Dear Diary

April 16, 2014

New diarist! New diarist!! New diarist!!!

Marah

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Today, my city’s once-friendly face has been replaced by the suffering of its residents.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?

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23 Comments

  • netraasmiles April 16th, 2014 7:09 PM

    AHH HELLO MARAH!! I love that Rookie’s taking the initiative to truly bring to the light what’s happening in Syria, especially from the point of view of a teenage girl! Sometimes, I feel like the news broadcasts and dramatic headlines only focus on the facts, never the effects, so I’m super excited to see what’s to come (also, Ruby, Naomi, Britney, and Caitlin, how are ya’ll always able to eloquently convey everything I’m feeling? Like, are ya’ll X-Men or something)

    • Ella W April 16th, 2014 8:28 PM

      ^^^^I agree with everything above^^^^

  • shake_that_speare April 16th, 2014 7:23 PM

    I loved all of these but Marah’s one especially gave me chills. I wish there was more the rest of us could do.

  • I.ila April 16th, 2014 7:29 PM

    That was very powerful Marah. Thank you for offering up your words and feelings.

  • K8 is Gr8 April 16th, 2014 8:05 PM

    Marah. Wow. First of all, you are an amazing writer. Second, thank you. Having someone (around) my age write about this subject really put it in perspective for me. “Is it not a child’s right to have an apple, a banana, or a small piece of candy?” I have taken my apple, my banana, my candy for granted my entire life, but if I could send them (and other things) to you and Syria right now, I would in a heartbeat.

    And Ruby! I hope you feel better soon, sweetie. And I hope your coworkers warm up to David soon. I absolutely love your entries and you (even if I don’t know you in person.)

  • cleobea April 16th, 2014 8:36 PM

    MARAH IS THE NEW ANNE FRANK! Except her story will have a happy ending, I hope.
    Caitlin you are too too cute! I love the pictures, and I totally felt it.

  • die_mad April 16th, 2014 10:47 PM

    Welcome to Rookie Marah! I’m so excited to get to know you! I can’t wait to hear your life stories.

    Caitlin, your pictures wow me every time.
    Ruby, for some reason, I’ve always felt so connected to you. Your writing speaks to me. (I hope that doesn’t sound creepy or like I’m trying to say ‘I understand you’, it’s just simply that I feel a connection)
    Britney, I’m so glad to hear you’re coming into your own, you deserve to feel alive and happy.
    Happy Birthday Naomi!!!! Make your 20th year the best and happiest yet!

  • Amy Rose April 17th, 2014 12:51 AM

    MARAH. I am so happy to have you here, my love.

  • Dylan April 17th, 2014 12:59 AM

    HI MARAH!

  • Amy Jackson April 17th, 2014 6:42 AM

    I always enjoy these posts, but Marah’s was heartbreaking. Marah, you’re such a talented writer, and I feel so powerless. That saddens me-being unsure how I can help stop this.

  • ruby April 17th, 2014 7:12 AM

    Marah, thankyou so much for sharing your story here! It is so important that stories like yours get heard.

  • victoria April 17th, 2014 9:01 AM

    thank you, Rookie, for giving girls like Marah a space and a voice.

  • Isabella Sophia April 17th, 2014 10:10 AM

    Thank you so much Marah. Your entry has been very insightful to a reality I could never truly comprehend, as I thankfully have never been exposed to it. I’m so glad to see Rookie working with Syria Deeply, and just want to find a way to help. We can all write ‘I wish I could do something’ but we can, we just have to figure it out. Obviously, we alone aren’t going to solve the crisis but while its still ongoing there must be something we can do to help the people it is affecting.

  • Anaheed April 17th, 2014 12:36 PM

    To everyone asking how you can help, when we interviewed Lara Setrakian from Syria Deeply back in February, she recommended three organizations to contribute to, volunteer with, or fundraise for: Save the Children, MercyCorps, and UNICEF.

  • April 17th, 2014 4:36 PM

    As I was reading Marah’s words, my first reaction was guilt. I felt hugely guilty that I have the luxury to spend my afternoons reading Rookie and pondering stuff about ~life~ and ~being a girl~ when there are people just like me in other parts of the world who are struggling just to stay alive. Afterwards, I realised that I shouldn’t feel guilty, but grateful: a) for the opportunities granted to those of us lucky enough to be living in peaceful countries; b) that Rookie is an inclusive space where people like Marah can have a voice just like the rest of us.

    Marah, thank you for sharing your story. I can’t wait to hear more from you.

  • Shannon April 17th, 2014 5:55 PM

    Welcome, Marah!!!!!

  • Anaheed April 17th, 2014 7:02 PM

    Thank you for all of your lovely comments, you guys. They are being translated into Arabic and sent to Marah as we speak.

  • ColoredSoft April 17th, 2014 9:25 PM

    Welcome to Rookie, Marah <3 Thank you for being so open with your story…I want to hold the ones I love closer. I want to figure out a way to help?

  • irismonster April 18th, 2014 2:08 AM

    Marah’s post made me cry. I feel very frustrated with issues like this, because it is so hard for me to understand what things must be like there, and how can I help if I can’t understand? I think that work like this is hugely helpful, and that finding out what daily life is like for a Syrian like me can really change the perspective. Thank you, Rookie and Marah.

  • Elsary April 19th, 2014 3:42 PM

    Marah, wow. You are really talented writer, and you describe the horror and sorrow amazingly. I could see all the things in front of my eyes. As many have said, it’s great to have someone around my age to tell about things like this. Try to remember the good, old-fashioned spring days with birds singing, and remember that we care about you and wish you all the luck in the world!

    And you others, Caitlin, Ruby, Naomi, Britney, big ball of luck to y’all too! Keep inspiring us <3

  • elektraheart April 19th, 2014 8:36 PM

    I love your writing, Marah. It will get better. We love you. You’re amazing, Marah!

  • Cynthia April 19th, 2014 11:32 PM

    marah, thank you for sharing your story and rookie, thank you for existing.

  • Monica B April 26th, 2014 7:48 PM

    Hey Marah, welcome.

    Ruby — Everytime I see you are back in the hospital, I feel helpless. Please, try your hardest to remember that you have friends here (some who comment, some who don’t) who admire you and think you are an amazing writer, as you have proved time and time again. Let that be a thought of comfort amid the uncomfortable thoughts.

    Yours,
    Monica