What is your story of strength?
I’m 38 years old, a single mom living in Zarqa, Jordan with two beautiful daughters; a freshman at university and a senior in high school, and one amazing son, a 10th grader. I am also a freshman at university studying Counseling and Psychology.
Going back to school has been a long overdue dream of mine. My husband died when I was only 23 years old. I was left to care for our three children on my own. I didn’t even know what strength means, all I remember is the day after he died, I turned a new page in life and started anew. With the support of my family and friends, I decided to become a driver for female students – taking them to/from university. I started driving a few students in my car, and later after enough savings, I bought a bus so that I can drive even more students. After many years of doing this, I realized that I wanted so much more from life. I want to achieve more and contribute more. I decided to retake my Tawjihi exams (High School equivalent). It was a secret, spontaneous decision; a new exciting journey for me. I registered at the Ministry of Education and immediately began studying. I was allowed 5 attempts to pass the exam and I exhausted each one of them. The last time, I was only 4 points shy of passing. I was devastated. I tried to get it approved, but without any luck.
Sometime after that, a new Minister of Education was appointed, Omar Razaz, who announced that he would give students one more chance to take the exam without having to retake the entire academic year. It felt like he was appointed just for me! A new journey began; I had to pass this exam, only this time, I would have some partners in crime: my eldest daughter had 2 exams to retake and my youngest daughter was a senior in high school, so we all spent an entire semester studying. It was actually very fun and brought us together closer. I put in my mind that I will attend university next year and nothing would stop me. While I was taking the exam, I couldn’t stop smiling because I knew all the answers! Even the teacher on duty was looking at me like I was crazy. I told her “I’m sorry, but this exam is wonderful and I’m so happy that I’m going to university next year!” It was one of the most beautiful days of my life. My kids were waiting for me outside and when I saw them we hugged and laughed.
I will never forget the day the results were announced. My daughter woke me up in the morning and I could hear the sound of cars honking outside and music playing (typical celebrations on results-day in Jordan), and she whispers to me, “Mama, we passed!” I slowly woke up and smiled from ear to ear and started dancing with my kids. This was a truly proud moment. After all this hard work and persistence, I was able to feel tangible results. It felt like the world has gone back to present me with its gifts.
I heard a lot of insults in my life. “You are a failure” or “You’re nothing without an education”. Especially from men. But I never believed them. I knew I was worth something. I was able to manage a home, raise a family, cook delicious food everyday for a family of foodies, generate an income – all while being a single-mother. Excuse me, but, I was a bus driver, a job that our society considers a “man’s job”. Who are you to judge me and my abilities? What have you done in your life? You have one job. That’s it. Good for you. My son always stood up for me and defended me to those people who wanted to put me down. I raised him to ignore what society expects of him. I raised him to work ethically and be a respectable, real man.
Can you tell me about a time you overcame a significant obstacle in your life?
By the time we passed our exams, we were already 3,000 JDs ($4,250) in debt. Luckily, our family has a tradition where whoever passes their Tawjihi exams receives a 50 JD gift. Also, whoever received the top score in their category, receives a 500 JD gift. Since I was the top scorer in the Female Vocational category, I was awarded this gift. During the family celebration dinner, my relative who funded these awards stood up and gave a speech. He started talking about my accomplishment and how proud I made the family feel. He then made a surprise announcement that he would double my award. I was stunned and frankly, numb to the bone. My son had to get up and accept the award on my behalf. Then something else happened, that same man stood up again and called my son over to him and said in front of everyone, “I would like to present your mom, Reema, with a full university scholarship!” I believe that if we are positive and patient, God will open an easy path for you.
I was always transparent with my kids about our financial situation. For example, on our kitchen table we have always had our monthly financial budget. If, during the last week of the month we didn’t have any money left, then everyone was aware of it and we planned accordingly. This is why they ended up so responsible and practical. They worked during the summer to supplement their allowance. I believe that when you lay everything out in the open and avoid denying the reality of things, everything will go smoothly. If I tried to hide the reality from them, then how will they help out and how will they understand what is feasible and what is not? Life is much easier when you are honest and straightforward with your kids. They made my life easier.
What can MEN do to better support women?
I lived with my husband for only 5 years. During this time, he encouraged me to learn to drive, even though at that time it wasn’t very common for women in my community to drive. He always wanted me to develop my skills and anything I was interested in. I think he was secretly trying to distract me so that I entertained myself while he was at work, but nevertheless he tried very hard to help me. After he died, my driving license came in handy as it allowed me to make a living by becoming a bus driver. My brothers were also always supportive of me and my decision to live with my kids on our own after my husband died. I didn’t want to move in with anyone, I wanted the freedom to raise my kids on my own.
What advice would your adult self give your younger self?
I would tell myself: Do not get married yet. Complete your education. Everything in its own time is much more beautiful. What do I mean by this? If I had graduated university and gained some experience before I got married, I would have been more mature and prepared to manage my kids and my marriage. This lesson has guided the way that I raise my kids. They need to understand that they need to develop themselves before they start a family. They need to have confidence in themselves and their decision-making skills. I don’t want them to be submissive to anyone. At the same time, they should live their youth to the fullest and have fun. Go crazy!