Author: Ahmad Beetar
“You killed my dreams, destroyed my future and ended my career and any chance for me to get a better life. And you are representing me?”
I am a Syrian citizen. I came to the U.S. for a short-term scholarship, then settled here for good. I have witnessed the whole thing in Syria since the beginning. I’m still hoping for a better future but I know that it will not happen soon. I will just tell you my story. No blood. No heroic action. It is a story about a person who tried to achieve the “American Dream” in his own city but failed to do so. Then he lost everything because of a war with no guarantees of ending soon…and he doesn’t know who to blame.
My name is Ahmad. I am young–in my thirties. I used to work as a journalist and interpreter for dozens of organizations in Syria. I had a lot of ambition towards my city and, personally, I was known for my good reputation and hard work. I had a busy life that some people envied. I used to work for almost 12-14 hours per day–even on weekends–because I loved what I was doing. But this is in the past…Here is a diary entry I wrote in Syria before I left for the U.S. after August of 2013:
Almost every morning, I wake up to the sounds of combat, bullets and explosions. My city, Aleppo, is considered the most dangerous and destroyed city in all of Syria and now in the world–it has been facing a severe civil war among the regime, the “opposite,” the radical Islamists and the Kurds. It is divided now into two parts: the eastern part–which is controlled by the Radicals and it looks a little bit like Qandahar in Afghanistan–and the western part, which is controlled by the regime but is under attack daily. It is a small island within a “Radical Islamists” sea. This is where I live.
I turn on the light to see if there is electricity. No, there isn’t. It is okay. We have only six hours of electricity per day so I’d prefer to have it at night to watch TV instead of in the morning. It is still better than no electricity. I can remember when we had no electricity for 12 complete days! Not one time, but dozens of times. This happened because of some attacks on the electricity stations by some militias. I don’t know how they are doing this. They believe that “the only way to eliminate the regime is to destroy the power plants!” as if our regime is working on electricity. Anyway, the first time is always the hardest, and after several times, you get used to these blackouts.
I go to the bathroom in order to wash my face but still no water. We have to depend on what we saved when we had water. Fresh water comes only a few hours every two to three days–not to mention that some weeks we have long cutouts because of targeting in the water stations too.
The regime does not work on electricity or water–please understand this, Rebels. We have some gallon containers that we use to save water inside of them. Ironically, they are gallons distributed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). What a way to remind us that although we are living in our homes, we can also be considered refugees.
No internet connection or cell phone coverage! This is normal. We used to have some on days like this. One time, we had no internet or cell phone coverage for an entire month and a half from July to the middle of August in 2012 so I used to keep my cell phone at home. Why carry something heavy if I couldn’t use it?
I wash my face, eat some food and prepare myself to leave the house. I am an unemployed person now. I was a journalist in the past but after the Syrian war, I decided to quit journalism. Being a journalist is more dangerous than being a fighter. The reason is simple: both groups are so committed to horrible actions that they don’t want anybody to know about it. So the orders are simple–if you see a fighter and a journalist, shoot the journalist first, then deal with the armed man.
Get set, RUN!
Ready to leave home?
Get set, RUN!
I have to leave my building running. The reason–to not be killed by our “neighborhood sniper.” We are living at the border of the city near some villages and our neighborhood is controlled by the regime troops while those villages are controlled by the rebels, the opposite, and the radical Islamists. So every day I have to run through every intersection in order to prevent myself from being shot by two-mile snipers who are sometimes likely to shoot people out of boredom.
Am I a fighter? No, I am not. I am a civilian of course. So why is he shooting at me? You’ll have to ask him. Once he tried to shoot me and my mother while we were trying to cross the street. We were carrying nothing and wearing casual clothes, so we weren’t even “suspicious.” Luckily, the distance was two miles away and he wasn’t that good. Why are they even hiring snipers that aren’t good for God’s sake? So he missed us only by a few inches. I actually feel like I know how the character, Neo, felt in the famous “Matrix” movie scene when he is trying to dodge the bullets by moving his upper body backwards and in all directions. I can swear that I do the same. I had to walk-run for one mile from my house to the bus station. My area is a no-cars-zone so I have to walk-run the entire distance to get to the bus.
Why am I staying in Aleppo? The answer is simple–where do you want me to go? The painful fact is that there are no alternatives. The entire city is under attack and not safe and if I try to move to another city, I would need money to rent a house. And with this comes unemployment and considering that rents are so high, I could not afford a house for me and my family. Another important fact is that almost 95 percent of the world’s countries refuse to give Visas to Syrians. And I didn’t want to live in a tent in a refugee camp and ask for food for me and my family every couple of days. It is not easy for me to face this reality and I would prefer to die in my house rather than be begging for food.
Now I arrive at my favorite café. Before the war, it was 20 minutes by bus and now it takes 45-60 minutes. On our way, we have half a dozen military check-points and all of them want to see the IDs of every male person inside the bus. They usually check the back and front of your ID and then give it back to you. What will they even find from just looking at my ID? I try to amuse myself by thinking of developing an Android and iPhone application for counting how many times that your ID has been seen. The app can do some competition with a prize for the person whose ID has been checked the least…
Sometimes they ask you to go down from the bus to let the officer see you and decide whether or not you “look suspicious” or not. After your return to the bus, everybody keeps asking you, “Are you okay? What have you done? Are you a fighter?” No, no, please people! I don’t want all this attention. I am just an ordinary guy who looks a bit “suspicious.” It reminds me to shave my small beard next time.
Although the situation in Aleppo is so messed up, the cafés keep opening. Possibly because the residents of Aleppo have nothing else to do than sit in cafés, take the Shisha, play cards or backgammon, and watch football games–soccer. Actually, my favorite part is watching sports because it is the only way that I can curse and insult someone without being arrested or getting into a fight. Sometimes I need to puff my anger out without being hurt. We are all facing a very tough situation and we need to be angry sometimes. To a bad referee, I’ll yell, “What are you doing? Who is this? You are a ***** referee and you should be ***** and *****!”
Yup, blame the football game referee. It is his fault. It is his fault that we are having this war. It is his fault that my friends got killed because they were “at the wrong place, at the wrong time.” It is his fault that I am unemployed now. It is his fault that I have no future. It is his fault that we have thousands of militias fighting each other and that they all claim that they have the right to defend Syria and the Syrians against the “others.” It is his fault that I am crying now while I am writing this…
Just blame the referee–it is his fault. He is the only person we can blame and not be killed, arrested or disappear for doing so. So referee, do not take it personally. It is just our way to release our anger.
The news: killing, killing, killing, and plenty of lies.
The café has an electric generator so you can recharge your phone and laptop–remember when I told you that we have electricity for only six hours per day? If there is any internet, you can check Facebook to see your friends’ news. Some have left the city, others have left the town, some have left life–they have died. I get so used to the daily dose of sadness that this bad news becomes normal to me.
What if your friend died because a random mortar landed on his bedroom and killed him and his bother while they were sleeping? It could happen to you here. Just a couple of days ago, a mortar landed in our building inside the 4th floor. Luckily, the residents of that house had left months ago. This mortar destroyed our bedrooms and made the glass fall on me and my two little sisters while we were sleeping. So it can happen to anyone. It is not a big deal here.
I move to other websites to start reading articles about the situation in Syria to learn when this war can end. The news has been like this for the past year or so–
The Regime: We are defending Syria against the “global conspiracy” aimed to end our leadership in fighting our enemies. We are good. We are not a dictator regime. People used to be happy. But this happened because of the bad, bad West. We have new decisions for you. Listen to these decisions.
The Opposite: The regime is responsible for every bad thing happening in the whole world, starting from Adam to Noah’s flood–ending with all the earthquakes and the other nasty things that happen now. We accuse them of being responsible for the flu we caught yesterday and the cold pizza we ate. We promise you a better life but we are now busy fighting. Just a couple more years and we will establish a new government that has enough leadership positions for all 300 of us. Just wait for that to happen.
The Radicals: We will make Syria an Islamic state and put a Caliph over all the Levant areas! All other religions are HARAM i.e. banned or forbidden. All other Islamic sects are HARAM. All moderate Muslims are KAFER i.e. not Muslims and should be killed. You are KAFER. He is KAFER. Everybody is KAFER! And we are the only people who are real Muslims! In other words, we will kill you, all you not-so-Muslim people!
And it keeps going on and on and on…
The ironic thing is that the only thing they all have in common is that they are all claiming that they are representing the Syrians, and that this situation will end soon. They are all representing me? No kidding! Every day, the situation is getting worse. The economy is falling apart, and not to mention, the fighting and combat is almost everywhere. And you are representing me? You killed my dreams, destroyed my future and ended my career and any chance for me to get a better life. And you are representing me? Please don’t. I don’t want to be represented please. Just stay away from me and my country and play your “war games” somewhere else. For three years, the regime keeps saying, “We are victorious. Just a few weeks and it will end.” The opposite, on the other hand, is saying, “Al-Assad’s days in the presidency are countable.” And the radicals are saying, “Just a couple of millions to kill and Syria will be in the Land of Islam.” They promise a Cinderella story.
It is almost sunset and I should go home now. It is some version of a Cinderella story where Cinderella leaves early from the dance–but instead of losing the pumpkin-cart and the fancy dress–she can lose her life. Combat usually starts at sunset so you need to get back home as fast as possible. Your family keeps calling you to check if you’re still alive. You reach your home at the same time the “concert” has started. “Concert” is a cute metaphor for “combat.” I am lying in my bed with the sound of the bullets, bombs and planes, saying to myself: “Could I have a better future one day?”
One day, my friend sent me an email for a fellowship in the U.S. for a couple of months with one comment: “Try to apply for this.” I applied and they accepted me as the first Syrian ever. I managed to remain alive for ten months until the time of the flight. After a long adventure, I am now in the U.S. looking for a better future. The Americans knew my story and decided to allow me to stay in the U.S. I now have everything I need to live as a new immigrant. I am looking for a job and hoping for a better future. I am here in the U.S. but my heart is still in Syria with my family and friends. My mother and two little sisters are still there, alive but in severe danger. Will they remain alive? I don’t know but I hope for the best. This is my story: A story of a normal guy who found himself in the middle of a civil war and managed to survive and move to the U.S.