Last week Wonder Woman staring Gal Gadot broke box office records worldwide, while Lebanon banned the movie and protestors in Austin, Texas, boycotted the all-female screening. One American news anchor even complained the heroine wasn’t “American enough.” As the world seemed to debate the merits and missed opportunities of Wonder Woman, I traveled to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, a stone’s throw from the Syrian border, to interview the wonder women of the Middle East—heroic women who have experienced inconceivable suffering and fight everyday to overcome it.
She didn’t look like Wonder Woman, yet as we talked she transformed from mild mannered to something more than spectacular. Pushing back her head covering, Zada shifted uncomfortably in her chair. As she’s eight months pregnant and has just arrived from the border, I was feeling uncomfortable for her. A finjaan, or handle-less coffee cup, balancing on her swollen belly and swayed with each of the baby’s kicks. “She will be strong,” Zada said, grinning at me as she moved her cup to avoid a spill. Too quickly her smile dissolved into a deadly seriousness, “We need her to be strong.”
I’m no stranger to seeing resilience and courage grow out of trauma and suffering. I’ve visited war zones and refugee camps before—most often in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the tortured heart of Africa. Rape, murder, kidnapping, sickness, and loss are commonplace there. Yet, the women in these camps were some of the strongest, most capable survivors I’ve ever met, and before I came it was so easy to overlook them. Because the world had forgotten the DRC. But these women would still survive, from their own sheer will and hope and grit. Something deep and disruptive drove me across an ocean to meet them. As I wrote their story, a new story began in me. The empathy these women had for each other, for their communities, and even for their enemies was nothing short of holy ground.1