The conversations with Catherine al-Talli over Skype were cryptic, no voice, only text, and they were deleted once the conversation ended. An anti-regime activist, there was no way I could have used her name in my report without putting her in danger.
In the summer of 2011, and I was in Damascus with a CNN team on the first official visas the Syrian government had granted our network since the uprising began around four months earlier.
We knew we were being watched: The intelligence agents in their drab suits trying to hide their faces behind newspapers outside our hotel were impossible to miss. Opposition activists warned us all phones were tapped, and suspected our hotel rooms were as well.
Catherine is no stranger to the ways of the Assad regime. Her father, a longtime activist, was detained in 1992 for eight years. Simply coming out to meet us was a formidable risk for her to take, considering the regime surveillance.
We'd previously arranged hand signals and a meeting point on a crowded street. I was with a female colleague, CNN producer Jomana Karadsheh. We pretended we were shopping, with a small flipcam buried deep in a handbag.
We tailed Catherine through the narrow alleyways of Old Damascus, nervously looking over our shoulders before finally following her into a dark apartment building, where one of her friends lived, and where we could talk.
Catherine, a human rights activist and lawyer, took part in some of the first demonstrations against the regime in Damascus in March. A couple of months later she was detained and imprisoned for 48 hours.
"I saw how they treat prisoners there, they don't treat them like human beings," she told us. "I saw how they forced a prisoner to drink toilet water, and I saw how they called a woman activist dirty words."
She believes she was released because of her prominence as a lawyer, but it forced her to effectively live in hiding.
Like other Syrian women I met during the course of my reporting, Catherine was taking charge and playing a significant role in the revolution.
Protesters shot, beaten
Her focus at the time was to document Syrian government violations, to build a future case to prosecute regime officials and compile evidence of government brutality. She attended dozens of demonstrations, cataloging shootings, beatings, and detentions.
She recalls one protest where activists were chanting for the unity of the Syrian people, the unity of Muslims and Christians.
"Suddenly, the security forces guards jumped in front of the protestors, less than 10m away, and the security forces start shooting the protestors." She remembered. "We were in the frontlines and at least five next to me were shot and killed at that time, I saw that by my own eyes.
"You asked me about why I am going out when it's really risky: Because it's our country, in simple words," she explained. "It's our responsibility to make it better."
A few days later we snuck out once again to attend a secret meeting of opposition activists held at a school in an upscale Damascus neighborhood. Again, they asked us not to use their real names.
Like many of the activists I have met, they have now disappeared, perhaps detained or perhaps, like so many of the more moderate voices of the revolution, driven underground.
One of the women, a Christian, going by the pseudonym Maria, said she used to demonstrate until she nearly died after security forces fired tear gas followed by bullets at a protest she attended.
Another young woman, a lawyer and a Muslim, who asked to be called Sana'a, was briefly detained and began working behind the scenes to get other activists out of jail.
For many watching events in Syria unfold, mostly through YouTube videos, it would seem that women are not a factor. But delve behind those first appearances and you will discover that's not the case.
They may not be as visible as their male counterparts, but women are playing a crucial role, one that is arguably going to grow even more critical. And the nation's women are from all different backgrounds and beliefs.
Back in Damascus, some six months after my first meeting with Catherine, I met three women, clad in black from head to toe, in the neighborhood of Kafarsouseh. They said that fear of sexual assault by security forces kept them off the streets.
"We want our voices to be heard, women also want freedom, this is our Syria as well," they said, echoing one another.
They were from conservative Sunni backgrounds, but they insisted they did not want to live under Islamic law.
All university students, they had dropped out of school and now spent hours stitching together opposition flags, making face masks for the men to wear, and running secret underground clinics to treat the wounded, having gone through a crash course in first aid.
"It was a shock at first," Insisar, at 19 the youngest of the three, said of seeing gaping wounds. "But we have a goal that we need to reach, so we have to deal with it."
They also tracked down the families of the dead or detained to provide them with food, blankets and whatever financial aid they could.
Since our meeting, a year has passed, and the phenomenon of the "radicalization of the revolution" has ingrained itself. Extremist groups, like the Nusra Front which the U.S. recently designated a terrorist organization, are at the forefront of the rebel fighting force and seeing their capabilities, influence and ranks grow by the day.
In Aleppo in December a Salafist commander joked that the only thing between him and the Nusra Front was a cigarette. The Front does not allow its fighters to smoke, and he did not want to give up nicotine. That line is a widespread joke I heard more than once during my two weeks there.
We ended up walking with him into a former sweetshop recently turned into a field clinic.
He overheard a conversation I was having with one of the medics, a 19-year-old high school senior who asked us to name her Aya.
Fear and bravery
"You did what?" he asked her, his voice dripping with contempt.
Aya, glared straight at him, her dark eyes lined with bright blue eye shadow, her young face framed by a pale pink headscarf.
"I left my husband and came to volunteer here," she responded, her voice quiet but defiant.
He gave her a look of utter disgust before he turned on his heel and stormed out of the room.
Relief spilled across Aya's face, and the faces of her colleagues, but quickly gave way to anger: She was not about to let the Syria she was fighting for be ruled by the likes of him.
Aya's English is nearly impeccable. She once dreamt of being a lawyer. A new bride, her husband had recently joined the free Syrian army and she left home -- with his and her family's blessing -- to train as a medic.
"With everything happening in this country, I decided that I am supposed to do something and I just can't take a gun and fight because I am a girl," she explained. "So I decided to come here and help in another thing, like... saving people."