This is a guest post by @BigAlBrand who is an activist living in Homs, cradle of the Syrian revolution. He agreed to share some insights from his everyday life.
We each have a certain routine we live by most of our days, a routine that changes in every episode of our lives. School days have a routine different from college and work days. Life in a war zone has its own episodes of routine as well.
During the past two years, our lives changed dramatically. In cities like Homs, Daraa or Douma, that saw early clashes, it now feels a lot like living in a war zone . But in the past few months we have been in a new routine, which I can describe best in one word : Waiting.
Our daily routines usually starts with shelling and shooting sounds, we get up and the wait begins. We check the water level, how much left in the water container, in the drinking water supply, is there enough water to cook? To wash the dishes? Then we wait for fresh water to arrive. Fresh water is a rare thing, it’s controlled by the regime so they only open it for a couple of hours at a time. If our wait ends with the arrival of fresh water, we fill the container, bottles, then we cook, wash our clothes, do the dishes, and take a shower. But most days water won’t last this long so we do as much as we can. However, our wait for water sometimes keeps going for days. Spending two or three days without fresh water happens often. The most we spent without a drop was five days in my area. Those were tough days indeed.
While the family is waiting for the precious water, one of them can go and get bread. For months we had to stand in line for 6-7 hours and wait for our turn every day, but now the wait is reduced to 3-4 hours but the amount of bread is reduced as well.
There are other types of bread that you can get for a much higher price. The pack of bread from the bakery costs 15 pounds while the other packs cost between 80-125 pounds each.
The wait for cooking gas requires standing in a line for hours twice. Once to deliver the empty container, and the second time to get it back full a few days later.
I stood in those lines so many times that I caught a very bad flu once, but I also made new friends since you get to stand with the same people 6-7 hours or, in some cases, 12 hours at a time.
You could skip the wait and pay more for the full container, but it would cost you up to ten times the original price.
Since waiting for gas takes hours and waiting for bread takes hours, we can’t do both the same day, so when gas is available we don’t get bread, or if the family is big enough, different people can stand in different lines, since most people don’t have a job, and many children don’t go to school anymore.
Another important element that we need to survive is electricity, and the waiting for this precious item is a stressful one.
Since early 2012 we saw some serious power issues in Homs. At times, we had no power at all for days or even weeks in some areas. That’s why we did what we could to create alternatives. New products and new inventions showed up in the market in order not to live in the dark.
The obvious solution to darkness and lack of electricity is the use of candles, but after 3 days without power in 2012 I couldn’t find a single one in any store. That’s when creative people used their minds and started inventing, while others started importing.
To give a few well thought inventions, some people used a small light that found its electricity in land line phones to light a room or took a battery taken from a broken USB device and made it into a cellphone battery charger. To save the refrigerators or any other electronics devices from turning on and off multiple times when power is acting up or from high or low voltage when power came, some people had connected an internet router power source to a little box that would regulate or delay the power.
LED Lights with rechargeable batteries have become widely used and available in a variety of sizes and prices, and can be found in every home. And of course the electricity generators found a big market from those who want more than to light their houses. Car batteries are also sold with a charger and a piece that will alter its voltage so can be used on small devices.
The lack of gasoline made the generator useless in many areas, and when power goes off for weeks or months, nothing can be done but wait in the dark or leave.
There are many needs that we must get in order to survive. In the winter we need heating fuel, which is one of the rarest elements in Syria nowadays since it’s being used for tanks, and most families didn’t get a third of what they needed if they got any diesel at all.
Gasoline is not easy to get either, and people have to wait in lines for hours to get some for their cars or electricity generators.
Phone lines get disconnected a lot, and as I’m typing those landlines have been down for an entire month. ADSL connections have also been down for three days.
Cellphones get disconnected even more frequently, and when power goes off so do most cellphone coverages in many areas. Overall we spent about 50 days in 2012 without phones, cellphones, or internet connection of any kind (Dial Up, 3G, ADSL, IDSN, GPRS) and we waited a long time to get them back. We are always waiting to get online.
Cashing out salaries is not easy for both working and retired people, as most banks closed down. I used to travel every month to Damascus just to get my salary and withdraw some money. Others go to Tartus to get it but it costs them a lot.
Many different types of medicine can’t be found easily either. In this case, you don’t need to wait in a line, as you could wait for weeks or even months until the medication gets available. I used to get medicine from Damascus when I was going there to get my salary. I haven’t found more than three different types of medication in Homs since early 2013.
And for many people like me, we’re waiting to get back to work and earn money.
All I talked about is waiting for things we need, or want, but there is a different kind of waiting in our daily routine, the only one for which we would rather stay in the waiting line, that’s the wait for something bad to happen.
If one day we wake up without horrible shelling sounds, we start waiting for it because we know it will start soon. We’re always expecting bad things to happen, like bullets breaking our windows, shells falling nearby, or security forces barging in our houses, collecting us, dragging us down to check if we’re wanted, or taking us away. It already happened to most people, and in many cases it ended with a martyr, a destroyed house, a raped girl or kids with slit throats. This wait is mixed up with horrible fear. This is the worst wait of all.
The Big Wait
I’ve talked about the basic needs in order to survive, but the biggest wait of all is the one we’ve been on for over 50 years. The wait for freedom, democracy, and equality. The wait for our human rights.
Not only Homs, but the entire country has been waiting for those rights for half a century, and still are. This wait lasted so long, but in 2011 we finally went out and demanded our rights for the first time, and we’ve been facing this unbelievable oppression ever since.
Waiting for something to happen is always hard to do, but it’s been the essence of our living for a while. We are now waiting for this wait to end, and hoping for a better era, with a better routine in which we can start rebuilding the country and work on a better future for us all.