Though the two cities are less than half an hour apart by car, life in Damascus, the capital of Syria, and life in al-Ghouta, my hometown, are as different as heaven and hell. Al-Ghouta felt like a backward country; Damascus, where I’ve been going to school for the past month or so, is like a fully developed European nation, with food, clothes, gas, and electricity all available at normal prices. Sometimes the electricity goes out for a few hours, and people complain about the heat. I want to tell them that this is nothing compared with the outages in al-Ghouta, which can last several days! The lights that flood houses and roads at night are so bright that that I had to wear sunglasses my first few nights here!

The schools in Damascus still have teachers. There are people working in the public parks, restaurants, playgrounds, and clubs. The markets are full. Shelling and military checkpoints are rare. Boys walk around in nice clothes, flirting with girls. They still have desires beyond food and life.

I can’t deny that I’m enjoying the luxuries here—such as ice cream, which I hadn’t tasted for more than a year.

But not everything is normal. This is still a city in the middle of a war. Damascus is filled with life in the daytime, but most of it stops at night. People are afraid of being out at night.

Eastern Ghouta, where I’m from, is controlled by the opposition, which many people in Damascus blame for the current turmoil in Syria. I tell them that we ate cattle feed regularly to stay alive, but they don’t believe me. I tell them prices for everything in Ghouta are incredibly high, that food is being stolen, but they don’t care. They think we live in luxury because the United Nations sent aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, to our city last spring. They don’t seem to understand that that stuff was not enough for more than one percent of our population.

My mother insists on staying in al-Ghouta. She is a teacher, and she says the local children need her there. I hope she decides to move to the capital, where life is easier and more comfortable. I don’t want her to go through another winter in al-Ghouta. I can’t bear the thought of any of us going through that suffering and pain again. ♦

Marah’s diary is produced in collaboration with Syria Deeply, a digital news outlet covering the Syrian crisis. It was translated from the Arabic by Mais Istanbelli.