The American news reports of a wartorn Syria include harrowing accounts of destruction, civilian bloodshed and violence as disparate groups of rebels oppose an oppressive government regime, now in its second generation.
To most Americans, the strife is thousands of miles away amid the vague region we know only as the Middle East.
But for Key West business owner Iman "Amy" Hubbs, Syria was home -- until she escaped with her two young children nearly 20 years ago. Syria remains home to all her relatives, many of whom have been killed or displaced in the recent uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad that have met with a deadly, heavy-handed response from al-Assad.
Hubbs, a licensed aesthetician and electrologist, who owns Island Massage and Day Spa with her husband, Gary, is reluctant to discuss the Assad leadership for fear of retribution against her family. But she speaks with relief about her escape to America, which would almost certainly not be possible today.
"You have no rights," she said. "There is no money, and the people are very poor," Amy Hubbs said of her native country. "Forty-six people in my family have been killed, and every member of my family, even my parents, have had to leave their homes. I'm the only one who came to America, and I was very, very lucky. If I was there now, I wouldn't be able to get out."
Nearly two decades ago, Hubbs was a young, single, Arab mother. She had been forced into an arranged marriage at age 14 and had two children by the time she was 16.
"I did not want my daughter to be in the same position as I was," she said. "I was a victim. You can't say anything against the government there, and a woman cannot walk down the street alone. In Syria, women are victims. They have no rights."
Hubbs said she has blocked out many of the memories from her upbringing.
"I sold all my jewelry, and I went to the American embassy, where I said I wanted to leave Syria with my children," she said. "I got very, very lucky and received a visa."
"She taught herself English, and she learned to drive," said Hubbs' husband, Gary, an American from Michigan.
The two met near Dearborn, Mich,, where a large Arab population has relocated, Gary Hubbs said.
Amy initially reached American shores near Princeton, N.J. before heading west to Michigan.
"When I first came here I was angry and upset," she said. "But I learned you just have to be strong."
In Syria, she had cousins and aunts who once were in the beauty business: facials, spa treatments and hair removal, and Amy always loved making people happy when they saw the results of the various treatments.
After they were married, the Hubbs eventually left Michigan for warmer weather, and lived in Daytona Beach for several years, where they were in real estate. Amy went back to school to become a licensed aesthetician and certified medical electrologist who can perform laser hair removal and electrolysis.
"I love the laser hair removal," she said, pointing out that it is an issue for most Arab women. "We're hairy, and I hated shaving and waxing, and I wanted to help myself, my daughter and others with permanent hair removal.
"I had gotten my license in Syria, but nothing from there transferred over to here, so I went back to school here about five years ago, and I got my licenses in 2008," she said.
The couple opened a day spa in Orlando while living in Daytona, but found themselves visiting the Florida Keys more and more frequently, Amy Hubbs said.
They moved here permanently in 2010, and opened Island Massage and Day Spa in November 2011.
"Amy was able to get back into her favorite thing -- beauty," Gary Hubbs said his voice overflowing with pride.
Island Massage and Day Spa includes Amy Hubbs as the resident aesthetician, who does the hair removal, facials, full body scrubs, microderm abrasion, waxing and other beauty treatments.
The couple partnered with Janica and Giovanni Rodriguez, who work as full-time massage therapists. Giovanni is a former instructor at the Miami School of Massage, Gary Hubbs said, adding that their clients constantly rave about their beauty treatments and massages.
The spa includes three treatment rooms, and unlike most day spas, offers their clients soothing, hot showers both before and after beauty treatments and massages.
People really like being able to shower before they get a body wrap or a massage and they appreciate being able to shower off any massage oil or organic sugar scrubs, she said.
Island Massage and Day Spa is located on Whitehead Street, next to the Courthouse Deli and across from the Green Parrot Bar. But despite its bustling location, the interior is a soothing oasis of calm and beauty.
"I love the fact that everyone feels at home and relaxed when they come in," Amy Hubbs said. "The more I do this, the more I love it, and everyone loves the results."
Hubbs offers free consultations for hair removal options, a 10 percent locals discount and hosts monthly "Botox parties" and weight-loss workshops with Dr. Angelo Consiglio.
Island Massage and Day Spa offers deep tissue, Swedish, hot stone and couples massages. Their beauty treatments include teeth whitening, hair removal, waxing, body wraps, microderm abrasion, body scrubs, facials, chemical peels and a detox massage and body wrap at reasonable prices.
Spa packages, group rates, out calls and gift certificates are also available.
The wartorn Syria feels a world away when one enters the serenity of the spa, but it's never far from the mind of the young woman who escaped before it was too late.
For more information, visit www.islandmassageanddayspa.com or call 305-897-3529.