Four Days of War in Damascus' Eastern Ghouta

Friday 23 February 201810:33 pm
On Saturday night, news about military reinforcements deployed on the verge of Eastern Ghouta starts to come out. Tens of friends are exchanging photos of military forces in unprecedented numbers via Facebook and Whatsapp, warning that hardships in Damascus are on the horizon. "Pay attention, don't move too much, don't peek. Stay behind closed doors." I feel nervous and I decide to disregard the news. This is no more than rumors. Things will be sorted out peacefully. Who can still endure all this blood and noise of firearms? Personally, I am fed up. I am fed up and I have become addicted to painkillers for headaches and caffeine, which lately I have tried to replace with Chamomile in an obvious failed attempt to relax. Sunday passes without updates. Tension is in the air. I see anxiety, confusion and anticipation in pedestrians' eyes in Damascus. No one wants a new chapter of the war for sure. Fathers and mothers fear that their children will be randomly killed, with death coming at any time without differentiating between one Syrian and another. Some would feel for relatives or friends who still live in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, families that war has one way or another left them in a place where they do not necessarily want to be. I believe this night has witnessed thousands of prayers in different ways and forms, all hoping for the city not to get under the shadow of death and destruction. I pay a visit to my friend on Monday morning. She speaks to me of her fears for the area we live in, which is close to the frontlines. She is considering moving to a house near the other edge of the city; I tell her to wait for a bit, maybe negotiations will end peacefully. But the battle is declared in the next hours. The sky above us is on fire, people are running back to their homes, all unified by horror. Everyone is looking for a refuge for themselves and their children amid an absurd war most of us had nothing to do with. Monday night is hellish. I do not know about the others, but I did not get a wink of sleep. How scary is the sound of bombardment at night! For some reason it is more terrifying at night than in the morning. Perhaps the daytime comes with the sound of the daily life. But at night, you can hear nothing but the bombardment. It is raw and sharp. It tears my heart out. I keep mumbling, not sure if I am reciting prayers, even though I have long forgotten all childhood prayers. Nothing has changed on Tuesday; it ends like the day before. I am not sure whether the bombardment has stopped for a moment or not. I decide to go out to run some errands, but I cannot due to shells that fell in close proximity to our house. I spend my time browsing Facebook. I see wishes for the war to end, prayers that the other would be wiped out, photos of martyrs on both sides and calls to close schools until the military raids are over. I refresh the news feed every ten seconds in the hope that I will find different news, but there is nothing but death. I decide to go out. As usual, no one goes out during the time of war except for the poor, or the insane like myself. In the street I see a gas cylinders vendor, women at the governmental maternity care clinic, vegetable sellers, taxi and minibus drivers, and patients looking for treatment. As usually, mortar shells kill no one but the poor, those who cannot afford to travel or to shelter from the attacks in a reinforced house away from the battle. I go back to my house that stands next to the frontlines. My mother receives tens of calls via internet applications from relatives and friends who live abroad. She replies by saying "thank God we're still alive". She does not get bored of detailing the number of mortar shells that fell today and the places they hit. She talks about speculation and analysis she heard from news bulletins. She hangs up saying "amen, amen". My mom does not want to die. She still wants to see her grandchildren grow. She is still dreaming of meeting her overseas grandchild who she has not seen in more than a year and a half. Her dreams are similar to every mother's in Ghouta, Damascus and everywhere else. The misery is not the same on either side of the city, but everyone has the right to feel the pain and talk about it. Is there a suffering gauge? And based on which we silence those who do not suffer as much as we do? It is easy to fall into the trap of stereotypes. "You live aboard, you have no right to talk". "You're in the Levant and speak of death? It's only a handful of mortar shells". "Just go check first what's happening in the north ". Such replies only add to the misery of the daily deaths. This evening, I sit on my table. I am up to my neck with tens of tasks that I have to wrap up within the coming days. I flipped over my notebook. I feel like any work I will do will be meaningless. Words are intertwined. I write one article about preserving the Syrian heritage, and another about a center providing care for Syrian refugees in a neighboring country. I translate some pages, finish a shelved report that still have some holes and apply for a fellowship in London. I come across papers on which I write down English words that I try every day to memorize, so I do not feel inadequate when the war ends and expatriates holding "foreign" certificates return. I realize that the three words written on the papers since last week are still the same. I have not added a single word to the list. The sound of jet fighters breaks the silence, followed by various noises. I decide to end my day, and wait for another that might be better. I whisper to myself: "Coolness and safety."
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