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Sleeping with Fear, Waking with Fear

Somehow, you get used to living like this.
By Nahla Mustafa
  • A woman buying vegetables. (Photo: IWPR)
    A woman buying vegetables. (Photo: IWPR)

We fled to the town of Maar Tahroma after the army took control of our village. A few days later, my elder sister Mary came to visit us.

On August 20, 2015, she and I were drinking coffee. We were talking about everything, from our beautiful memories to our painful reality. We prayed and I dreamt that one day I would see my parents home again, the house where my children were born and raised.

As we talked, my sister looked up at the sky. Then she said, “What is this thing falling from the sky?”

I looked up and saw a barrel being thrown out of a helicopter.

I shouted, “It’s a helicopter, it dropped a barrel bomb!”

I looked at my children as they ran. I felt for a moment that the bomb would fall on our heads.

Hugging my youngest, I said the shahada prayer, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.”

The light in my eyes went out; I saw death. A few seconds later, that barrel fell with a terrifying noise not far from us. A whole neighborhood in the city centre was demolished in the blast and smoke and dust filled the air around us. We could no longer see each other.

My sister screamed hysterically,”Where are my children? Did they die?”

“No, everyone is here, they are all fine,” I answered.

My sister breathed as if she was coming back to life and said, “I thought it had fallen on us.”

The barrel bomb had demolished part of our house and and broken the windows. Still, I thanked God that no one was hurt. My sister, my children and I ran to seek shelter in the cave owned by our neighbour, Abu Ahmad.

On our way there, I remembered my husband. My fear for my children had made me forget about him for a moment. I didn’t know where he had gone and I was afraid that he had been hurt.

I began imagining the worst and sat down, crying, with my children. A man passed by who had been at the site of the bombing and said that everything was okay, there was no victims.

I relaxed a little and went into Abu Ahmad’s cave. It was underground. We weren’t used to sitting in a dark place like this. I felt uncomfortable.

I asked my neighbour’s wife, “How can you stay inside this cave?”

She told me that there were people who had made their homes in caves, who lived, slept and ate there.

I felt very upset, like I was suffocating. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left out of the cave and found my husband outside. He had been looking for us.

“Were you hurt?” he asked me. I reassured him that all was well and we went with him.

My mother-in-law returned home later in the afternoon. I asked her where she had been and she told me that she had heard warnings of a bombing in Maar Tahroma over a special wireless device.

As for us, we had neither heard the planes nor did we have access to a such a device to track news of the raids. So we had been oblivious.

That night, every time we heard the sound of a plane my husband and I took the children to the basement. We weren’t used to living like this and felt consumed by anxiety. Ever since I had seen the barrel falling from that damned plane with my own eyes, I could no longer sleep at night.

I asked my husband to buy a wireless device too so that we could monitor the air traffic and receive warnings of attack. He agreed to get one and we began carrying it duing night and day.

Nearly a year-and-a-half later, we are still displaced within our own country. We are still subjected to shelling and attack by all kinds of missiles and barrel bombs. The Syrian regime Has tried all types of weapons on the Syrian people; phosphoric, concussive, clustered, chlorine. Even internationally banned sarin gas has been used on the children of Ghouta and Idlib. We sleep with fear, and we wake up to fear.

Nahla Mustafa, 22, is married with three children. A housewife from western Hama countryside, she now lives in the town of Maar Tahroma.

This article was originally published on IWPR's Syria platform:

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