Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Syria: Fleeing From One Place to the Next
Two women walk past a school in ruins in Aleppo’s Al-Ansari neighbourhood. (Photo: Hussam Kuwaifatiyeh)
Every morning, I wake up, get dressed and go to school. I walk into a classroom of young children living in the shadow of death, and we begin our lessons.
I teach them the language of a different world, a world where people lead very different lives.
After the school day, I head off to the field hospital where I practice a profession that normally requires six years of hard study. Some days, the medical procedures I carry out are actually full operations.
Every minute I spend at the hospital, I find myself rubbing shoulders with death. When my shift is over, I record the names of the martyrs, the injured, and those who lost limbs that day.
I leave the hospital and make my way to a local market. It is half-deserted, and I rummage around for crumbs that are sold at exorbitant prices.
Finally, I head back home, a place haunted by grief. I tell my family about my day and throw myself into bed. I lie there thinking of the dreams I was prevented from fulfilling. The siege of Eastern Ghouta has prevented me from completing my medical degree at Damascus University, located just a few kilometres away from my home.
I drift off to sleep, and suddenly wake at the sound of a shell hitting a nearby house, or a phone call from the hospital asking me to rush back and help treat newly-admitted injured people.
At the age of just 20, I find myself shouldering a burden and a grief of which many Syrians my age are unaware. They distanced themselves from the revolution, not caring what was happening. They are no different from the rest of the world, which turned its back on those of us who asked for basic rights, and who are still being slaughtered in retribution.
As if the injustices of war were not enough, I suffer from the injustice of the male society in which I live. Women like me have no right to dream or to express their opinions, even if they work as paramedics in field hospitals. I have been sentenced to work under the shadow of a male colleague, and I wonder how I can be treated like this by doctors, some of whom actually studied abroad.
I talk to my parents and tell them I want to flee this graveyard in which I live. I beg them to let me go so that I can reconnect with my lost soul.
The psychiatrist I have been seeing recognises how depressed I am. He tells my parents I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and convinces them to allow me to leave.
I start contacting anyone who can help me escape from Eastern Ghouta. After many payments and more false promises, I finally manage to flee to Damascus on February 2, 2015.
THE PRICE OF LEAVING
Arriving in Damascus, I am astonished to find that life is going on as normal. The war has not affected the city’s residents. They discuss it as if it is happening on another planet, and as if those affected by it are not human beings.
Three days later, the government launches a barbaric attack on the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. Around 300 people are killed and hundreds more wounded.
On that day, every time a plane takes off from the Mazzeh military airbase, people know it is carrying death to Douma’s residents, but no one seems to care.
I feel like I am living in a fresh hell, and I don’t know what to do. I wish I hadn’t left my parents and I cannot stop thinking about what I would normally be doing at this time. I would be at the field hospital, helping those in need.
Here in Damascus, I can do nothing. I cannot even speak out against what is happening, or have a proper telephone conversation with my parents as their landline is probably tapped.
When I was in Ghouta, I was productive and served the revolution. Here I am simply a witness to the atrocities.
My new life is anything but normal, and I begin to resent my existence.
Little by little, I realise that the dream I had come to chase in Damascus is no longer mine. It belongs to my enemies, the Iranians and the “shabiha” (pro-government paramilitaries). I see them every day on the streets of Damascus. I feel that they are robbing the city of its innocence.
The thing that upsets me most about Damascus is the way people justify their indifference towards Ghouta. Those who have anything to say about it claim that the people there were part of a conspiracy and brought destruction upon themselves and others.
Five months later, like so many other young men and women before me, I decide to leave Syria and emigrate to Europe.
I am not sure if that decision makes me a coward. All I know is that I can no longer stand my life here. My dreams have been stolen from me, and most of my friends have been killed. I am all alone.
Our revolution has cost us. We made sacrifices to make sure it succeeded, but we were up against too many forces. The Assad government and its accomplices killed us, the customs of people in my town killed us, and the Western countries that looked on and did nothing killed us.
Nevertheless, many of us feel that Europe will be more of a homeland to us than our own country. Many have already left, and very soon I will be joining them.
Hanin Abdul Rahman is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor. She was forced to abandon her medical degree at Damascus University and work as paramedic in Eastern Ghouta when the revolution started.
This story was produced by Syria Stories (previously Damascus Bureau), IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.
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