This weekend, in retrospect, has been a little surreal. Despite being at its core a perfectly ordinary peacetime weekend for this time of year.
The weather was beautiful – a real taste of the summer to come. The air had that warm drowsy feel it gets when it lays sluggishly and unmoving on the ground. Even the butterflies were too lethargic to stir. The smaller birds flitting amongst the leaves could barely shift the scent of sun-warmed jasmine. The cicadas were clicking, birds were singing, and the sound of children laughing drifted up the hill. The word bucolic comes to mind.
We went out for brunch and did a little Christmas shopping (five weeks to go). We went to the market and bought fresh vegetables, and to the supermarket for fresh milk and a little meat (still no sign of Mint Turkish Delight). And more tissues because we are still coughing and spluttering with the latest flu.
We drank our coffee in the still crisp morning air on the deck. I washed some clothes and hung them out in the sunshine to dry. We took the dogs for a walk and a swim, pausing to watch the local volunteer firefighters practice their drills (summer is coming).
All perfectly ordinary.
Until I looked up and realised that the sky was the same colour as the skies of Aleppo when I watched the bombs falling on the television news.
So many of the images of war that I see are black and white. Nothing conspiratorial about that, just the way World War II technology was, it’s what I’m used to. And while most modern war footage is in colour, it’s sun bleached and sparsely vegetated terrain that might just as well be alien planets for all the familiarity I have with them. But this time, it was blue skies and cityscapes. So much rubble in the streets that you could barely walk let alone get a vehicle through. Apartments with bullet-ridden walls, and balconies hanging precariously from a single steel.
Aleppo is an ancient city, thought to be inhabited since the 6th millennium pre-Christian Era. It was one of the largest cities in the region, being one end of the Silk Road. In 1984, UNESCO named the Old City of Aleppo a World Heritage Site. In 2006 it won the title Islamic Capital of Culture, and in 2011, it was Syria’s largest city with 2.5 million people calling it home.
The war in Aleppo began in July 2012, as part of the Syrian Civil War. It is now a city of two halves; the Western, government-held side and the Eastern side held by a loose coalition of rebel groups. The Government, aided by the Russian military launched an intensive campaign against the rebel-held side since September. It recently offered an amnesty to evacuate the city, which the rebels rejected. After the Government had opened humanitarian corridors to allow free departure, the rebels bombed them closed. I don’t know enough about the politics of the situation to comment intelligently, or to know what the level of destruction is on either side of the city, but here’s what I do know.
This weekend, while I enjoyed the weather and an ordinary, secure, peacetime life;
- The 250,000 people remaining in Aleppo’s East lost their last hospital, and are without medical care. They have little food, and rescuers lack equipment.
- Residents were driven indoors during a day of 250 air strikes that dropped more than 2,000 shells, and the city ran out of body bags (original 20/11/2016 Sky News Australia source article no longer accessible).
- The city has almost run out of food (original source at the Australian newspaper no longer accessible), with empty markets, and the city council handing out bread three times a week.
Next time the sun comes out, take a moment to look out your window at your peacetime sunshine and imagine what that must be like. Your hometown has been at war for four years (your country even longer), and there is no end in sight. You don’t have mains water or electricity. You can’t get to work, assuming your office is still there along with your job. Your kids can’t go to school because that was bombed out a couple of years ago. You go to sleep, and you wake up to the sound of bombing. The government sends you text messages to let you know they’re going to start bombing again. You are starving, and your only hope of survival is to try to sneak out while no one is looking.
Think about that the next time the conversation turns to the refugee crisis.
There isn’t a great deal that we can do to help the people still in Aleppo just now because neither aid workers nor supply convoys can safely get in or out. Though if you pray, perhaps you could add the people to your prayer list.
It’s hard to know the exact number, but the UN Refugee Agency estimates 8.7 million people displaced within Syria, and 4.8 m outside. Many of them are in camps waiting while their refugee claims are assessed. Some of them have been there since the war started. They generally live below the poverty line.
But many organisations are working with Syrian refugees who are “safe” outside the city (both in and out of the country) but still lack food, clothing, shelter, water, and medicine, so consider donating to reputable organisations in this area.