Despite regular power outages, raids and constant fear of arrest, she says the people of her relatively affluent neighborhood are blessed compared to those in other, harder-hit parts of Syria.
Over the last three years, Hama has witnessed a great many changes. I’d say one of the biggest changes is the enculturation caused by the influx of refugees from all throughout Syria into the city. Hama is historically very conservative, and people tend to keep to themselves. Being surrounded by others from Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Deir Ezzor has opened us up and exposed us to different ways of life, changing the fabric of our society.
To outsiders looking in, life in Hama is pretty calm, but it is not without its difficulties. One of the challenges we face is the lack of electricity. On some days, we are without electricity for 15 to 20 hours, but on other days the power doesn’t go out at all, and we sometimes alternate between three hours with electricity and three hours without it. This causes a huge disturbance to our ability to normally go about our days, and we have learned to schedule our time according to when we expect to have functioning electricity. The power outages are especially problematic because we rely heavily on electricity to cook and stay warm, since gas and diesel fuel have become rare due to inflation.
Raids and the Constant Threat of Arrest
Daily raids conducted by regime forces are a fact of life. During these raids, civilians are regularly detained, either arbitrarily or because they are wanted by the regime. When security forces enter a house, they steal and destroy people’s belongings, taunt and humiliate the residents, and threaten them at gunpoint. I know of many children who are so traumatized by these intrusions that they wet the bed at night, and are often too scared to sleep in a dark room on their own.
Regime forces encircle the neighborhoods they raid, closing off roads and bringing traffic to a halt. As a result, people are forced to travel on foot; it sometimes takes me an hour and a half to walk home from work.
I am fortunate to live in an affluent area, where raids are limited to instances where regime forces, acting on an informant’s tip, come searching for someone they have been told has taken residence in the neighborhood.
Despite the relative safety of my home, I fear arrest. Every man, woman and child in Hama is at risk of being arbitrarily detained. Just last week, a 10-year-old boy was taken from home as his parents watched.
Estimates say there are at least 200 permanent regime checkpoints in the city of Hama, in addition to the temporary checkpoints that spontaneously appear. There is a fixed checkpoint at the start of every street, at the entrance to every neighborhood, and at every roundabout. The shabiha [paramilitary forces] at these checkpoints often confiscate the cars of people passing through. While some people are fortunate enough to have their cars returned to them, the cars are usually damaged, and the owners have to pay to get them back.
Because of the ubiquity of checkpoints in Hama, it’s impossible to avoid them. I’ve been stopped several times; I have been ordered to hand over my personal ID and have had my purse searched by armed men. Worse than being stopped, though, is the vile way men at the checkpoints look at me, and the demeaning manner in which they hit on all girls walking past.
It’s safe to say that the humiliation Hama’s residents endure when stopped at a checkpoint is the hardest part of living in the city.
Dealing with Inflation
With the drop in the value of the Syrian currency, Hama has witnessed extreme inflation. A few months ago, the currency conversion rate reached 350 Syrian pounds in exchange for $1, causing prices to skyrocket. Right now, $1 is worth about 150 pounds, but prices [in relative terms] have not gone down.
I come from a middle-class family, and despite our socioeconomic status, we can no longer afford to buy anything we don’t absolutely need. To give you an idea of how prices have changed, a kilogram of rice has increased in cost from $0.31 to $1.15, while the price of a package of macaroni has gone up from $0.24 to $0.60.
Many people criticize merchants for their greed and for exploiting people during these difficult times. While there may be some truth to those accusations, I also find that we can’t totally blame the merchants for maintaining high prices. It has become increasingly difficult to transport goods and bring them into Hama, and bandits often loot trucks carrying shipments before they get to the city, both factors that play a role in inflation.
Life in Hama is certainly no longer what it used to be. We are faced with hardships on a daily basis, but we have adapted. I think this is partially due to the fact that, unlike many other areas in Syria, Hama has not been destroyed by the war. We look at the people around us, and we truly feel like we are living in paradise.