For the past three years, millions of Syrians have been living in hellish conditions, either inside the country’s warzones or as refugees. But there are upwards of 15 million more inside Syria who live away from the frontlines and for whom life today is a never-ending limbo.
Their primary concerns are getting to and from work without being struck by rebel mortars, detained at government checkpoints or arriving late to the office. The chain of checkpoints engulfing the country’s cities adds hours to once-straightforward journeys. Southwest of the capital, the Quneitra highway has been closed at Madamiyeh, the scene of a chemical attack last August; commuters today face the choice of taking a dirt track away from a sensitive military barracks in the area, or driving an extra two hours through the satellite town of Qatana to the south to get to and from work every day.
Many foodstuffs have become a luxury. Today, 2 pounds (1kg) of tomatoes costs as much as 300 Syrian pounds when in 2010 the same amount would have cost 15 pounds. If a government checkpoint at the city limits issues a ban on trucks entering at short notice, farmers transporting produce to the city see it rot before getting to market. The farmer doesn’t get paid, city folk don’t eat, and further pressure is piled on the already creaking bread-producing bakeries whose engines have been running on fumes for months.
For many it’s a denial of the little things that makes life difficult. Syrians are forced to plan their day around a couple of hours of electricity: charge phones and laptops, shower, wash clothes and vacuum the house, defrost food in the microwave, reply to emails telling family overseas all is well. Electricity is a precious commodity for those without generators.
Few make plans for anything after 2:00 pm anymore. By 5:00 pm, the last taxis are heading home for the night. In the evenings, Damascus residents watch barrages of shells launched from Qasioun mountain in the north toward Yarmouk, Darayya or Madamiyeh in the south. Some swear against the onslaught, others cheer it.
Syrians are not drinking the local brew—Barada beer—anymore because the manufacturing plant west of the capital was shelled some months back. A one-bedroom apartment in Damascus’ Rukn Al-Deen costs 100,000 Syria pounds (approximately 630 US dollars) to rent per month today; three years ago, that amount would have paid for five such flats.
It’s not only in the city’s suburbs that people are suffering. Last week, a mortar fell on Umayyad Square in central Damascus killing one. Last September, a priest walking in another neighborhood in the capital one afternoon was severely injured by an incoming shell. Now, shells rain down on central Aleppo and Damascus every day.
Friends report a collective amnesia taking hold of people in both government- and opposition-controlled areas: The stress of everyday life, now in its fourth year, appears to be triggering deep psychological trauma.
And yet, the war has also forced Syrians into incredible acts of resourcefulness. The Syrian economy magazine, Aliqtisadi, reported last year on a farmer in Tartous capturing methane gas from animal waste to power his kitchen stove. Within weeks, the farmer had set up pipes supplying neighboring homes. He said he wanted to sell the methane en masse, but couldn’t get his hands on suitable gas canisters with which to do so.
Others I’ve spoken to in Dera’a say that almost everyone with a back garden is planting vegetables and fruit for home consumption. In almost every Syrian city, traffic jams mean people leave their cars at home and walk instead, resulting in the air being a little less polluted. Traffic delays, checkpoints and expensive petrol have led to more and more people cycling and walking around urban centers. Life goes on.
This article was originally published in The Majalla.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine or Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.