Syrian Red Crescent workers helps residents of the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, on February 1, 2014
© AFP
Syrian Red Crescent workers helps residents of the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, on February 1, 2014
Last updated: April 29, 2014

How things changed for the better outside Damascus

Banner Icon I have written before about my Syrian friend Mohammed. First he left the army, and then he stopped fighting for the rebels. Based in the outskirts of Damascus, Mohammed is now finding a moment of refuge from years of battle, thanks to the local truces announced between rebels in the area and Assad’s regime.

In February, Mohammed hadn’t eaten in five days and survived on what he could find on the dusty ground. Today, things have changed for the better, he tells me in a personal conversation over Skype.

Adam Hedengren: Brief me, what has happened?

Mohammed: Maybe you heard about it, they (are) re-establishing good relations between three cities inside southern Damascus with the regime, and they agreed to stop fighting and letting the food aid going through the checkpoints to the people inside the region.

AH: So no fighting?

M: No there is not.

AH: Can you head into central Damascus?

M: No, they let only women go there. Men are not allowed at all.

AH: What are you doing during the days?

M: I am still working at the pharmacy. The humanitarian sector is the best job these days.

AH: And do you get support, financially?

M: No, but they give us food and almost everything we need to live better. The best thing in this truce is that people are eating now again.

AH: Who are “they”?

M: An Islamic organisation supports us here.

AH: Have you gotten closer with Islam during the war? I understand it must be a source of strength in times like these.

M: Yes, you can say that. I’m much closer to my religion now. For real. But I accept every idea from all. If I answer “yes”, does it mean to you that I’m being close to the side that is worst to the western world?

AH: No not at all. I have the fullest respect for Islam. And I fully understand that you see your religion in a different light now, compared to when I lived in Syria. I remember you being more critical towards religion back then.

M: I learned the simple Islamic rules.

AH: Are the rebels ok with the fact that you quit fighting?

M: Yes, no problem with that.

That was the last question Mohammed wanted to answer before sparking a conversation about my life in Europe. No doubt it feels uncomfortable complaining about a stressful big city lifestyle when the other person is surrounded by war and starvation. But in a way, I suppose it acts has mental ventilation, imagining a world beyond his own.

While things may have changed for the better since the truce came into effect, Mohammed still ends with the very same lines he did two months ago: “3 years, I am really exhausted. I hope it’s gonna end soon.”

Adam Hedengren
Adam is co-founder and editor of Your Middle East. He has studied Arabic and Middle Eastern history, and previously lived in Syria and Tunisia. He is an active voice in Swedish media on issues relating to migration policy, integration, and the Middle East. Adam is also project manager for the educational initiative www.nyamellanostern.se
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