I've been following Bana Alaban's posts lately. The seven year old, with support from her mother, has been tweeting about her life as a little girl in the midst of the Syrian war. She lives in Aleppo. In a matter of months, she amassed over 172k followers. Through her eyes, we consume the war, we make sense of extraordinary violence, we watch from afar, we feel our hearts ache. We wish we could do something more, change it, stop it. Bana is one little girl, and at the same time, she is all the little girls- and when she tweets about reading to forget the war, or that a bomb destroyed her home and killed her dolls, she is one little girl and she is all the little girls. The little-girl-ness of her observations tears our hearts out of our bodies. She is a little girl. Seven. She is seven. She is so little her mom helps her manage her tweets.
During the last forty-eight hours, Bana's home has been destroyed. She and her family are on the run. The explosions and bombs have killed many. Bana has seen people die. Her mother posted a farewell message on the 27th, that forewarned us of the intimate threat of death to Bana and her family. She wrote The army got in, this could be our last days sincerely talking. No Internet. Please please please pray for us. -Fatemah #Aleppo. That was followed by an even heavier message reading Last message- under heavy bombardments now, can't be alive anymore. When we die, keep talking for 200,000 still inside. BYE. -Fatemah. But Bana persisted. Since, she's continued to post, and the horror she is living in her seven year old body makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. She has posted pictures and videos, and they are utterly raw. She has reminded us she is a little girl when she posted about the way her dolls have been stollen by the war, how she has lost even the smallest shred of little girl innocence to this war.
It is surreal to sit in a coffee shop and sift through these texts, viewed already by hundreds of thousands of people, many of them American. I think of my own little girls, playing at home with their father. I have been bowled over lately by the misogynist we have elected to the white house, and the fear I have for my own little girls under this presidency seems entirely woven together with the horror I am experiencing about and with and for Bana and her mother and her family.
I cannot stop thinking about how we are watching something happen in real time that we have seen before. Something that is familiar and comforting in some kind of warped, twisted way. For we know how to relate to little girls. Little girls are innocent. Little girls have dolls. Little girls are not threatening.
There was another little girl, caught in the middle of a war, and it is to her writing we so often turn to understand the Holocaust. The difference is we did not read it as it was happening. Even so, its a safe bet for making sense of an utterly sense-less tragedy. Everyone can agree that little girls should not experience this kind of atrocity. There is nothing to argue over. We can rally together.
Or at least, we can sit in coffee shops around the world, and our jaws can collectively drop and our hearts can ache together as we witness- in real time- each shard of hope, every semblance of normalcy vanish from little Bana's life. We watch as her mother attempts to both be real about possibility, we read her one-liners about how terrifyingly close to death she and her family are, at every moment, and our hearts ache.
So I wonder, what is the role of social media in helping us to educate each other, how can social media be a site of witness, a space of connection, a place of hopefulness? What is the place of witnessing, connection and hopefulness in the life of little Bana?
Dear Baby Girls,
Yesterday I took pictures of you. I thought about the letter I would write to you, reminding you of what you were doing the day the most historic thing happened: I believed, deep in my bones, that you would grow up watching a Madame President lead us, and I believed that that would be the beginning of shaking misogyny loose. I thought we would be celebrating today with apple cider. I was going to teach you how to toast. Instead, we are grieving, and we are steeling our resolve.
Because we didn’t elect our Madame President. We did not pick Hillary. Instead, we elected a man who called Mexican immigrants rapists. We elected a man who bragged about “grabbing (women) by the pussy.” I am really freaking disappointed. Hillary did win the popular vote, which makes me know that there is in fact, more good than hate. But baby girls, today is a dark day.
It is a day that is so hard. It is a day that was completely unexpected, at least for me. It is a day that I wish you never saw. It is a day I wish I could protect you from. We wildly underestimated misogyny and racism and today our underestimation hits hard, home, and real. Our underestimation is shaping your world.
I want you to know we will keep you safe. We will stand up for our beliefs. I want you to know we still believe in justice. I want you to know we know how serious this is. I want you to know how much work we have to do, and how committed we are. I want you to know your voice matters, especially when there’s injustice. You do not have to agree. We will support your voice. We will make space for it. Your voice is valuable, and it counts.
No matter what they tell you, you are allowed to grieve and take action at the same time. You get to have both. That’s what is fair and real and necessary. I want both for you. I also wanted a Madame President for you. I am deeply disappointed. This morning we listened together to the should-have-been-Madame-President give her concession speech. I sipped a homemade americano. Papa organized your toys. Luna read a book called "The Shape of My Heart." Sienna burrowed her head in my shoulder and whimpered. She is right: this will be painful for a long time. She is right, little girls, do not doubt how valuable you are, how important you are, how deeply we promise to fight for you. We will raise you with our values, we will make sure you know what justice is, we will help you find your voice and follow your dreams.
So much heartache this morning, baby girls. We love you, baby girls. We love you.
Chelsey is a digital storyteller, geek, mama, researcher and yogi. She loves to make things and her favorite food is artichokes.