Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Memories of a Dark Night

Trapped at home by tanks and mortar shells.
By Maram Saad
  • A woman and her children inspect their bombed-out house in Aleppo’s Al-Mashad neighbourhood. (Photo: Salah al-Ashqar)
    A woman and her children inspect their bombed-out house in Aleppo’s Al-Mashad neighbourhood. (Photo: Salah al-Ashqar)

Night had fallen, but peaceful silence did not accompany it. The rumbling of tanks was growing louder, and flashes of light punctuated the darkness each time a mortar shell was fired.

It was around an hour before midnight on September 9, 2012. That night, my brother and I could not sleep. Our house was just off the main road used by armoured vehicles, and the noise outside was louder than usual.

My brother sat in front of the computer, trying to figure out what was happening. It was very odd to resort to the internet to find out what was going on outside the walls of our house.

The internet had not been cut off, as was customary before the launch of intensive military operations. Whenever this happened we would quickly switch on the TV to watch the breaking news bulletins.

The rumbling was growing louder and the gunfire was becoming more frequent. My brother searched for updates on social media pages of the courageous few who had ventured outside to see for themselves.

I ran to my father’s room to look out of his window, which overlooked the main street. Government tanks were spreading out in the surrounding residential areas, it seemed that they were attempting an incursion.

It was possible that the gunfire indicated the Free Syria Army was engaged in battle with the advancing troops.

Meanwhile, my father was sleeping soundly.

My mother’s sensitive personality had already forced her to flee our house in Eastern Ghouta for Damascus. She could not bear the daily attacks, random shootings and ambushes that were happening in our city.

My father's rhythmic breathing comforted me, but I had to wake him up and make him leave the room. Its location was too dangerous, it could be hit by a mortar.

He argued a little, but finally gave in and moved to the guest room.

“I don’t know why you’re so worried,” he said shaking his head and smiling, “The noises aren’t that close.”

He was trying to comfort me, but I was terrified. Death was imminent in the area.

I joined my brother in his vigil in front of our computer screen. I looked over his shoulder at the pages he was browsing and the news updates he was reading.

According to one person, government forces were attempting to take control of residential areas. Another claimed that the government had deployed its tanks to strategic locations, which had resulted in heavy clashes with opposition fighters.

As the situation escalated outside, our internet signal grew weaker. My brother and I found an extension cable and put the modem on a window ledge. The signal improved, but the modem was emitting a small bright light. We were worried it might attract the attention of a sniper who had taken up residence at the end of our street.

We decided to wrap the device up and cover the tiny flashing light with stickers. We were both extremely frustrated when we lost our internet connection as soon as we had done this; but still, we burst out laughing.

It was ironic how we feared the tiny light emitted by our modem as much as we feared the flashing lights of mortars illuminating the night sky.

Meanwhile, the tanks continued to rumble into the night, spreading more fear, pain and death in our city.

Maram Saad is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor who is displaced and lives in Damascus. The 24 year-old is a media activist and first-aid volunteer with the Red Crescent. One of her worst experiences was tending to her injured father in 2014 who later died in her arms.

This story was produced by Syria Stories (previously Damascus Bureau), IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists. 

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