In A Syrian Neighbourhood, Rocket Fire Becomes The New Normal

A scene in Salaheddin, Aleppo, Syria. PHOTO: Freedom House (CC BY 2.0).
A scene in Salaheddin, Aleppo, Syria. PHOTO: Freedom House (CC BY 2.0).

This would have been a different article if I had adhered to the saying which I was taught as a child: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” I intended to write this last night, then realised my laptop battery was about to run out. I’ve had no electricity in my house for the past two days, so I decided to put off writing till this morning.

This post was supposed to be about the daily life of a normal girl who is a just bit different. Let’s call her an activist, as this label is more attractive to some.

I was commissioned by Global Voices Online to convey to you some details of our daily lives in Syria. This is what I planned to write about, had I written this post last night, and had I not been such a slave to technology. I could, after all, have written it on paper, by the light of a kerosene lamp. It seems I have lost the ability to write without hearing the sound of my fingers tapping on the keyboard.

But let’s return to the article. I went to sleep thinking that I would write it this morning, as soon as I had found a source of electricity. However, the Syrian Air Defense Force had other plans. I woke up at 8am to the sound of a nearby explosion—a rocket from the Air Defense Force fell about 100 metres from my house in the liberated Mashad neighborhood in Aleppo. We started counting. Two. . . three. . . seven. . . . This one was further away. Eight. . . . The windows started to rattle. I decided to open all the doors and windows. All that I could think that moment was that catching influenza from the cold would be less painful than the shrapnel of broken glass.

I gathered all the blankets I could find, crawled under them and dozed off. War has taught me that I should always sleep, no matter what horrors were unfolding outside.

It was a Friday and I was supposed to attend a protest in the Bustan Al Qaser neighborhood. I got dressed and went out into the street, which seemed to be a brave step, considering the bombardment. Suddenly, the neighborhood I am so used to seemed totally strange. 16 rockets fell, according to friends who kept count. And 16 rockets is enough to change the characteristics of a modest neighborhood like the one I live in. Rubble and glass were everywhere, and my Uggs boots weren’t exactly the best kind of footwear to be wearing in these circumstances.

On the streets, everyone was looking up at the sky. And I mean everyone. Five or six other people were the only civilians outside their homes. An old man cried like a street vendor soliciting customers, not forewarning of death: “It is coming closer. . . . It has arrived. . . . It will shoot. . . . It shot. . . .” His monotone was sadder than the sight of the rubble.

The fighter jet hits close. And some run away from the sound of the explosion. My friend and I laugh at the idea of trying to outrun a fighter jet. Do those people think we are still in the days of the peaceful protests where we could run to escape live bullets? Or is it just a survival instinct, spontaneous and illogical? Who really can outrun a fighter jet? The jet empties its load again, so my friend and I decide that it is stupid to continue walking towards the protest. We enter a nearby building, where we find a crowd of civilians, trembling. I envy their ability to be afraid. This means either that their lives are still meaningful, or that, unlike us, they’re aren’t used to witnessing death.

The loudspeakers are calling on people in the higher floors to come down. The sound of ambulance sirens gets louder. Suddenly, we hear a volley of bullets. My friend asks: “Can those bullets hit the plane?” He answers his own question: “No, my dear, those are the bullets of oppression.” I envy the militant who feels oppressed.

Then everything is normal. Soon, we will continue our journey.

In a few hours, life will be back to normal and the streets will be full of vendors and passers-by. Only those beneath the rubble and their families, and those who have lost their homes, will cry today. Some of the images may or may not remain in our memory—that of the grieving mother watching her house burn with her son is still inside; or the daughter relating how the kitchen caved in with her mother in it.

For us, it was just a normal day of living with explosives. My friend corrects me: this time it wasn’t explosives, but rockets. Please accept my apology for the error: it was just a normal day with rockets.

 

This Post is published as a part of Dispatches from Aleppo, Global voices.

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