asked me to drop her in Dafna.

How dangerous could it be? A well-dressed hitchhiker of about 40, with 2 young boys in tow. Yes, it was close to midnight, but this is Doha, after all.

When I offered to help find a taxi, she insisted politely (almost a plea) that I drop her home. It was not too far away from Katara… The boys were hanging behind, obviously uncomfortable.

So there they were in the car, one second discussing the amazing Cinema Paradiso we had all seen at the last screening of Doha Tribeca that night, and the next second we were discussing the war in Syria.

The mother with her two sons and two daughters fled to Doha from Damascus. The daughters stayed with their aunt (her sister), while she lived in a single rented room with her sons. No job in sight, and unable to afford to send the kids to school. Four months in Qatar, having lost all that was familiar and comfortable.

She had left behind a 20-year-old career as a French teacher, her husband, friends, her home. Now in Qatar, she is not quite sure whether she was at the threshold of greater tumult or little hope.

In that moment she was as lost as a person could possibly be. She doesn’t quite remember the route back home to her room. Mohammed, the younger one who could not have been over 10 seems to have an inkling. He guides me through the lefts and rights of Dafna. He is chatty.

Ahmed, the older boy — around 12-13 — is stoic. I can’t make out if he is unhappy about his mother talking to a stranger about her worries and fears; or if he was just unhappy. It’s him that I worry about most.

To take a healthy, bright teen out of school and to a strange country… How do you keep him happy and positive? What kind of courage and desperation did it take for that mother to make this move?

We finally find our way to their home. We are by now on first name basis. K writes her name, number, email id and Facebook user name on a piece of paper. She takes down my details. She believes I could be one of the people who’d help her find a job here.

Her sons are listening. Maybe they are buying some of that belief too.

I feel crushed by the truth of the matter — I can’t do much but I can’t tell her that.

Three days after the encounter, I am still haunted by the eagerness in her smile, the determination in her voice, the sadness in her eyes and by Ahmed’s unsmiling face.

This is what war does. It splits families. It crushes dreams. It makes warriors of mothers and children.


PS: If you know of a job she can apply for please contact me.

By UmmON

Umm Oviya + Nilah = Mother of Oviya + Nilah. Because in the Arab world a woman is first addressed as bint X (daughter of X) and then once she has a son (Y) she is Umm Y. I am not sexist, so don't mind surrendering my identity to my daughters.

14 replies on “The refugee hitchhiker who haunts me”

Hi Vani,

Thank you for sharing–heartbreaking story. ACS Doha is hiring for multiple positions, maybe she can try there? Details below:


At ACS Doha, we believe every student will be inspired and challenged to reach their full potential. All will benefit from a world-renowned curriculum built on the philosophy and approach established at our three successful UK schools.

ACS Doha opened in September 2011, and due to increased demand in enrolment and the opening of Grade 9 in September 2012, we are looking to recruit additional dynamic, motivated and internationally minded people to join our team:

Personal Assistant to the Head of School
Secretary to the Head of School
Admissions & Registry Associate
Housing & Purchasing Officer
Teacher Assistant – Physical Education
Teacher Assistants x 2
PE Teacher – Tentative
Aquatics Instructor – Tentative

Our roles require the following skills and experience:
University degree in subject area or equivalent
Previous experience in a similar role
Strong English, both spoken and written
Arabic speaker is desirable
Strong administration, organization and IT skills
Positive approach to work with children, parents and colleagues
For the academic positions, preference is given to candidates with an inquiry-based, student-centred approach to learning, a teaching certificate in education, and a minimum of 3 years teaching experience.

Closing date: 6th December 2012

To apply for any of the above, please send your CV and details of two referees to

God Help the Syrian people many are going to starve and die of exposure as they only have tents for ruins to hide in. Glad you were able to give the women a ride and I hope she gets a job.

Umm! Don’t have a job I can offer her, but I also live in Dafna and have two boys. I can think of other ways I can help if you can contact me – I couldn’t work out how to email you through here . . .

Thank you for sharing this story and for being the kind of person who picks up strangers.

Regarding a job, she might want to contact QCS (Qatar Canadian School) since French is one Canada’s official languages. I don’t think they have a French teacher but I’m thinking they should!

Hi, I’m a journalism student at NU-Q and was doing a story on Syrian refugees in Qatar. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to get in touch with the family? Please let me know! Thanks.

Hi thanks for this moving piece, could you possibly get me in touch with this family?I’m a Syrian resident of Qatar, and I’m interested in meeting them. I’d be grateful if you could email me the details. Thanks.

I would love to hear your feedback. So write to me:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s