By Reem Al-Homsi
life in Damascus, “the city of jasmines” is no longer the same as it previously used to be. Behind its narrow alleys and old ancient terraced houses, there are tales of people who are tired of humiliation and oppression.
The story of Umm Nazir and her family is just one among thousands of tales that narrates the plights of people in Damascus; who have been plagued by calamities and burdened by worries and sorrows and their only forms of defense to survive are prayers and hope.
“Closed Doors and variety of agonies”, This is what the Damascene Lady Wafa ‘Umm Nazir’ sees, she has lived with her husband’s parents in an old Arabian style house for the last four decades. The house consists of three rooms, with a small patio at the centre. In one of the rooms she shares with her five children and husband, lies the place that holds their happy and sad moments.
Umm Nazir, with eyes full of helplessness, narrates her family’s agonies and says, “At the moment we are around 70 people in this house, they consist of sister in laws, brother in laws, and daughters in law there are some who have emigrated and others who lost their jobs and homes, but what to do, we have to tolerate these circumstances and just be patient. Some people sleep on the streets; no money and no work. Most of the old Arabic style houses around us are inhibited by a similar number of people or maybe more. Each person has a painful story that he/she have lived and are still living”.
To make matters worse, her children; Nazeer, Hamza and Saeed, the only married one amongst them, lives with his wife and daughter in the same room with his family. They are destined to fight a war that they are oblivious to its end. But all that they wish is the “end of this war, which has only the poor paid the highest price as she said and that each young man from both opposing sides returns safely to their families.”
It seems that the family’s fate did not end after Abu Nazeer lost his job in a glazing shop that was shut down because of the war. He had to sell vegetables and fruit on a small cart he could barely drag, but roams around with it from dawn, looking for a living that was not enough to feed his family.
Umm Nazeer was not the only one facing the cruelty of this world as her daughter, Rabab, 22 years old, fought for nearly two years to get her husband back. Rabab’s husband closed all possibilities to connect him to his wife as soon as he arrived to Germany.
He left with no reasons. Umm Nazeer adds, “Rabab came to know later that her husband lives with a lady from Homs, who he helps in raising her children, while he abandons his own children under war conditions and starvation. He only sends four thousands Syrian Liras as child maintenance”.
Rabab went mad and went to her in laws threatening to abandon her children if her husband does not return. Her mother in law threatened to put the children in an orphanage if Rabab left them. Rabab then gathered what was left of her dignity and officially requested a divorce through the court.
Umm Nazeer opens her heart and speaks sorrowfully about her second daughter; Abeer (23 years old). She says: “She has a daughter and a boy, and she lives with us because her husband is imprisoned for almost a year and a half, may God release him soon. The day of the incident that caused the imprisonment of my son in law, he and my daughter were asleep when our neighbor Um Ali knocked on the door at 6 o’clock in the morning, wanting to dry her washings in our house’s garden, as she does not have one…She spoke disrespectfully and looked down on me. My son in law got upset for my sake and told her to speak respectfully and that the house has its rules. Only then a big problem ensued….Um Ali, whose husband poses as head of our neighbourhood, goes and complains about my son in law and puts him in prison. She then refuses his release until he kneels and kissed her shoe in front of the entire neighbourhood. It is impossible for him to accept such a demand. I used to hold the agony of my own children, now I hold the agony of my children and grandchildren. We have seen oppression and mistreatment from people more than that we have endured from the war with its hunger and coldness.
* Reem Al-Homsi, a Syrian journalist based in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
*Editing and translated :Raya AL-Jadir