Editor’s note: Marah’s diary is produced in collaboration with Syria Deeply. It was translated from the Arabic by Mais Istanbelli.
My name isn’t really Marah, but that is the name I’ve chosen to write under here. I can’t use my real name, because it might put me in danger. Let me explain.
The city I live in was once magnificent. In spring, it bloomed. We used to wake up to the sound of birds chirping and to the fragrant scent of flowers. Today, spring is here again. But what kind of spring is this? We now wake up to the sound of falling bombs.
Every day, we open our eyes to our bleak reality in Syria: to the mortar shells that bring fear, death, disease, and destruction. For the past three years, civil war has robbed us of our loved ones, destroyed our special places, hurt our close friends. Take, for example, my neighbor’s daughter: At just seven years old, she has lost the ability to speak after a rocket landed close to our street.
The change happened in spring 2011. I was 15. Some young Syrians were peacefully protesting the government, asking for more political rights. The government responded with brutal force and attacked its own citizens. Since then, things have gotten worse and worse. More than 140,000 people have been killed in the civil war.
Today, my city’s once-friendly face has been replaced by the suffering of its residents. Among the many things I wish I hadn’t seen: a young boy who has been exposed to chemical weapons but has no access to medical treatment, an old man who feels powerless after losing his legs to a bomb, a young man who wears black sunglasses to hide his severely scarred face from young children who might be frightened by the sight, a young woman who is blind because doctors lacked the proper medical equipment to extract the shrapnel from her eyes.
The bombings have turned my city into a ghost town of decrepit buildings and charred trees. Even our animals weren’t spared. You often see a limping dog, a dead cat, a bird mourning its destroyed nest.
During the hardest times, when bombs fell from the sky, we dreamed of bread. We rationed our food intake to one meal a day. You never get used to sleeping on an empty stomach.
I remember vividly the day someone smuggled some cattle feed, or fodder, into our city. We milled the feed (mainly a combination of grass, hay, and straw) to make dough. It didn’t take long to get used to the bad taste and weird texture of our new “bread.” It brought us a semblance of happiness when eaten with the olives, juice, or yogurt we might have on hand.
Our collective will to eat inspired us to get creative with the fodder. We cooked it like it was rice or wheat. We became so accustomed to eating cattle feed that we almost forgot what chicken, meat, and fruit even looked like.
One of the hardest days was when we heard that a car carrying fruit and candy had entered the city. At first, we were beyond thrilled, but our happiness was fleeting. The exorbitant prices for the items on display meant no one could actually afford them.
That day, I saw a young boy with holes in his shoes squeeze his mother’s hand as they passed by the fruit car. He begged her for an apple. Holding back tears, she promised to make him “fodder cake” when they got home. Who would believe that the availability of fruit could be worse than never even seeing it? Is it not a child’s right to have an apple, a banana, or a small piece of candy?
We have been stripped of our rights, starting with food. We try to entertain ourselves to forget our hunger, but we no longer have electricity, which makes it difficult. (It also makes it hard to get access to the internet, so I won’t be able to post here every single week. I’m hoping for every other week. I will do my best.) I feel like I’m living in the Stone Age. We wash our laundry by hand and burn wood to keep warm. In this new world, everything we know is gone. We miss the things we took for granted, like TVs and laptops.
The children are supposed to stay indoors at night, but we get bored. My mother keeps my little brother busy by making him break firewood. The skin on his small hands has become thick and calloused. He executes his chore angrily, with an air of rebellion. He lives with a prevailing sense of deprivation. His feelings, like mine, have changed without our knowledge or will.
I can feel myself forming a grudge against people who live in other cities. I wonder, Why did this happen to us? What fault have we committed to live this bitter reality? Why were our childhoods stolen? ♦