Rawa Remains Resilient

Petite and demure Rawa’ wears a strict hijab (headscarf). She looks like a typical Syrian woman – but she isn’t. Hiding behind the calm exterior there are nightmarish memories that almost bring her heart to a stop-particularly around this time of year, for this is when it happened - 6 years ago!

Rawa’ with her husband and two children were residents of Adra Industrial Complex. It was a new house in a high rise building and Rawa and her husband had saved to buy it. The events that occurred from 11/12/2013 until 29/12/2013 would turns this safe and comfortable home into a place directly from hell – a house of horror.

In 2013 the war on Syria was intense-across the borders terrorists infiltrated urged by Turkey and paid by Saudi and Qatar. The west turned a blind eye and followed a foolish policy that brooked no change despite evidence that proved this policy false.

The Syrian army was fighting on its own and its sacrifices were steep. All this Rawa knew but she just never guessed how fatal and deadly was the combination of money and ignorance.

On that Wednesday 11th of December 2013 Rawa woke to the chanting of “Allah Akbar”- she checked her watch. It wasn’t the time for morning prayer. It was five thirty in the morning! The chant grew nearer and nearer and looking out of her window she saw them with their black hoods and black flags.

They had replaced the Syrian flag that used to fly off the police station with their own version of a flag. In minutes the whole house was awake and Rawa had to deal with a pressing problem.

Rawa herself was Damascene but her husband wasn’t. He came from the village of Ain Al Laban (North East Lattakia countryside) and belonged to the Alawite sect- though both she and her husband were Moslem his different sect could be a deadly problem. Quick witted she was just in time to hide the family identity cards behind a painting on the wall. Then came the dreaded Knock on the door! The first time they knocked on that first day the family took the decision not to open the door.

Other families followed suit and doors were not opened. Building residents attempted to barricade the building and they were successful for one day-one day only. The next day the terrorists threw a mortar on the first floor, completely wrecking the entrance of the building and so gaining access.

That was when the second knock came. This time Rawa had to open the door! And so they entered! Hooded, she recognized none of them although some were locals. When asked about their identity cards Rawa said this wasn’t her house, that it was only a temporary abode as her family were displaced and lost all their identification papers when a mortar fell on their house and burned it. Not really believing her tale the men ushered Rawa’ and her family into the basement of the building. There she met the other residents of the building. And so the interrogation began. They were looking for a man called Wasim Salhab because they had been told that he was Alawite. They called out his name but he was too scared to come forward-they suspected one of the men as they also had an idea of what he looked like. Disastrously the phone of Wasim rang and they forced him to answer on loudspeaker- it was his brother calling and they knew immediately that this was their man. A hard beating followed and Wasim lay on the floor. That was when Rawa realized that there was an alien presence in the basement-that of a Saudi Sheikh (Rawa could tell his nationality by his accent) and he spoke one sentence only and that sentence was enough to chill her to the bone!! “We agreed not to beat them. We said we would slaughter them.”

Wasim Salhab was never slaughtered not because they were good and decent men but because they discovered that he was an assistant anesthetist and so could be put to use by them.

Chaos and confusion reigned and was to Rawa’s benefit for she was able to smuggle her husband whom she had disguised as a woman into the women’s room where he remained safe but only for a short time. In the women’s room in the basement was the third floor neighbor who had been shot in her waist. After an unsuccessful operation she died, yet neither would they bury her nor would they allow for her burial. She remained a corpse ever present with the women and children until the smell became unbearable and the men at four in the morning two days after her death risked their lives to take her out and bury her-not in a proper cemetery of course-but in the back garden of the building where her grave remains until today. A grave that is witness to the horror and terror that Syria suffered from.

 Food was becoming scarce and the only way that it could be obtained was in the early hours of the morning when all the women would gather at the bottom of the stairs and by flash light creep to the house of one of them only-there they would take all the food available. Pantries were soon emptied from houses, house by house and children began to cry due to hunger pangs. No electricity and no running water (phones were charged in secret using car or motorcycle batteries) added to their despair and deprivation and the ill grew more ill and hope was absent from the horizon.

On the 28th of December. the residents of the building were given an ultimatum- they could choose to go either to Douma or the Mleha. The women would have to face “Majles Al Tobah” (the council of penance) in both places. That was when Rawa and her family had to take the hardest decision of their lives - to flee and possibly get caught and die – or to remain, face more interrogation, humiliation, abuse and possible death too.

In the end they decided to escape. Gathering their few, few belongings they readied their souls for the onslaught that awaited them. In the very early hours of the morning of the 29th of December 2013 Rawa, her family and other residents who had taken a similar decision crept out of the basement that had been their prison for more them forty four days. They formed a sorry line as they trudged through the snow. In a scene reminiscent of the “Hunger Games” hanging posts had been erected at the exists of the city and bodies hung from these posts. Only one exit remained that could still be usable-the one behind the bakery and that was the one they used.

Trudging through snow for six and a half hours with mortars and bullets falling around them it was so easy to surrender and return, but it was the women who were resilient and who urged their men to continue the march.

Rawa’s children Khaled (12 years) and Yara (9 years) were part of that line and it was then that Rawa made an observation that almost stilled her heart.

Her daughter’s beautiful corn colored hair had a white streak running through its middle. Fear had taken its toll on the little girl – a fear that would remain with her for years yet to come. Even today six years later the sound of thunder in the beautiful village of “Ain Laban” jolts Yara and she is taken back to the days of Industrial  Adra’ and the fear and horror there.

Rawa recovered from her ordeal and hardship and today she has returned to her original work as a journalist.

On most days she thinks of what happened and why it happened but trying to make sense of the senseless is futile – and so she spends her time teaching the orphaned children of the martyred in the village of Ain Al Laban. The village is her home now for although Adra Industrial complex was liberated by the Syrian Arab Army in 2014, in Rawa’s mind that area will not be cleansed from all the innocent blood that was shed there anytime soon.    

Editor in Chief

Reem Haddad