Editors’ note: Arzé Khodr, one of our writers in the Middle East, had not been to Syria since the war began. She returned April for the first time in 11 years, walked the ancient and beloved streets of Damascus, and brought us a heart-wrenching report on the grim reality in Syria and those who are agents of hope in what some people would consider a hopeless situation. Listen to Arzé’s experience, hear from the people she met, in her audio report. A full transcript follows.
The persons who have been to Damascus at least once in their lifetime know that there is something very special about this city. And, if you’ve had the chance to stay in it for a while, you feel you have lived there forever. It’s a place you inhabit and that inhabits you.
My last visit to Damascus was 11 years ago, just before the war started.
Last April, as I walked in the old streets and neighborhoods I knew well, I sure felt that a lot had changed, even though the ancient streets of one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world were the same. So, I asked all the persons I interviewed what has changed most in their opinion.
One recurrent answer was: “There is no place for joy anymore,” as Sister Jihane Atallah of the Sisters of Charity of Besançon puts it. “There is all this pain, this is how we have become, and I have to accept it, but I can’t get used to it.”
“Joy is gone,” says Leyla*, a middle-aged woman, whose husband was killed by a bombardment during [the] war while he was going to a doctor’s appointment and who has to support alone her three children in an unprecedented economic crisis and depreciation of the local currency.
“During war, people used to complain,” says Sister Georgina Habash of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. “Now they don’t say anything anymore because all hope is lost. Before, there was at least a reaction, now it’s like people are numb from depression.”
However, in the heart of all this suffering, we met individuals who actively work every single day to make life easier on their fellow citizens, persons who — armed with faith, hope and love — are making a difference and who could use all the help they can get.
*The subject’s name was changed to protect her privacy.
Read more from the June 2022 issue of ONE.
Arzé Khodr is a freelance writer and playwright, based in Beirut.