As I spend another anniversary in the country I decided this year to spend it with those who matter the most. The civilians. The displaced families internally.
Amidst the ruin of Syria I sit with Abo Omar & his wife Marwa while their 2 boys rummage around the room they have taken shelter in. They lost their home and eldest son Hamoud nearly 2 years ago when a government mortar hit their civilian populated area. Marwa was badly injured and has since recovered. This is the 5th building they have had to move to within Syria in the past 2 years, a sad trend that many can relate to within the country.
I first met Abo Omar over 3 years ago. Laughter was plentiful, his children chanted & danced among the crowds pulling me in to join them in dance with the joyous excitement of what they saw as a festival atmosphere. Vibrancy gleamed within the crowds, drums echoed through the streets with song that was haunting, the re-established flag to represent a Free Syria weaved within the people with a unity that many saw as unbreakable.
‘I was proud to be Syrian before, but not today. Look at what we have done to our country.’ As Abo Omar titters he proceeds to opening his Facebook on the cracked screen of his aged mobile. ‘Look, we even fight over what day the revolution began.’ he shows me the talks many have been indulging online about the date and origins of the revolution.
Abo Omar spent close to a year with the then Free Syrian Army, his commander and once friend from 10 years prior was whom he pledged his allegiance. They fought fierce battles to free Homs together, they wept together over their lost brothers in battle, and celebrated together over few minor victories they would achieve back then with what little weaponry they had.
‘I could not agree with him on many decisions, the first was when he wanted us to torture and kill prisoners we had from the army. I did not join the Free Syrian Army for this. I joined to protect my children, my country.’ Abo Omar had then decided that this would not be the continued path for him.
Abo Omar started working with others to help bring in medical supplies, food and other items urgently needed in the besieged city of Homs through dangerous smuggling routes across from Lebanon that was extremely limiting to what they could bring.
His then commander has gone on to become a Jabhat Al Nusra leader, now fronting battles for greater land and power.
The family depend on what little handouts they receive through locals working to help with food and clothing. They live on minimal water they share with 5 other families in the large home that was long abandoned with its true owners unknown. Families have each taken a room and made it their home as they wait; they do not even know what they are waiting for.
Marwa, Abo Omar’s wife, once a school teacher now spends her time trying to interest her children in education to occupy their minds. The boys do not go outside and do not attend the local mosque or schools that have been arranged by some which have been known to entice recruitment &a rather extremist teaching of Islam.
‘It is not safe for our children to go outside. They like to take boys their age and teach them very bad things. God willing something will happen soon so we can live in peace again.’ Marwa continues to tidy their small room as we talk to form a sense of normality in the discomfort of her obvious despair.
They do not hold passports, one of the biggest problems facing the people of Syria making it extremely difficult for them to travel, leaving them little opportunity. Abo Omar paid $3500 to obtain passports selling what little belongings they had after losing their eldest along with their home; part of that money was their wedding rings they sold; however like many from Syria they never saw these passports nor the people who they arranged the deal with.
‘What can we do? Beg on the streets of Turkey or Lebanon? What can we do? If I had the money I would even try to send my wife and children on the boat to Greece.’ Abo Omar pauses to sip his coffee to mask his shaky voice from the depth of emotion.
‘I had a small shop. Children would come after school and buy sweets. I was able to feed my own family, now look at us.’
4 years later and a country left predominantly in rubble. Millions of civilians are left with little to no voice; a voice veiled by the armed struggle in the country.
While this story is a simple one on some levels within the complexities of this war; it is however the largest story of the country, it is the story that vast numbers echo.
The voice of millions of civilians who are left displaced and with the branding of refugee is the voice that is off the true Syria and I give my life on it that this voice is a beautiful one of care, a kindness that cannot be found across the globe with ease, and it is a voice that deserves our human affection across the world.