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

In Syria, a Life for a Bag of Sweets

Caught in an air raid on Douma.
By Qamar al-Said
  • (Photo: Damascus Bureau)
    (Photo: Damascus Bureau)

Towards the end of March 2015, my family and I left our house in Douma and moved to a farmhouse in al-Sheyfuniya, a settlement in the Damascus countryside.

The decision to leave our home was an extremely difficult one to make. We had been forced into this displacement because our house had been damaged several times by government air strikes.

Although I no longer lived in Douma, I was unable to stay away for very long, and I visited relatives in the town now and again. Every time I went there, the destruction had spread further, altering the landscape of the city a little more.

I was on one of these visits at midday on October 29, 2015, when an air raid struck Douma. At the time, I was in our house in the Taha mosque neighbourhood, collecting some of our belongings.

I froze in fear when I heard the explosions. The only other sound I could hear was the sirens of ambulances rushing to the scene.

Four hours later, the bombing was still intense. I had been sitting in the same spot the whole time, reciting verses from the Koran to calm myself and waiting for a lull in the strikes so I could get out of the neighbourhood.

Outside it began to rain and I thought the bombing would stop. Planes usually broke off in weather like that.

I was wrong – a few minutes later I heard two explosions in the distance.

Slowly, the reason dawned on me. The air strikes were being carried out by Russian planes. Nothing would stop them, not even bad weather.

By five in evening, things outside seemed to have calmed down, so I decided to leave. When I stepped outside, I was shocked at the new devastation around me. It was as if I had been locked inside my house for years.

Five hours of intensive bombing had rendered the area unrecognisable. Around me, the blood of the victims was slowly being washed away by the falling rain.

As I made my way through the rubble, I saw my relative Umm Omar running ahead of me. She looked distressed, so I called out her name and ran after her.

What she told me was devastating. My two nephews Muath and Bara had left home just before midday and had not come back.

Umm Omar told me their eldest brother Khaled had been out looking for them in field hospitals. Bara was still missing, but Muath had been found. He was in a morgue.

Muath had been hit by a piece of shrapnel that tore off his right leg. He had succumbed to the injury shortly afterwards and died.

I dismissed any thought of going back home and accompanied Umm Omar to my brother’s house. We found his wife holding their son’s body wrapped in a pink shroud, and weeping. My brother stood there in shock, looking at his child and angrily cursing the Assad government.

The sorrow in my brother’s home brought back the pain I had endured after the martyrdom of my son two years ago. I knew exactly what they were going through. No words can describe the heartache a mother or father feels at the loss of a child.

I broke down in tears as I kissed my young nephew goodbye, and hugged my brother as I offered my condolences.

Khaled came back home to take Muath’s body to be buried, but his mother refused to let go of him. I managed to persuade her to release him, and the men left for the funeral.

On his way out, Khaled whispered to me that he had found Bara in a field hospital, and he was currently undergoing surgery. I promised to go and check on him, and left immediately.

When I arrived at the hospital, I found a large crowd of people gathered there searching for their loved ones. My son’s friend worked at the hospital so I sought him out and asked to see Bara.

My young nephew was in intensive care, wrapped in bandages soaked in blood. As soon as he saw me, he took my hand and begged me for a drink of water. The doctor told me this was not possible. Bara had lost his spleen and a piece of his intestines, and was not allowed to eat or drink.

Bara was screaming for water by now, so I tried to distract him by getting him to tell me what had happened.

He told me he had been riding his bike with Muath sitting behind him when a rocket landed nearby. His next memory was waking up in the hospital.

Muath was killed at the tender age of 12 while accompanying his 11-year-old brother to a shop to buy some sweets.

Bara asked me what had happened to Muath.

“He is at home waiting for you,” I lied. I couldn’t bear to tell him the truth; he was already in so much pain.

Qamar al-Said is the pseudonym of a woman from Douma who had begun writing for IWPR’s Damascus Bureau before her death on November 19. She and a cousin were killed when a rocket landed near the farmhouse she was living in. Qamar was in her forties, married with three daughters and three sons, one of whom was killed while working as a photographer with the Free Syrian Army.

We are publishing articles written by her as a tribute to her memory. Qamar is a pseudonym which we are continuing to use in the interests of her family’s security.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.