div>(Aleppo, Syria) The voices of street merchants intertwine with the sounds of car horns and generators in one funeral melody played at a cemetery full of life. There, in the market, passersby have more faith in death than life. They dwell on their end more than their persistence. Weapons roam their streets safely while they walk by in fear.
“How could you escape a wild barrel bomb when you cannot tell whether it will fall in the market or in your bed? All these sirens do is to prepare people for death. Even a peaceful death is no longer possible in this city.”
The hubbub is eclipsed by the sound of a death carrier as it hovers above them. They realise its presence only thanks to the blare of the air-raid sirens that the civil defence obtained after barrel bombs had destroyed most of the city. These sirens are hardly heard in this holocaust. How could you escape a wild barrel bomb when you cannot tell whether it will fall in the market or in your bed? All these sirens do is to prepare people for death. Even a peaceful death is no longer possible in this city.
People are stricken by the sound of a barrel bomb falling from the sky. They have grown used to hearing it but they could never get used to its aftermath. Then suddenly, the voices of the merchants dissipate, and everyone sees themselves amidst debris and takbir shouts (Allahu Akbar) that they hope would save them.
The distant blast shakes everyone awake from their thoughts. The melody plays on, and the sirens of ambulances and civil defence vehicles dashing off toward the explosion join the orchestra. A family is dug up from the debris in soulless bodies. The only survivor is a little boy who came back from school to realise he had become an orphan. He drops his school bag and stares at his shattered house that buried his family, and he will never carry it again, for the books will never help him eat. You find him later on in the market, walking around with a box of chocolate. A passerby smiles at him, pats his head, hands him some money and, for a moment there, the boy forgets all about what had happened to him. Then this ill-mannered young man closes his car window in his face with a mocking smile.
The few remaining taxis are parked in a long line in the market as there is no one left in the city to fill them. A taxi driver steers his car amidst destruction and has to change directions whenever a road is closed because of a raid or clash. Then, he pulls over waiting for a man who had lost a leg in the war. His wife folds his wheelchair and the man climbs into the car, trying to avoid the eyes around him so as not see their pity. The microvan driver goes on his way in the dark, but does not dare to turn on his flashlights for fear that a hovering aircraft would target the moving light with its restless machine gun.
Friends gather as the night comes. Believers say their prayers behind their imam and Sufis whirl around their shaykh. Meanwhile, stoners sit together in a room and pass on a joint that has become their only escape from reality.
On this cold and dark night, a mother sits with her orphaned children by a fireplace. They have just gathered some wood from their neighbour’s demolished house to make the fire. She places a pot of water on top of it to cook whatever she received from the relief office after hours of waiting. The mother tells her children about their father in heaven and about the future awaiting them once the war comes to an end. As for her stories about the rectitude of ʿOmar Bin al-Khattab, the Prince of the Believers (Amir al-Mu’minin), and his unexpected arrival that would save them from hunger, the children do not believe them anymore. They know now that the Amir is too busy blowing up infidels and apostates today.
Not far away from this family are other children that the war turned into men a little too soon. They have to bid a friend farewell every day. They lost hope in the solutions of politicians. They no longer believe in their long speeches calling for the liberation of Jerusalem that resemble those they have heard all life long. After all, the city remains occupied even after 67 years of on-going speeches. These children forgot – or let go of – their previous lives the moment they held a gun to liberate the Islamic Ummah and the Arab homeland.
These words mirror some of the hardships of life in Aleppo. Nonetheless, living in this city is much harder than it seems in the lines above.