DAMASCUS – After a long period in which I was not able to visit the Syrian coast and mountains, I finally made it there on vacation.
As I reached the outskirts of the city I was heading for, I was struck by the number of posters of dead soldiers. Images of soldiers killed during recent battles were everywhere – large pictures of young men (sometimes young enough to be called boys) were all around.
The number of funerals is also very high. You can tell when a funeral for someone from the army is taking place from the ceremony of shooting in the air that is common for “army martyrs,” and of course, what you hear most in the city or its villages are stories of the soldiers whose families live there.
The compound in which we rented our apartment by the sea was full of families from Aleppo, mostly from poor districts. They had fled the war in their city and were now living now in a touristic “regime-stamped” area. The fact that families from Aleppo were living in compounds like this was not news to me, but this was the first time I actually encountered them, and that is a whole different thing.
The apartments in this compound were very close to each other, making it easy to connect with your neighbors – day and night. One of our former neighbors from Aleppo, Abu Nora, was there and knew a friend that had traveled with us, so he came to visit one morning and told us how his wife and children were now starting to get used to this new environment – to a way of life they were not used to in their hometown.
“For example, here it’s OK for women to go out and buy their household needs from the store in the next alley,” said Abu Nora. “The change came because we have encountered different people, different lifestyles for the first time. We are strict in observing our traditional and religious rules, which prevent mixing between the sexes and other things, but now we have to get along with the new place and people – although we know we can’t let go of all the traditions we were raised on.”
This is the major transition in the lives of the people here. My friend later commented, “I’m glad they now can live a change, their children are being raised in a totally different environment, allowing them to question [what they were taught].” I didn’t really object to his thought, but I felt bad – this was the change we had always demanded for people in the poor communities, and now we are witnessing it happening for the wrong reason: war. So I don’t really trust this change.
Seeing the displaced people and the soldiers’ funerals and posters made me wonder how long this still water will stay still. I recalled another friend, who lives in a city by the shore, who told me “I can smell tension, and I’m not sure how long the people here are going to keep patience.”
My vacation days passed quickly, and soon it was time to return to the belly of the whale. The city! It was so hard for me to leave it, and so hard to get back to it after the trip. I returned to the news of water and electricity rationing hours. I came back to the dead city.
This article originally appeared on Syria Deeply.