I walk daily through Damascus, from the south to the west, and through the north. The city is Syria now – it has people from everywhere. It has refugees, like the elderly man who lost his home, son, and the few acres he used to own.
He is living in a school now along with dozens of others like him. One of his rare opportunities for socialising is when he visits our hospital to be treated for asthma. He lost his medication along with everything else. He always greets us with racing breaths, a fading smile and a humbled look that makes you wonder…
Other, more fortunate Syrians don’t have to worry too much about finding food or shelter. In those cases, the whole family works, in order to keep that proud Syrian smile on their faces. Others are immigrants, or native Damascenes fleeing from one neighbourhood to another. Some have already fled once.
When I first came to Damascus four years ago – one year before the “happening” – the thing I noticed most was the frown on peoples’ faces. They were exhausted, drained, running out of time. Ironically, it is now that people are noticing the beauty of the city. The old city, especially at sunset, still is the centre of attention. Dusk is a beautiful time, a serene time – at least, as far as that time exists in a city at war with itself.
Of course, you will occasionally encounter fear, but smiles are more common than before. We might feel trapped inside this huge bubble of a city, but those of us who remain here live their lives to the limits. Syrians might be short on so many things these days, but not on smiles. Not yet.
Images: John Wreford