My heart is torn between East and West. I live somewhere between the present and the past. I don't know who I am.
Once upon a time, night had been his friend.
Underneath her cloak he would sit and watch the city. If the city slept, night was his comrade and his companion. She was his armchair for reflection, his schoolbook, inspiring him with lines of poetry and undiscovered treasures of imagination.
And if the city was alive, if she danced to the tunes of a wedding, burst with the beeps and bustle of traffic, winked at him with her lights; she opened for him the doors of discovery, curiosity, and adventure. His heart raced with the music, his feet itched with delight and longing. The shop lights would beckon at him as he pictured chicken on rotating skewers, the knife coming down on them gently. The quick wrap of bread by nimble fingers. Saha- good health- move on. What’s your order?
Often he would sit on the roadside with his friends, wraps shared between them. Meat and yoghurt sauce lingering between their teeth. Pass me your unwanted pickles, fat Hassan would laugh. But most of us liked our pickles anyway. The stones are gathered. Who can flick the farthest? Giggles and banter replaced by concentration. Sharp, successive flicks- the sounds of “chinks” recoiling against the wall. Hassan as usual not getting very far. We gather to survey the results, negotiate stones, and take our positions once again. Pause, as a family decide to walk past.
This was the night. It was life and bustle, peace and discovery, friendship and comfort. And that night was no more.
She had disappeared into history books, stacked away in an unknown classroom. She was a dream no longer sought. Her memories were numb. His eyes did not search for her. His arms did not seek her embrace.
He stood outside in the darkness. A sharp wind tugged against the tents. Stones scuffled beneath his soles, welcoming him with a familiar pierce. The hot air dried the sweat of a nightmare off his face. Around him, behind him, he heard soft sobs, muffled cries, heavy breathing, and an overwhelming silence. The silence of uncertainty, of fear.
The vast sky could have meant endless horizons… but it didn’t. Its twinkling stars may one day have spoken to him, but tonight they did not seem to know him. Its sea of blue could have been the ink of his imagination- his poetry. But all he saw was blackness and rejection.
Not peace, but turbulence. In his heart. Its rapid beatings brought back the flashbacks of his nightmare, of things his young eyes should not have seen. “Hassan, is that you?” Hand sticking out of rubble, as if waving… but ever so still. Like when they performed a play at school and that Mahmoud, ever so brilliant at acting, kept the audience on their toes and brought tears to the mother’s eyes as he lay dead in pretence. But this time… this was real death? Not an actor on the floor in a school hall who would get up and laugh at the end of it… but someone who would remain still… forever. Hassan was forever still.
Another jolt, another memory. A terrible sound- like a thousand trays had crashed to the floor. And flashes of light that made them run to their mother. Feelings he did not know, could not describe, were pulling and grabbing at his throat. Why was he shaking, shivering, his flesh jumping, crying ecstatically? O mama, what are these sounds? O Mama, save me!
This now was the night. Not friendly beckoning lights, but images of fire raging angrily in his face. No sound of music or life, but memories of explosions- of screams from hell. Night was his sister’s hollow eyes. Night had destroyed his home, stolen his brother. Night was Hassan’s white face, sometimes asking for pickles, bursting into a smile, and then forever remaining still.
Night fought with his head: tumbling images, tightly wrapped emotions, till exhausted, he sunk to his knees. I don’t know.
I don’t know.
What would Mr. Ahmed say? I can’t even write poetry anymore. Hassan… why is your face so white? Why did you wave at me if you weren’t going to come back? Why didn’t you hide yourself underneath all that rubble? Night… why did you betray me?
And like he did in every night… he released. To horror’s indescribable. To miseries far reaching. A sticky wetness spread into his trousers as he pulled himself together and sobbed his shame into the night.
And night, powerless, wishing she could reach out and bring back their days of happiness… cried out in anguish and sorrow at what humanity had made of her.
But humanity, dumb and blind, never heard her.
By: Amal Saffour studied English Language and Literature at Kings College London and thereafter did her PGCE at the Institute of Education. A qualified teacher, she recently left teaching to work in a Syrian Human Rights organisation, as well as the charitable sector. As someone who loves and values the power of words, she blogs her poetry and reflections at www.homeboundblogger.wordpress.com, with plans to develop it further. Amal was also Vice President of FOSIS between 2010-12 and has been active in community and youth work in the UK.
Not a single Syrian refugee child we met in northern Lebanon was dressed for winter. None had warm coats, or mittens. Some didn’t even have shoes.
Tiny hands were pink with cold in temperatures near zero. Like children anywhere, their hands still stretched out to greet us when we trudged up a hillside in the Bekaa Valley to reach the snowbound concrete blocks they now call home.
When they weren’t laughing, as children do, they were coughing and crying. One little boy in blue pyjamas and sandals gave us a warm smile, through chattering teeth.
It has been the worst of winters for Syrians fleeing the worst of wars. More than 600,000 have already fled into neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
Many are forced to live in tents or makeshift shelters that provide no refuge from the most severe storms in two decades. One aid worker told us people were “swimming in their tents” as snows melted.
Not a day goes by without someone standing up in some capital to express concern about Syria.
One centre we visited in the Bekaa Valley was distributing vouchers for food and fuel provided by the United Nations and some NGOs. But an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid is only about 25% funded.
In crudely-built refugee homes like the ones we saw, they’re doing battle with metal roofs that leak, blankets for windows that let the wind and cold in, and children getting sick.
“Its shameful to live like this,” cried Najoud, a mother of eight, as she she broke down in tears. “We are also God’s creations.”
Seven people so far have died in Homs after they inhaled a “poisonous gas” used by government forces in a rebel-held neighbourhood, activists said.
Activists also told Al Jazeera on Sunday night that scores of others were affected in al-Bayyada neighbourhood. Side effects reported include nausea, relaxed muscles, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties.
Residents said they did not know the nature of the gas used.
“The situation is very difficult. We do not have enough facemasks. We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to Sarin gas,” Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.
A doctor treating patients subsequently said the gas seemed to be a concentrated form of tear gas that has not been used in Homs before. Inhaling large amounts can lead to suffocation and death, he said.
The gas appears to have been used during a battle with rebel fighters.
We received the following videos from a field clinic in the city: (WARNING - some viewers may find scenes in these videos to be disturbing or upsetting)
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