February 10, 2023
“The Search for Survivors of Earthquakes”, a Facebook Group.
A photo of a young, handsome man believed to be in his twenties and a post reading:
“His name is Nael Masri. He has been trapped under rubble for four days. If you have any information about his whereabouts, please call this number: +963945302239.”
I take a brief pause and let out a sigh, not from pain or exhaustion. I am operating on autopilot now, as we enter the fourth day of our unprofessional virtual search for survivors. I sigh because the post didn’t share where Nael was located. I hit the share button and choose where to spread the word randomly – on my personal wall, a page I manage, or other Syrian groups. Syrians from Syria to Turkey and beyond are posting, sharing, and reposting.
A friend updated his cover photo with an image of the Syrian Civil Defence volunteers carrying a child that they just rescued from under the rubbles, both with incredibly genuine smiles. I add another heart reaction to that photo.
“Immigration and USA Asylum seeker”, a Facebook Group.
I haven’t read the post. I snooze immigration and US asylum seekers for 30 days.
A post by Jihan Haj Bakri “Are you waiting for more news about my family?” Sadly, she goes on to list the names of her cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family members who have passed away. 13? More. I lost count with the tears. The post ends with the names of those who are still missing.
I had the privilege of teaching Jihan creative writing to Jihan and editing her essay about the loss of her first child in an Assad bombing. Jihan is a brave journalist and former Syrian Civil Defence volunteer.
I attempt to write a message to Jihan, but the words seem inadequate and cliché in the face of such unimaginable loss. Ultimately, I close the message window.
“The Response Team to Earthquake in South Turkey” Facebook Group
The post includes a Google Maps link: “Urgent Help Needed! My parents are trapped under the rubble of this building and there is no rescue team in sight. Can anyone provide me with a vehicle number or help in any way possible? I am willing to pay any amount. My phone number is …. . Please, I need help as soon as possible.”
Despite being far away, I open the map link and I zoom in an in. I share the post.
I go to Facebook’s search bar and type “Fadi- Alhalabi“. I check Fadi’s post six or seven times a day, but he hasn’t posted anything new in the past six hours.
His last post is a photo of a collapsed building and: “Under the fourth roof are my family and my beloved: My mother, father, brother Yaman, brother’s wife, and brother’s children Ahmed, Gad, and Tim. Under the third roof is my cousin and his family of five.”
I don’t know how to describe my relationship with Fadi. He’s a fellow comrade from Aleppo, an incredible filmmaker, and a shy decent man. Although we know more about each other than we actually know each other, I still feel the urgeto check on him constantly. I open a message and send him five violet heart emojis.
What does that even mean? Such a silly message.
I wish I could undo it.
A video on the “Syria Civil Defence – The White Helmets” page, I open it. Under the rubble, two men are trying to rescue Sham, a young girl. “I have an idea, I have an idea,” she says, and suggests that she sleep while they do what they need to save her. One of them asks her, “Do you know any songs for Sham?” She starts singing “Ya Sham, you are our Sham” and he joins in. She realises that they are trying to distract her from the pain she is feeling. The White Helmets volunteer tells her stories about his daughter, Mela. They finally manage to pull her from under the rubble and everyone laughs.
I cry out of joy. Pure joy. I click to see who shared the video.
“Our hope ..”
“Thank you White Helmets”
I smile, who cares if propaganda journalists call them a terrorist if their own people, the people who are exhausted by years of death, bombardment, and earthquakes still manage to see them as a symbol of hope. I save the video.
“May god protect them” I pray.
A friend’s post is explaining once again that the sanctions are not the reason for the regime’s lack of response to the crisis.
Bashar Al-Assad managed to steer the conversation. I monitored their media coverage from the first day, both officially and on the pages of artists who support him. The strategy is simple: blame the sanctions for the loss of lives and portray himself as a legitimate president.By sharing the condolences that he was receiving from other states.
And suddenly, the conversation was no longer about how to save the people, why there are no rescue teams entering Syria for days, or how to open the borders and crossing points for aid.
It became a game of blaming, with or against the sanctions.
This is not my battle. I skip the post.
“M,” someone I only follow on social media, wrote a post saying, “We need this list of items in Aleppo: Blankets, Diapers, Pads, Jackets ..”
I want to share it, but what if… what if sharing her post puts “M” in a dangerous situation with the regime’s intelligence agency, the Mokhabarat. They don’t care about earthquakes at all. I have been on their radar for years now and “M” might be in danger by association.
I send a message to a friend asking, “If I give you money, can you ensure it reaches Aleppo without anyone knowing it’s from me?” They replied, “Sure.” I felt ashamed that the amount I was able to give was so small.
I don’t share the list.
The AlJumhuriya page, an online Syrian progressive magazine, published a photo album with the caption, “It’s time to save Syrians, not exchange accusations.” In it they state an incredible ethical stance in the midst of the unethical debate between the Syrian regime and wealthy countries.
These individuals would be my future political party if we ever have the chance to have political parties in Syria. If someone were to ask me who represents my political views, I would answer without hesitation.
I still have some energy left to feel proud. It’s such a relief that someone is taking on the responsibility of explaining the obvious, the ethical, and the courageous on our behalf.
A friend shared my live video. Oh, I hate that video. I hate that I almost cried while explaining why I am prevented from working in areas controlled by the regime. Why I am a target. Why I can’t help within Aleppo. Why none of us can. I hate crying in front of “others,” anyone who is not a Syrian is an “other” in moments like this. I hate crying in moments like this, and unfortunately, we’ve had many of these moments. I also hate crying while explaining where people can donate or how they can help.
I skip ahead.
Suddenly, I want to check the page of an international feminist organisation. I type its name into the search bar, but there was nothing, not a single mention of Syria.
Next, I go to the page of another international feminist organisation that I have a great deal of respect for. On the second day after the earthquake, they held a webinar on cyber violence. On the third day, they posted a brief statement of solidarity (69 words). I copied it into a word document just to check the word count. I type, angry and frustrated, but then I erase what I have written.
I whisper to myself a verse from Mahmoud Darwish, “How lonely you were, my mother’s son.”
I went back to my news feed.
ِI smile at an art album by Diala Brisly, an incredible Syrian visual artist, who is selling her original artwork to donate the money for aid. I give another heart reaction to her and many other artists who are doing so.
A psychology awareness page shares a video, What is survival guilt? #Syria. A slow melodramatic animation video.
Ok. Now what? Should I share it with those who are searching for their families? Or should I stop finding ways to be useful and instead practise my breathing techniques?
Snooze this page for 30 days.
A friend had donated to Molham team, a credible local humanitarian organization, and I give another heart reaction.
Reem is sharing another post about shelter centers, yet another about where to get food, and another about a family searching for their daughter Aya. She has also posted about a family in need of eviction. I clicked on Reem’s profile and wanted to check how often she was posting, just to see if she had gotten any sleep. It seemed like she was only sleeping for an hour or two at most.
Reem is my comrade and my best friend. When I needed to hide from the Mukhabarat, I sought refuge in her room. When I was overcome with fear of dying under barrel bombs in Aleppo, I talked to Reem. And when I was completely depressed after being forced to flee Aleppo, I called Reem. We haven’t had much conversation in the past three days.
I record a voice message for her “I love you so much.” She replied, “Oh my heart, I love you so much as well.” I don’t ask how she was, and she doesn’t ask me either. We both know how we are. We’re not okay, and we shouldn’t be.
ِA Facebook group, “The Earthquake Response Team in South Turkey,” has posted five photos of a table listing the names of individuals who are currently in Turkish hospitals without their families.
Within less than 30 minutes, Duaa transcribed these photos into a post to make it easier for families to search for their missing loved ones. The post has received hundreds of comments, all from families searching for their missing family members.
A friend shared a photo of his father and I write my tenth comment for the day saying, “May God have mercy on him and give you strength.” I save the post because I am afraid that I may forget the family members that were lost within my community.
Mohamed Katoub wrote a comprehensive post titled “Update: Fourth day after the earthquake, February 9”. I take my time to carefully read it. Katoub is a Syrian activist, a survivor, a medical and humanitarian expert, and most importantly, a fervent believer in the right of Syrians to live. Unfortunately, the right to life for Syrians is still a matter of debate. I usually rely on Katoub’s updates. We have collaborated on various initiatives over the years, such as the Aleppo siege, the Ghouta siege, the chemical weapons attack on Douma, and many other devastating events.
However, this time the task is more challenging. Most of his followers are wary of engaging with the UN or official Syrian envoys, as our previous attempts to pressure, shame, or plead with them have been futile. We are exhausted from translating, sending necessary assessments, and signing petitions.
I share it to a page I manage.
A post by Someone who is telling us, the Syrians, how we should film in crisis. Unfollow.
Another Missing photo album.
I don’t wipe the tears.
Another post about a family who needs eviction. Share
A Friend marked herself safe in the earthquake. Oh shit. How did I forget to check on her and her family?
I open my saved posts. I saved five “good” testimonies from survivors or families of the victims.
I open a conversation with Afraa, who has recently lost her uncle’s whole family. I ask, “Hey, what would you prefer? Should I send you some posts to translate or leave you alone?”
She responds, “I’m so sorry, Marcelle. I was away and didn’t have the energy yesterday.”
I share the posts with her, and we translate..
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