In Aleppo, dream­ing of home but find­ing only the rub­ble

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Kafa Jaw­ish hadn’t slept in days, day­dream­ing of see­ing her home in east Aleppo for the first time in four years, but when she ar­rived she found lit­tle more than rub­ble. The 36-year-old was among hun­dreds of Syr­i­ans re­turn­ing to east Aleppo in re­cent days af­ter the army re­cap­tured large swathes of the city from rebels and en­cour­aged res­i­dents to visit neigh­bor­hoods and homes they left years ear­lier.

She could barely con­tain her ex­cite­ment as she sat on a govern­ment bus head­ing to her neigh­bor­hood of Hay­dariya in north­east Aleppo, re­cap­tured by the army ear­lier in the week. “I left my house four years ago and I’m just so happy to be go­ing to see it, I haven’t slept for three days be­cause I’m so ex­cited,” she said as the bus wound its way from west­ern Aleppo. “I want to ul­u­late with hap­pi­ness when I see my house safe and sound,” she said, dressed warmly in a black coat and head­scarf that framed her smil­ing face.

Stuffed into a bus crowded with other pas­sen­gers, she and her hus­band Ta­jed­din Ahmed dis­cussed their plans to re­turn home, af­ter years liv­ing in the Syr­iac Quar­ter in cen­tral Aleppo. “I’m go­ing to go back to liv­ing in my house no mat­ter what con­di­tion it’s in,” she said firmly. “We’re tired of pay­ing rent, we miss our house and our fam­i­lies and our neigh­bors.” The cou­ple fled Hay­dariya in July 2012, when rebels en­tered the city, leav­ing at dawn one morn­ing with­out any of their be­long­ings and mov­ing into the an­cient Syr­iac Quar­ter. More than half of Syria’s pop­u­la­tion has been dis­placed in­ter­nally or abroad by the con­flict that be­gan with anti-govern­ment protests in March 2011 be­fore spi­ral­ing into a war that has killed over 300,000 peo­ple.

“I want to go back to the house that I lived in with my family and go back to liv­ing to­gether safely and hap­pily,” said Ahmed, 45. “I’m re­ally hop­ing we’ll find the house in good shape.” His phone rang as they talked: An old neigh­bor who couldn’t leave work asked Ahmed to check on his house too. As the bus set out, Jaw­ish ex­pressed hope that her neigh­bor­hood might be rel­a­tively un­touched, rea­son­ing it was far from the front­lines that saw the worst fight­ing. East Aleppo has seen some of the worst vi­o­lence of the war, and has been pounded by the army since it be­gan an op­er­a­tion to re­cap­ture the city in midNovem­ber. As the bus edged closer to Hay­dariya, Jaw­ish’s smile dropped away, and she and Ahmed fell silent. Along the road, build­ings were par­tially or fully col­lapsed, win­dows long blown out and fur­nish­ings de­stroyed or looted.

The route it­self was cratered in places, and the bus bounced as Ahmed stared grimly out of the win­dow, mur­mur­ing prayers. Jaw­ish tried to pick out places that held mem­o­ries, spot­ting an area she used to pic­nic with her hus­band. Grow­ing im­pa­tient with the bus’s slow, care­ful progress, she tried in vain to con­vince her hus­band to get out and walk the rest of the way so she could get to her house quicker. But when they fi­nally ar­rived, she burst into tears at the sight of their build­ing, parts of the length of one side of it com­pletely gone, leav­ing the inside ex­posed to the el­e­ments.

Old life ‘a mem­ory’

Most of the win­dows were blown out, along with their frames, the front door was miss­ing and a stack of bro­ken tiles was piled up in the door­way. Un­able to en­ter the dam­aged build­ing, the cou­ple stood on tip­toes to peer in through a ground floor win­dow at their old apart­ment. “We were so op­ti­mistic, I thought I was go­ing to ul­u­late when we ar­rived, but now we’ve found it like this, un­in­hab­it­able,” she said tear­fully. “We spent years work­ing to make a home, buy­ing things for it, bit by bit, un­til we had a wash­ing ma­chine and a fridge, and now there’s noth­ing in it and the house is de­stroyed. Oh God.”

She de­scribed the con­certs that once took place at their house, with peo­ple play­ing the lute and singing. “When I look at the house I re­mem­ber all those beau­ti­ful mo­ments.” Ahmed ap­peared stunned as he looked on, re­peat­ing over and over: “Thank God for our health and well­be­ing.”“We sac­ri­ficed so much to make this house our home, how will we start over again?” Jaw­ish asked. “I know that our rel­a­tives will all be in the same sit­u­a­tion as us, who will help us?” The cou­ple left to walk through the neigh­bor­hood, check­ing on the homes of their neigh­bors, all sim­i­larly dam­aged and gut­ted. Their old life, Jaw­ish said, “has be­come just a mem­ory”. — AFP

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