Going back to my hometown, Edlib city

Going back to my hometown, Edlib city

It has almost been 4 years since I was there, I absolutely remember August 2011, demonstrating at the sunset with my mother and female friends while wearing a red Niqab not to be recognised by the thugs.

Because of my load voice and excitement I found my self becoming the women’s demonstration cheerleader, chanted for freedom, martyrs, then thought about chanting what was main slogan in some cities in Syria: “Syrians are one, Sunnis, Christians, Alwaities and Durzies” but didn’t, fearing that some conservatives joining won’t chant behind me, suddenly they themselves started chanting it, I remember how low and stupid I felt because I doubted my own people.

That seem like a life-old dream, everything has changed. My family fled the city where they lived all their lives after the security forces repeated interrogations, my mother was kicked out of her job as a teacher’s trainer and university lecturer, and fled to Turkey.

I haven’t though once, I’ll be alive to see it again, and even after going back I still feel it’s a hallucination and I’ll wake up to find myself forbidden from going home again for demanding my human rights and freedom.

I decided to go back from the first moment I heard the regime troops withdrew; on the 28th of March. I headed from Aleppo to it, before the revolution the road takes an hour, but now as we have to avoid the ISIS captured towns in northern Aleppo suburb, and the regime held ones, it takes 3-4 hours.

I was still in denial and suppressed all my feelings, focusing on finding my family members who are still in and taking them to a safer area, no communication means in the city and nearby towns whatsoever, the regime even cut off the landlines, so for 3 days, about half a million people were completely off line.

We were the only civilian cars moving toward Edlib city, all the others are running away from it, long نصف مليون نازحqueue, tens of minibuses and trucks packed with featureless families stuffed in the vehicles as folds. I was searching the faces hoping to see a familiar ones, couldn’t recognise any, we stopped the car in the sidewalk of the street and I ran toward some families sitting on the street and asked them what’s going on inside, they told me that civilians are fleeing walking because few cars dared to move, and then when leaving Edlib, they are been picked up by mini buses sent by rebels to take them to other towns. All the nearby towns such as Binnish, Maart Misren, Saraqeb and Sarmen have been heavily shelled, and every mortar kills, as displaced families are lost, grouped in streets to absorb what happened and find a place to go to. The families of the rebels, who fled Edlib, as I did 4 years ago, were the main hosts. In Salqen near the Turkish boarder, houses were overcrowded, in one two-rooms house, 7 families with more than 15 kids spent the night, the host, Abdul Halim, told me “I’ll keep my house open to all who come, even if I had to sleep in the street myself”, he didn’t but they had to sleep by turns that night because there is no enough space for all.

After a day of searching, asking checkpoints and people leaving Edlib I finally found my family and put them in a safe place to go back finally the city.

Five minutes away from the Bruma farms, where I used to stay for the last 4 years whenever coming to Edlib province, I arrived to what was a regime’s check point, big hills of soil and some burnt BMB vehicles, I lost it then, seeing Marrt Misren roundabout, the Syrian red flags covering all the walls, Assad pictures smiling and saluting the comers, my stomach inched and I couldn’t see anymore as involuntary tears kept falling, I didn’t even bothered to dry it, “that’s my high school, my ant’s house, here is where I used to come with my friends” I kept shouting, there and here, I have memories in every inch of the city. Who has the right to prevent me from going back home! How could he! And what for? I thought while looking at a torn up picture of Bashar in the “Earth” Square. Many neighbours have changed, new buildings, roundabouts, roads, I felt the ashamed for not remembering the road to my own house, then everything came back to me again, “go direct, there on your right is my elementary school, I can’t miss this road, I walked it daily for 12 years” I told my friends, here, stop here. This is my house. I stood in front of the building emotionless for minutes, and then decided not to freak the displaced family living in it out by my unexpected visit. I took a picture anyway to show it to my mother.

I checked the list I have prepared of the families I’ll visit in Edlib city, because I knew I’ll lose my mind الأسد يحيي ضحاياهwhen walking through the sea of remembrances and the unfair deportation, the next on my list was a Dr. Rafik’s house, his daughter went to the balcony as soon as she heard a car parking, she screamed “Zaina!” and ran 4 stairs to get down and opened the iron door of the building, it was lucked heavily of fear. I hugged her and cried everything off, the unfair separation from my home which is couple of meter away from where I could reach, the tired, fear, pain of my friends who died while dreaming of going back and living this moment, but they couldn’t and were buried outside their city. I wept loud with her, some women came out of their houses checking what had happened, Azza answered, “she’s been away for 4 years, this is her first return”.

This scene has repeated with all the houses I visited. They don’t recognize me first, not only because I am dressed differently, but also because they haven’t digested the new reality of the city, it’s not easy to believe that there are no Assad thugs anymore.

Not just the opponents are in shuck, but also the pro-regime people who mainly fled to Latakia. My cousin, who we haven’t spoken for 4 years, believed in the regime so strongly that she didn’t fled until she saw the troops leaving. Now she’s angry of the army she used to support and cursing it, because it “left the city and them to be taken”.

Everyone I met kept asking whether the regime is going to bomb it in revenge, when? For how long? How to run away from it? Basement is good? What about the chlorine attacks? Treating me as an experienced crazy women living under barrel bombs for more than a year. Well, I played the role and suggested, “leave for a week or two, I can’t guarantee that your house won’t be robbed, but you can be safer away, then decide what you want to do”.

400.000 displaced, the estimations are, just in 2 days, Turkey’s boarder has been closed by Turkish authorities for a month, Latakia checkpoint didn’t allow many families from entering, “We have enough Edlibi people here, go back to your terrorists” they told a pro-regime family which tried to go, so they had to go to Hamah city where they don’t have any relatives.

Streets were full of armed men, some of them are masked, occasionally shooting was heard as some thugs were still hiding in houses. No big effects of clashes even in the Security Square, where the Baath party, Military Security, Municipal and the mayor’s house are located.

I’ll stop here. I am not free enough to say what I want to say; I don’t want to be in forced exile again after I finally made it in.

I brought my family to my home in Aleppo, what a joke! Displacing to the most dangerous city in the world! It’s safer because it has been bombed for long time unlike Edlib city. An earth-earth missile hit my neighbour Salah Eddien this week killing 6 people. My ant and her 7 years old daughter froze of fear asking me what that sound was, I lied “don’t worry, it’s just a mortar, better than the barrel bombs of Edlib, heh?”.

This is not published anywhere but here because the 3 international publications didn’t accepted it.

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عن Zaina Erhaim

صحفية سوريّة٫ درست الإعلام في جامعة دمشق ثم الترجمه في جامعة التعليم المفتوح بدمشق أيضاً. بدأت عملي الصحفي مع موقع "سيريانيوز" عام ٢٠٠٤ قبل أن انتقل للعمل مع قناة المشرق "الأورينت" منذ تأسيس مكتبهم في دمشق إلى أن أغلقته المخابرات السورية عام ٢٠٠٨. بدأت عندها بالعمل مع جريدة الحياة٫ وكتبت في عدد من صفحاتها ك "ميديا٫ منوعات٫ ومجتمع". عام ٢٠١٠ حصلت على منحة من وزارة الخارجية البريطانية لدراسة الماجستير في المملكة المتحدة (تشيفنيغ)٫ ودرست الماجستير في مجال الإعلام الدولي (المرئي والمسموع) من جامعة سيتي في لندن عملت بعدها في تلفزيون بي بي سي العربي لعام٫ ثم تركتها لأعود سوريا وحالياً أعمل مع معهد صحافة السلم والحرب IWPR كمستشارة ومدرّبة. Award winning Syrian journalist, named among the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2016 by Arabian Business and Unsung heroes of 2016 by Reuters Thomson. ٍReceived Index on Censorship, Freedom of Expression award in 2016, Press Freedom Prize by Reporters Without Borders and Peter Mackler Award for Ethical and Courageous Journalism in 2015 besideMustafa Al Husaine award for the best article written by a young journalist. She has been working as the Syria project coordinator for IWPR for the last 4 years, trained more than 100 media activist on journalism basics and made a series of short films named Syria Rebellious Women.

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