Despite Syria-Turkey Cease-Fire, Life Is Difficult For Civilians In Idlib

Mar 10, 2020
Originally published on March 10, 2020 3:59 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. Now we're going to look at what it's like to try to raise kids in a warzone. The Syrian government, with the help of Russia, has been attacking Idlib. That's the last rebel-held province in Syria. There's a shaky cease-fire now, after neighboring Turkey and Russia reached an agreement. But life is still incredibly difficult for the civilians caught in this conflict. NPR's Jane Arraf met one woman, a single mother in Idlib city in Syria.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Etab Hadithi comes home from work and climbs the stairs to her apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Idlib. Her building is full of Syrians displaced from all over the country. She points them out as we pass their doorways in the battered, unlit hall.

ETAB HADITHI: They are from Deir Ezzor. Here, from Aleppo.

ARRAF: There's an elevator but no electricity. She stops to catch her breath. Her 16-year-old son is waiting for her inside.

HADITHI: (Arabic spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED TEENAGER: (Arabic spoken).

ARRAF: Hadithi is a single mother. Her younger son is 10. They divide their time between her and their father. We sit down on a sofa in a small living room. Paint has peeled off the walls, and mold is growing on the ceiling. She's tried to make it look cheery, though. There's a landscape painting and a guitar with no strings propped up as decoration.

HADITHI: To raise my children, everything is difficult. There is not something that is easy. If they want to study, there is no electricity.

ARRAF: There's normally no running water, either. She pulls out a bag of charcoal and shows me how they heat water for showers.

HADITHI: I put them inside the stove and burn them.

ARRAF: On top of all those difficulties, they live with the fear that, like so many of their friends and neighbors, they could be killed in the fighting.

HADITHI: It is a very, very sad thing when your son said to you, mom, I don't want to die. It is not an easy thing. It's not an easy thing for a mum.

ARRAF: Her eldest son is in the 11th grade. He doesn't want us to use his name because he's afraid of the Syrian regime. And he tells us about the building next door. It was hit by a missile two years ago. Thirty-five people were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED TEENAGER: (Through interpreter) Nobody was rescued. Every time we hear a missile, we don't know where to hide. We run to our rooms and convince ourselves that we can be safe, but we know it's a lie. The missile doesn't destroy one room. It destroys everything.

ARRAF: When we ask him what he wants to do when he finishes school, he puts it this way.

UNIDENTIFIED TEENAGER: (Through interpreter) If we manage to stay alive, God willing, I want to be a doctor.

ARRAF: Many evenings alone in the dark when the missiles hit, Hadithi tries to be brave. But it's hard.

HADITHI: The sound of the rocket - when I remember the sound of the rocket, I was very afraid. I catch the wall, yes, and ask God to help me.

ARRAF: Hadithi was a high school principal in Idlib. Now she works for an aid organization called Orange. She still has a principal's air of authority as she sits on the sofa, but the terror is just below the surface. She's afraid of strangers breaking in, of missiles.

HADITHI: Rockets - maybe the rocket kill me. So everyone sit at their homes the next day. There is no night. I forget the night. I hate night - no electricity, no people, no sounds. It's not the life.

ARRAF: So what do you do at night?

HADITHI: I sleep early. The electricity is cut at 8 o'clock. At 8 o'clock, I have to go to bed. I say to my children, go to bed. I am tired of sleeping.

ARRAF: She points at a cheap battery-operated light that doesn't work no matter how many times she's tried to repair it. And it's this detail that defeats her. She starts to cry.

HADITHI: This is not the life.

ARRAF: Hadithi says everyone is happy about this latest cease-fire between Turkey and Syria, but no one trusts it to last. In this conservative society, where women are encouraged to stay at home, Hadithi found a job. She works, and she drives a car. She likes to think she's an example for other women.

HADITHI: When I want to drive my car, everyone look at me. But I don't care about everyone. After I do this, another woman do this. Another woman do this. Yes. And I don't care about anyone. I have to be strong. I have to be strong.

ARRAF: For Hadithi and other Syrians trying to survive this war, every day is a test and a victory.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Idlib, Syria.

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