Her family, like thousands of others in Aleppo, struggled to survive during the siege. First they were running low on food and water, then they lost their home in an airstrike.
Finally they joined thousands of residents who boarded buses and evacuated the city in December before leaving Syria behind for Turkey.
“The last days were horrible days,” Fatemah said on a recent autumn morning in New York in an interview with her daughter by her side. “From November to December, it was hell.”
The pair now appear to be thriving. Bana’s face looked fuller, and her front teeth had grown in. Her English came easily, and she had a new American Girl doll with her, a souvenir from her visit to the city.
“This is my baby,” she said, stroking the doll’s blonde hair. She named her Christine after the woman who edited her book, “Dear World,” a phrase borrowed from her tweets.
The two are still using the @AlabedBana Twitter account — now with more than 363,000 followers — to post personal messages and comments on current events.
Bana was relaxed and confident, self-possessed beyond her years. Her waist-long brown hair cascaded down her back in waves as she chatted excitedly about seeing the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the tall buildings.
She sang a few lines of a Justin Bieber song and talked about her new school in Turkey. Her favorite subject is math, and she wants to be an English teacher when she grows up.
But when she talked about Aleppo, she was somber and spoke carefully.
“It was very hard,” Bana said, recalling how her home was destroyed in an airstrike. “And also, you know, my friend, her dad and brother died.”
When her Twitter account was opened in September 2016, thousands shared messages of support for her. But there were also critics.
Even after many of her photos and videos were verified and other residents corroborated her story, some doubted the family was in Aleppo at all, arguing that internet access would have been impossible or that the family was distributing “fake news.”
Others suggested that Bana was being used as a propaganda tool, either by her parents or to push the rebel agenda.
The city had been sealed off to Western journalists for months, and while the Twitter account provided a particular insight into the city, many of the details were impossible to verify.
But in New York, Fatemah defended her decision to open the account for her daughter, and she said Bana was deeply involved from the start.
“We decided to go to Twitter because of direct access to the world,” Fatemah said, adding that she wanted to raise awareness about their struggle in Syria.
“As a mother, I know all the parents, they know what their family needs,” Fatemah said. “When there is nothing, no water or no food, you should do something.”
She also believed that the supportive messages of strangers helped buoy their spirits.
“We felt that the world was with us,” Fatemah said. “And that we are not alone.”
Fatemah recalled struggling to find enough food to feed her children last year. Bana remembered feeling constantly hungry.
“Just macaroni and rice, and every day we ate it, and I hated it,” Bana said. “I didn’t want to eat it again.”
When the family finally fled the city, they joined thousands of others on green buses that would take them into the countryside as part of a cease-fire. A trip that normally would have taken an hour ended up taking 19 hours. They were cold and hungry.
Fatemah remembers the smell on the bus from children who were unable to get off to use a bathroom. Bana remembers the noise.
“All of the babies were crying,” she said. “I didn’t sleep. I was very hungry and thirsty.”
When they arrived, Bana and her two younger brothers were so excited to see food.
“I saw fruit and all of this food,” she said. “We ate so much, we threw up.”
In the countryside, local activists met the bus. Many people knew her, Bana said, because of the Twitter account.
Her newfound fame allowed the family to resettle in Turkey with support from the Turkish government, take part in refugee advocacy efforts and eventually write the book.
But Bana said she was surprised at her reception.
“They would take photos,” Bana said. “Because a lot of people know me, they wanted to take my photo and do interviews, and I was like famous.”
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