Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Dominated by the Colour Red
Women walk amidst the rubble of Aleppo’s al-Maadi neighbourhood. (Photo: Bara al-Halabi)
I woke up on Tuesday April 19, 2016 feeling happy, optimistic and full of energy. I had a cup of coffee with my mother, chatted with a few friends online, then left to go to my job as a news writer and presenter at an Idlib radio station.
As I walked down my street I heard the sound of military aircraft hovering in the sky.
“Russian planes!” someone shouted.
“No, they’re [Bashar] al-Assad planes,” said another.
I paused, wondering what to do. Should I go back home, or should I carry on walking?
I decided to carry on.
I reached the house of the driver who took a group of my colleagues and I to work. We had barely started our journey when the planes launched an offensive on Kfar Nabel.
I covered my ears with my shaking hands. My heart pounded and I could feel the blood draining from my face.
I hoped to God that should I die, my body would remain whole so my family could identify me.
“Please God, do not make my death painful,” I prayed. “Please let me die in one piece.”
Our driver deemed the situation too dangerous to keep going. We stopped and got out of the vehicle.
Chaos filled the streets. Ambulance sirens wailed, and people screamed.
“We need blood group O positive,” one paramedic shouted.
“Kfar Nabel’s hospitals are full, take the wounded to Maarat al-Numan,” shouted another.
I almost collapsed from fear, my friends tried to calm me down, but everywhere I turned I saw death and destruction.
Some of those around me looked up at the sky to see if any warplanes were closing in on us.
“We should go to the radio station to help document the names of the martyrs,” one of my colleagues said.
We all fell silent.
“We only die once,” she added, laughing. “Let us die martyrs.”
So after a long argument we decided to continue to work. Our driver used small back roads that were less likely to be targeted.
Throughout our journey we heard repeated airstrikes. When we reached the village of Hass, there were people in the streets squinting at the horizon. They told us the airstrikes were now targeting the city of Maarat al-Numan.
We arrived at our workplace about half an hour later.
The newsroom was a mess. Our live broadcasts had been cut off. Some people were working on documenting the names of the martyred and wounded, others were documenting the numbers of unidentified martyrs.
We began working on a news summary we hoped to broadcast at 2pm, but it was impossible to finalise as news of more deaths kept flowing in, this time from Aleppo.
Each time we finished a draft, we had to change it to include information about the latest round of airstrikes and casualties.
Images flooded into to the newsroom from activists, news correspondents and civilians both inside Syria and abroad. Each one was a horror story of its own.
Dead civilians, injured civilians, demolished houses, charred vehicles and the remains of street markets.
I broke down crying when I saw the image of a martyred child in Maarat al-Numan. The image was dominated by the colour red: his blood mixed with the remains of the strawberries he had been selling.
Our phone lines never stopped ringing that day. Residents of the targeted areas asked for news of their family members and loved ones.
We knew the names of most of the martyrs and some of them we knew in person. One was the brother of a colleague. One was a high school student a different colleague used to teach. One was the neighbour of yet another colleague.
We found it impossible to tell a concerned family member that their loved one had been martyred, and we all felt helpless.
But it isn’t over.
As I sit at my desk now, writing about the tragic events of that day in April, I can hear military aircraft circling the sky above me once again.
In the background a colleague of mine reads the latest news bulletin.
“Renewed airstrikes target Maarat al-Numan, Saraqib and the village of Al-Fateira. News also in that the cities of Homs, Raqqa and Deir al-Zor have been bombed. No details yet.”
Mona al-Mohammad is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Tabaqa. The 20-year-old was forced to abandon her Arabic literature university course and flee to Idlib’s countryside where she and her family are now displaced.
This story was produced by Syria Stories (previously Damascus Bureau), IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.
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