Bab Tuma, a Syrian neighborhood in Damascus, was caught by Daesh causing the population to leave the area. In their new residence, 18 Syrian families, along with their children, live in a place that is only proper for three families.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: This is Bagh Tuma; centuries ago, behind the gates of this area, Imam Hussain's family were kept in the blazing sun for a few days before being forced into Yazid's court.
These houses and alleys as well as the general architecture of this area may have not changed dramatically since then, but you can no longer see blind hatred towards the Prophet's descendants. Today, this is the safest route to the holy shrine of Imam Hussain's three-year-old daughter.
Time is the best jury. Everyone is trying to guard their home, family and land; as well as the pilgrims of Lady Roghayyah, Imam Hussain's three-year-old daughter.
Among all these houses, an old house attracted our attention. We later on found out why.
Five years ago, a couple of families were living in this house. But now, this house accommodates eighteen parents with children many of them born right here. After the war, this house will be abandoned with all its memoirs.
This dilapidated house receives its warmth from the presence of each and every person in the neighborhood.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “We came here as migrants. Every family was given a room. We didn't leave our homes willingly.
We left our homes overnight, being afraid for our children's lives.
We came here upon the arrival of the terrorists. We settled in the Meghdad neighborhood. We abandoned our homes and left behind all our assets and properties. We don’t know what has happened to our houses. To cut the long story short, we came here only with the clothes we had on and nothing else.”
Narration: The women spend time doing household chores. For the men, there is only one big family here.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “Two days after my wedding ceremony, we had to leave our home.
Only two days had passed when he was forced to leave his home.
I escaped with this clothes I had on.
I had no time to take anything else with me.
We escaped at the crack of dawn. It was 5 am. They couldn’t see us in the dark. We informed each other and when we all got ready, we escaped.
What did you do for a living?
I was working for a company.
An import and distribution company.
What about you?
I am a tailor.
Everyone had his or her own job. We had no hard problem. We were living with our own families in peace and serenity. If the terrorists had not arrived there, we would have not left our place of living. But when we received threatening letters from the terrorists, we had to escape.
If you had had time for 10 minutes, what would you have taken with you?
I would have taken with me my personal things, ID cards, the marriage certificate and other important things; whatever was necessary.
We didn't take many things because…
… because we thought we would come back after a few days. We didn't bring with us our own photos.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Narration: No matter how bloody it is, the war has failed to wipe smiles away from the children's faces. No matter how harsh the situations might be, the children know well how to make themselves busy.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “I had an 18-year-old daughter who died some time ago. My daughters-in-law sympathized with me and called me "Mother". Thank God, I am living with them. They are all like my late daughter. That’s' why we have no problem with each other. We have just a few minor disagreements.”
Narration: They all wish to have a quiet life once more. They all wish their children peace and happiness. They don’t want them to grow up in wartime.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “Are you going to have your third children?
First of all, I love children. Second, I’d like to have a child called Heidar. I have no child called Heidar. My children are called Hassan and Abbas. I would like to call the third one Heidar.
How many children do you have?
I have two children called Minar and Mimar.
Were you under pressure from you families to have children?
Not at all. We ourselves love children.
We have patience during wartime and God knows when the crisis will come to an end.
Life demands so.”
Narration: This year's harsh winter; aches and pains; fear; empty pockets; and worst of all, displacement. On the one hand, there is a mother who only thinks and talks about his fallen son. Day in day out, she holds her son's picture in arms with eyes full of tears. On the other hand, there is a father; though old and fragile, he is still too pride to let tears drop from his eyes.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “Where was your address?
We were living in Addad. We had a 140-meter house in our neighborhood in Addad.
What did you do for a living?
I had a carriage.
What happened then?
He was kind to all. We were all in this room. We were not living apart from each other. We were all in this room. Before his departure, I wanted to kiss him...”
Narration: How good it is that the children here are not aware of their mothers' sorrows; how good it is that they are still children; the girls hold tight their dolls in the heavy rain of shells; and the boys hold their toy guns made of plastic.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “We are all low-spirited due to the displacement. We are all nervous. Even children's spirits have changed.
Well, we had a quiet house with three rooms. They used to spend all day long sitting at the computer. But now, it is not so. Grandpa has become older and they cannot make much noise. They say, "We want to go back home in Addad."
This is the bath. You see the condition. We cannot take a bath in here. The children are afraid of going to the bath.
Why are they afraid?
Because there are a lot of cockroaches and insects here in the bath.
Children say, "God willing, the army will win the battle and we will go back home."
But we have no hope to return home.
Because all the houses there have been destroyed. They even set our bedrooms on fire. In other words, all our furniture has been burned down.”
Narration: Hour is sluggish here and I know that it makes no difference where in the world I will be; I will never stop thinking about this young mother.
If I were in her shoes in a war-stricken country, I would wish all my children to be boys to defend me against the enemy; or else, I would wish all my children to be girls and have them beside me instead of being killed on the front line. Or else, I would wish to have no child at all.
This room is 15 square meters at most. You can walk the whole space with a few steps. But you always have to keep yourself busy; you cannot just seat at a corner and cry. You tidy up your one-room house and then sit in front of TV which seems to break the same news every day. Only the name of the cities change in the daily news. The news is the same. Explosion in Aleppo; Explosion in Lattakia; Explosion in Zainabia.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “Where is your house located in?
You mean where we were living before?
We were living in al-Malihah.
Was it your own house or had you rented it?
We had rented it.
It had three rooms, in addition to the sitting room.
What did you do for a living?
I had a restaurant.
These are all my children's photos from their childhood on.
Those are when they were little children. We took photos of them from when they were six old months to when they turned five and six. These are all my children's photos.
What did you feel when you took these photos?
I felt I had the world by the tail.
Have they ever happened to ask you something that you could not afford during these years of crisis?
Yes, of course.
Can you give me an example?
Food stuff, chocolate, clothes, etc.
What were your feeling then?
I wished they had not asked me anything then.
Whatever they asked us, we could not afford.
We promised them to buy what they wanted later.
What has happened to your foot?
I'm suffering from the inflammation of nerves.
My doctor inspected it and said that it had to be amputated. But I was afraid of it.
I didn't agree and I tried to treat it in another way.”
Narration: Among all these houses, only one house is closed, but the image of its owner's eyes will be etched in our minds forever. On a poster put up on the wall; the war has taken him away from this house. Within days, a new baby will be born in this house. But the house is empty right now. We knock at the next door. The martyr's father opens the door.
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “My name is Mujahed Kan'an and I am the martyr's father.
How many children do you have?
Where is the third one?
His name is Alireza.
Where is he now?
He is on the front line.
You have already lost one son. That's enough. Alireza should come back.
No, he should not.
I myself am a fighter. May I sacrifice myself and my life for the holy shrines of the Prophet's family! And I am prepared to sacrifice myself and all my children on this way.”
Narration: All his sons are now defending the holy shrines; one is in Aleppo and the other was martyred in Dar'aa near the border with the Occupied Territories. With the men of this house, our team had gone near Dar'aa three months ago. That day, the elder son of this family was the commander of the Lady Roghayya Battalion. When he was killed on the front line, the younger brother took his place.
On your journey to Syria and Iraq, there is always such fear with you. You spend time with a family and when you visit them later, you find out that they have lost one or more members on the front line. You can realize that by pictures added to the wall of their house.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian Boy: “Do you like to go to the front line?
Does your father allow you?
Have you ever been to a war?
Hassan taught us how to continue his way.
How old are you?
I am 13 years old.
Are not you afraid of going to the battlefield and being killed?
Are you content to let Alireza go to the front line?
Yes, thank God!
Are not you afraid for him?
Our fate is in God's hands.
If death is divine providence, it doesn’t make any difference whether you are in the battlefield or in somewhere else.”
Narration: Now this house has become like a small city, with different people and different memories at its heart. Parents wish their children a good sleep while the children sing their doll to a sweet sleep. They wish everyone to return to their own home in total peace.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “We were living in al-Malihah.
You mean you had a house of your own in al-Malihah?
Yes, but as the terrorists showed up, we had to leave it.
Is your house still in a good condition or is it ruined?
The house is not ruined. I went and saw it. It was not ruined.
Did you go and see it?
When the Syrian army liberated al-Malihah, I went there and took with me some things we needed here.
The pictures, the clock… We took such things with us.
Why don’t you go back home?
We cannot. There is no tapped water nor electricity. No one is living there right now.
My daughter sleeps here and my son sleeps on the sofa. Here is the place my little child sleeps.
Is this the refrigerator?
Is there anything inside it?
My daughter's stuff, her toys.
Has it happened to you during these four years that in your husband's absent you thought about something and then burst into tears?
Yes, I thought about our terrible situation, about my medical condition, about good memories we had at our own home. We have not forgotten those memories, we have just left them there.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_26:00
Narration: A man said, "I visited my house in Damascus. It's in an excellent condition, but it has no tapped water or electricity." It's not unlikely that the people of this house will return to their city al-Malihah in the near future. This old building will be alone once more as its people are packing their things to go back to their own city.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “How many children do you have?
Two daughters, on is eight and the other is four.
What are their names?
My older daughter is called Nehleh and my younger daughter is called Zaynab.
How old is she?
Four years old.
Four years old? So she was born as the crisis broke out, wasn’t she?
No, when the crisis broke out, she was five months old.
So she was with you when you had to escape, wasn’t she?
Yes, she was five months old then and I had to carry her.
What were you doing for a living before the crisis began?
I was a mechanic, repairing cars.
What do you do right now?
I sell fruit juice.
At my workplace, before we came here, Shia Muslims used to be kidnapped. My shop was called "Zahra". On a sign above my shop, it has been written "Zahra Mechanic Shop". They knew I was a Shia Muslim. They came up to me and said, "What are you doing here?" I had to leave there so as not to be kidnapped.
What did you feel when your children were small and they asked you something to buy while you could not afford it?
I used to get unhappy because I could not help it.
Have you ever happened to burst into tears because of the situation you are in?
I shed tears in this room every single day.
When children go to sleep, I look at them and ask myself, "Why have we ended up here? What wrong did the children do? They are innocent."
Who do you blame for the crisis?
The Saudis. We abhor the Saudis.
We hate them all because of the situation they put us in.”
Narration: Daily work and grief’s of being away from home make these people exhausted enough that they don’t need sleeping pills at nights. Even under the sky of a city like Damascus, echoed with the sound of gunfire. You have to relax and occupy yourself and let time pass slowly but sweetly.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “Which one do you like more?
Your wife's cooking or your sister-in-law's one? Tell us the truth.
I love them both if they cook my favorite food.
Anyway, whose cooking is better?
My wife's cooking is certainly better. The kitchen is her own territory.
Is she your sister?
Yes, she is. We married two brothers.”
Narration: When the war ends, this house will be left with all its memories. Memories of children playing in the small yard, memories of hunger pangs and empty tables, and memories of silent fathers who couldn’t fulfill their children's dreams in wartime.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Syrian War Victims: “Does he help you in cooking?
Yes, I help but in eating.
We cook and he helps in eating.
He cannot help because he's already tired when he comes home from work.
He is sick and has a heart problem.
Do you take pride in this man or not?
Yes, I do.
In what do you take pride? In his eating or working?
In everything. In his job, in his everything.
And you, do you take pride in your wife?
Yes, I certainly do.
What are your wife's personal characteristics?
She is a real lady, kind, clean and honest. She loves her life, children and husband. And she's pious. What else one can expect his wife?!”
Narration: Everyone here tries to piece together the shattered fragments of peace.
Like all other men in the neighborhood, this man's job is to guard this area and its people. Everyone shoulders his own share of responsibility and as long as this continues, no one needs to worry.
Away from their home, and surrounded by hardships and griefs, these brief moments of joy can bring them calm to stay beside each other more passionately and cherish life more than ever.
Don’t let these old walls and ceilings fool you. These days, Damascus is like Beirut of a few years ago. Here a new generation is growing up, and thanks to the efforts of their mothers and fathers, the children are feeling better and better. And no doubt, the darkest hour is just before the dawn.