by older 2
What happens to a family during war?
Sharron St. Croix-Deering
The Story of a Little Syrian Girl
Our school course, Storyteller I and II is about beginnings and endings. We studied, the beginning of a good story, a comic strip, a civilization or the beginning of a new life. We also looked at endings, the ending of a story or the ending of a world. I decided to write about a young girl in the beginning of her life and the apocalypse that she lives in. This is a subject that causes much emotion in me because I believe that we sit and do nothing but watch the process of the Syrian society fight to survive oblivion, but for the children born in the war, it IS the apocalypse.
This story is about a young Syrian girl named Mahdi and she is 10 years old, living in Ghouda, Syria. She had been born on a dark quiet night with the sky full of stars and the world seemed hopeful. Her Mother said that Mahdi came into the world yelling and screaming to make sure that everyone knew she had arrived. She was lucky, lucky to have a good family with parents that were still alive and living in a comfortable home. Mind you she had no memory of the first 2 years of her life but deep down she knew it had to have been the best of times.
Mahdi is a very pretty little girl with the same dark brown almost black hair, rich dark eyes of her people and a look on her face that reminds most of an old wise soul living in her tiny body. She has slim, long fingers and is well dressed no matter how dirty it is outside. You can hear her education in her ability to speak and write English. In fact she has always been very well spoken and cautious in the things she says. Most of this is due to the home schooling her Mother, once teacher, did with the two girls every day.
Ghouda was a beautiful city with its large mosques, colourful buildings and the sounds of families out for a leisurely stroll. The shops were the best part! Walking in the warm sun then stopping to check fresh produce for their dinner. The favourite for most, would be making humus which is a staple in their diets or if they could find the right ingredients then they made Ataiyef (English for blintzes). These are basically pancakes filled with ricotta cheese, deep fried, dipped in chopped pistachio nuts and topped with shira (Aleppian dessert syrup). This was a food that most children could never get enough of.
Mahdi was just 2 when the world had turned upside down. Her memories of that time are sketchy but from what she has been told it was a time of happiness and anger all at the same time. The people loved their country and their army but they did not like their President. He ran it as a dictatorship and stories about the atrocities he kept committing were spreading throughout the land. Fear had always been there but now what they feared was coming closer to their wonderful home.
This was when the "never ending storm" had started and changed everyone Mahdi had ever known. She was raised hearing a story about 3 boys who decided to behave foolishly or as they said "boys will be boys". The 12 and 13 year olds decided that it might be fun to graffiti the side of their school and write down something that they had heard on the news then casually walk home to have dinner. When one of the boys told his Dad what he had done, his Father looked ill and became white as a ghost. He asked him why would he write such a thing and his son answered he didn't really know, he just wanted to write it. The boy asked if he was in trouble and his terrified father said yes but he would help to hide his mischievous son.
In just a couple of days, in the middle of the night when the three families were fast asleep, they woke to the sounds of their front doors being kicked in and the fully armed military guards came in. The Government troops pulled the sleeping children out of their beds and dragged them away. The terrified parents cried and begged their countrymen to tell them where they were taking their children but the troops simply laughed at them.
At this time two year old Mahdi knew nothing about what was going on except for the odd memory of lots of shouting outside of her house. Her Mother started to let her play at her best friend, Nour's house a little more than usual.
It was not until much later that she began to have a real understanding about that fateful day.
Mahdi is now10 and has a little sister Lona, 8. Lona was born shortly after the boys were dragged out of their homes that night.
The boy's parents were beyond grief and threw themselves into getting whatever help they could, to find out where their children were and to bring them back home, alive. Just by luck the parents found out where the children were being kept, and rushed to the prison. The frightened parents asked the guards to affirm that the boys were actually there but they were laughed at and taunted then the guards refused to say where the three young boys had been taken or how long they were to be held. Instead of any understanding the guards yelled "Go on! Get lost! Forget you even had sons and just go and make more because you don't have sons anymore!" their laughter was harsh and cruel, "go home and make more and if you don't want to do that then why not give us your wife and we can take care of it for you!" Their laughter was cutting and dismissive. The distraught parents went back and told everyone what had happened. Most of the Syrian citizens had put up with a lot of aggression from their government but arresting children had awakened true anger. This is when the storm albeit a small one started but this one did not stop like the rainy ones that usually run through town. This was a different kind of storm and to think it got started with just a few words written by children. These now infamous words were "Your turn next, Doctor (Assad)". They had been written by children who happen to watch the news in regards to the uprisings in places like Tunisia and others.
At first Mahdi could not understand, she knew what a storm was but she didn't know that people can make them. She was told that only God made the weather so she asked her Mom how this was possible and her tired Mother looked into her questioning child's eyes and simply smiled then give her a big hug and kiss. Unfortunately this did not clear up her confusion about storms.
Over the next couple of years there was more talk about how strong the storm was and her parents and all their friends wondered how much bigger it was going to get. The little girl stopped asking her parents to explain this mysterious storm they were always talking about because she would look outside and see plenty of sunshine. Little Mahdi would scratch her head and shake it from side to side, incredulous that her parents would think there was a storm. The only thing she could do was to go out and play with her friends or stay around and listen, quite often she did both.
It was at this time when Mahdi and her little sister started to notice more and more of their friends were disappearing or she heard that they simply moved away in the middle of night. This was very strange and difficult for them to understand and they missed their friends but now this seemed to be happening every time they went to bed, or it certainly felt that way to them. "Mama, why are all my friends gone and where did they go? Are they coming back? Has God come down and taken them away, like Grandma? Or, did a monster come out of "The Storm" and gobble them up?" inquired the girls. "Mahdi what would make you think there is a Monster out there" her insistent questions had attracted her Mother's attention. Lately this attention had become more unusual because Mother was always so busy going out and doing a thing called "demonstrating". "Well because Mama, I heard some of our neighbours talking outside and they said there is a Monster who comes into town and steals all the children and eats up all the adults. They said that this Monster will be coming here soon and they didn't know if they should run from this horrible thing or stay and fight. Does this mean we will all get swords and we can fight the bad Monster off like the prince in our bedtime story Mama? We aren't scared are we Lona?" and the smallest girl shook her head no, all the while looking approvingly at her big sister.
This was a tough question for the parents to explain to such innocent children but it seems that this "monster" was working hard at taking their childhood from them. Mahdi and Lona were lucky because their parents worked hard at protecting them from what was happening for as long as they did but now that time was over and their education had to be pushed ahead. Since Mama was a teacher she decided to tell them about the monster through a lesson which started out by looking at the history of their wonderful country. The girls discovered that the monster had a name, President Bashar al-Assad and the storm wasn't really the kind of storm that made everything blow around with thunder and lightning. This storm was really called a rebellion which some people say was started by some innocent graffiti. However Mama told them that this wasn't really true because the Monster had been hurting his people for a long time but when his army hurt the boys who were innocent then the people screamed "STOP!"
Madhi soon discovered that this storm/rebellion could not be stopped because it seemed to have come alive all by its self. No one seemed to know how to stop it from growing without getting eaten by that monster. It went from town to town, city to city, all over the country then their storm also became a monster. They thought if they had a monster of their own then they could conquer and kill the monster that had been hurting them for so long.
Little Mahdi knew the story about the boys inside and out like her favorite bedtime story and it even had a happy ending like the prince and princess, or so the child thought.
Two months after the rebellion started the 3 boys were released but the reaction of the people was not what the President had expected. He thought that if he let the boys go then the people would let their "storm" die down and everything would go back normal. What he had not counted on was the outrage they all felt when they saw the condition the boys were in.
They were bloodied and battered so the storm got worse.
Madhi and Lona have no memory of what it is like to not hear the rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat each day and night. When they were smaller it use to sound like fireworks but now they know it is far more dangerous then that.
The girls were outside playing in the fresh rubble of a freshly bombed out street. It use to be the street where her best friend lived, little Nour. She was small for her age and she always laughed at everything. "Why do you laugh so much Nour? Even when Lona fell down and hurt her knee you laughed, why?" quieried Madhi. With a giggle and a blush little Nour responded "I really don't know but I think that if I cry I might not stop so I laugh instead." Then she tilted her head to the side and gave her biggest most infectious smile to her best friend. Every time Nour gave that particular smile the girls had no choice but to smile back.
Two days ago a barrel bomb dropped down on little Nour's house. What had been a place where families and pets had lived just seconds ago was now a large empty hole. It was as though Nour and everyone else had never existed.
Madhi can still hear the plane flying above and the gripping fear everyone felt. People had stopped what they were doing as if frozen in place. They held their terrified breaths and their eyes were large and had a look of feeling so terribly alone. Then the noise came, that high pitched sound bombs make when they are barreling down like a giant hammer from an angry god. It came hungry and was determined to reach its goal. It was close, too close and just before it hit everyone seems to wake up. All of the adults and even the children knew what they had to do, they threw themselves flat on the ground, put their hands over their ears and cried. Madhi cried but it was not the kind where you are tired and hungry but the kind that is so extreme that you cannot realize that it is coming from you. It is a sound you can never forget. Madhi's neighbor had a heart attack at the very moment the bomb hit. The sound it created was so large that no one was actually able to recognize it at first and everyone simply stay where they lay, confused.
As Madhi lay in the dry dirt she felt time slow down, everything around her barely moved yet she could feel her heart beating fast and she was completely aware of everything around her. Nothing seemed real so it must surely be a dream. Then the ground shook and everything went dark. Just trying to take a simple breath made her cough so hard little Madhi thought her lungs were going to come up. The dust and remnants of what once lived stuck to her tear stained face. Somewhere in the background of her awareness she could hear a child crying and a dog barking for help. She coughed every time she tried to take a breath because her lungs would fill up with dust or remnants of people. She was almost deaf.
Mahdi's father had come out and rescued her. He reached down and simply threw her up and she landed in his strong arms. She was exhausted and lay her head down on his chest. Ba Bump Bump Ba Bump Bump, the steady rhythm of her father's heart was comforting and safe. She promptly fell asleep.
The next day Mahdi was still a little confused. She had never had a bomb dropped so close to home and she prayed to God that one would never drop so close again. She shook from fear just sitting at her kitchen table. "Mama?" whispered Mahdi, "Mama? Is Nour alright?" the dam had broken on her fragile emotions and her tears were flowing freely down her face. "MAMA!" she yelled! She did not notice her Mother kneeled down in front of her and couldn't hear her answer. Suddenly she jumped up and bolted for the door. "Mahdi noooo!" her Mother begged.
Her father had left early that morning to go out and help with the rescue or at least the retrieval of the large white apartment building. Little Nour's home.
Mahdi stood completely still, her breathing had almost stopped and her eyes were so wide with terror that people would not have recognized her. To one side of the rubble, lined in a neat row were the bodies of the dead. These were people she had grown up with, Mrs. Eliyahi, the nicest elder in the whole area. She would make sweets all of the time and give them to all the children but she liked Mahdi, Nour and Lona the best , or so she said and would give them two pieces instead of one. The girls would hug her then run off and play. Oh yes of course she could not forget Mr. Farhi, he was so nice and helpful. Last year when Mahdi's family was not able to purchase any water or milk, Mr. Farhi showed up at their door with a large container of fresh, cool spring water. Her parents were so surprised and welcomed him into their home. It turned out that Mr. Farhi had lost his wife, daughter and son in what had been a peaceful demonstration held to get 3 young boys out of the prison. No one knew the troops would open fire on the crowd. Once everyone realized that the rat tat tat was not fireworks, his family lay dead on the ground. He has been alone ever since. "Oh don't worry about the water, there is just me and I don't need much" he whispered politely. Mahdi's parents would ask him over for a meal as often as they could but supplies were getting desperately low. Sometimes the three girls would knock on his door and ask him if he would like company. He never said no.
Madhi screamed and kept screaming until a slap on her swollen face woke her up. She looked surprised and stared at her frightened Father. Their eyes met and knowledge flooded back into the child's face. She slowly turned to look at the sleeping people lying in a nice neat straight line. Some of them were covered with torn bloodied sheets while others just lay there. Then there were the "things". These were spread out on a dirty piece of plastic, at first it looks like odds and ends, parts of a doll, bowls, shoes etc until she sees the blood that is spread out under some of the items. She stepped closer to take a better look and then realization struck her. Those were not parts of a doll!! That was Nour's leg with her slipper still on! There was a child's hand further along the line and Mahdi just knew it was a part of her best friend!
Mahdi the sweet 10 year old, stretched her arms up as far as she could and yawned. She awoke in her bed and it took her a few minutes to remember. Those lovely few seconds where she thought everything was another normal day. She was going to get up and if there was any food available she would have a quick bite to eat then go out and play with her best friend. She looked around and saw her Father staring out of her little bedroom window. He had been crying. That is when it all came back, the bomb, the bodies all of the horror. She sucked in her breath and he suddenly turned to face her. "Ohhhh Pappa" she cried and they threw themselves into each others arms. They cried together, they mourned the loss of best friends, they mourned the loss of their warm and rich culture, they mourned the loss of the love and respect for their countrymen and they mourned the loss of everything. Their world had disappeared and hell had taken it's place. Surely the world was ending because she was not able to know anything else. Trying to survive has been all there is to life in this broken place. They were clinging each other when the noise came, that high pitched sound when the hammer of evil was about to knock on your door. Father and daughter looked at each other and clung even harder then two seconds later all went black.
The war in Syria is real even though my story is based on a real family it is still a work of fiction. The results of what the children must live through is far worse than I describe here but I am not able to put into the proper words how these children have been able to last. Mahdi and her sister have lived their whole lives in the horrible war. Mahdi was there when "The Storm" started and she died when she had come to the understanding that her world was the apocalypse, her apocalypse. For us in another part of the world, there is no apocalypse, no bomb, no starvation and we have not turned on each other to the point where your neighbours are no longer humans. We are safe and comfortable, perhaps it is time for us to open our eyes and see that Hell does not stay in one place.