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'Madaya Mom' Tells The Story Of A Mother Of 5 Living In A Syrian Town Under Siege


Madaya's a small Syrian town located between Damascus and the border with Lebanon that has been held by rebels and under siege since July of 2015. In January of this year, Rym Momtaz, a producer for ABC News, was able to get in touch with a mother of five children in Madaya. ABC News has joined with Marvel Comics to try to tell the story of a woman who was in a place that reporters can't reach in a truly vivid and graphic way. They have produced a nonfiction graphic book, a true life digital comic called "Madaya Mom." Rym Momtaz joins us now and also Dalibor Talajic, the Marvel Comics artist who has drawn "Madaya Mom." Let me thank both of you for being with us.

DALIBOR TALAJIC: Thank you for having us.

RYM MOMTAZ: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: Rym Momtaz, let me begin with you. How did you and how do you communicate with the woman you call Madaya Mom?

MOMTAZ: We communicate through secure messaging apps over the phones, over the internet really. So the way we went about finding her was to go through a wide network of sources that we've cultivated over the years of covering the war in Syria. We had to work for a few weeks, I have to say, to identify the right person and then to get in touch with her and to gain her trust in order for her to feel comfortable enough to engage in this conversation with us because she felt and her family felt that it might put her in danger.

SIMON: Which is why you keep her identity, her actual name, a secret.

MOMTAZ: Yes, exactly. We can't reveal her identity because she worries that revealing her identity might put a target on her back.

SIMON: Dalibor, what are some of the stories you've illustrated that stay with you that you think are most important for us to know?

TALAJIC: The most striking parts is for me the most intimate ones as she - for instance, she decides to even though they are - they're all starving, she decides to stop eating herself because this little amounts of supplies and food that she has, she distributes it to her children and of course husband. And she herself just stopped eating. And it's not like a dramatic decision. It's, like, a logical thing to do. These are the moments that stick with me most.

SIMON: Yeah. On the one hand, it's a very - and I use this word deliberately - it's a very heroic action. On the other hand, it's also what a mother does, isn't it?

TALAJIC: Well, yes. Even though this is a story about a particular mother, she's an every mother anywhere. I don't believe that any other mother should - would do differently.

SIMON: Help us understand what Madaya Mom has had to do to survive and keep her family going.

MOMTAZ: The first thing she's really had to do is to keep calm and go on because she really is the rock of the family. She has this extremely strong character. She's very spirited, and she has refused to allow the circumstances that they are in - i.e. besieged by their own government supported by militant groups - she's refused to let that affect her children too much. So she tries to keep their daily life as normal as possible. She really is sort of the center of that family. She's also extremely courageous and understands that her eloquence and her ability to communicate with the outside world is an opportunity. It's what she can do to explain to the world what is happening to them, and she hopes to bring about change.

SIMON: Dalibor, you grew up during what we now euphemistically call the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Does the story of Madaya bring back certain memories for you?

TALAJIC: Yes, it does. What I could relate to is this civilian point of view during the war because somebody else is fighting, and regardless of your actions, bombs are falling around, snipers are shooting around, and you just survive. It's just very boring, very pointless, very hopeless aspect of war. One of the fragments in the "Madaya Mom" story that rang so many bells with me was her disappointment in the U.N. because they couldn't come to agreement what to do with the siege and everything. And she was - she was really enraged. Like, why doesn't anyone care? And that made me remember, like, during the war, as the war started, as it was about to break out, we were all thinking like, no, this is not going to happen. I mean, it's 20th century. And as the time goes by, people start dying, cities start being destroyed, and you realize that, you know, it really doesn't matter. Nobody cares.

SIMON: Rym, how are Madaya Mom and her family getting by?

MOMTAZ: You know, they found a kind of new normal, I guess. It doesn't mean that they don't constantly every day ask when is this going to stop, when is the siege going to end, when are we going to be free again? They spend their days waiting, and there doesn't seem to be much hope on the horizon. She asks constantly, you know, what do you think is going to happen? Do you have any news about this? And I have to tell her, well, you know, we - we're hearing what you're hearing, that there are talks and people are trying to solve the situation.

SIMON: Rym Momtaz is a producer for ABC News. Dalibor Talajic is an artist from Marvel Comics. Together they have created "Madaya Mom." Thank you very much for being with us.

TALAJIC: Thank you for having us.

MOMTAZ: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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