“My friend,” Khaled says, as he records with his phone while he lifts away a blanket that is hanging in the doorway.
The very small room that shelters his parents and siblings is dark, the walls built with bricks, and the only decor in the room consists of mattresses on the floor where the family is gathered around a heater that gives them warmth. A streak of light from it lights up their smiling faces slightly. Soot particles swirl around in the room. The small window is covered with plastic foil. It is a very cold evening in Sarmada.
His own apartment has hardly any walls. They have been blown out by all the bombing, and walls and windows are now replaced with blankets or tarpaulins. He has no income but struggles to find work and goes to Kafr Lucien every day. He enthusiastically shows me the market, spices in large bowls, the small shops with groceries, and the Turkish military vehicles that roll in through the border in long convoys. Khaled seems unable to lose either his patience or inherent joy.
He dreams of starting his own business, but the days are spent trying to collect money to be able to buy fuel for the heater. It is usually coal, which is cheaper and more harmful than firewood. Sometimes he burns old shoe or old clothes. One very cold night the heater emits a thick, black smoke. He has put a rice sack in it and has mistaken the plastic weave for fabric. He is forced to carry the heater outdoors and has difficulty breathing due to the very low temperature outside. It is difficult to communicate how much they suffer but one night he manages to record his sweet little child while she moans in her sleep. I worry that she will freeze to death or that they will die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
They visit his pregnant wife’s parents. Their tent is open and there is no heating inside. His father-in-law, a man with a long white beard, silently looks out over the tent camp. He looks almost frozen, his gaze looks apathetic and his lips tremble.
Assad and Putin escalate the bombings in the Governorate of Idlib and the western countryside of Aleppo. The roads are crowded with fleeing people. Khaled records the family as they desperately gather together and flee into rooms further inside the building, while the bombs fall nearby. His otherwise stable voice is broken, and I hear how panic takes over his senses.
As if life is not difficult enough, their landlord decides to sell the apartment. Khaled’s family has to leave and his wife is about to give birth. All attempts to reach a charity fail. People are sleeping on the roads, there is complete chaos in the area, the situation is overwhelming and any help is out of reach.
He manages to find a tent camp and sets up their tent in the harsh wind while the rain seems to be falling from all angles, wetting down everything they own. He does his best to secure it to the ground with the help of stones. He has a gas heater, but they share it with another family, and they can no longer light a fire inside the tent. It is way too dangerous.
There is no water in the camp. They cannot take showers, nor wash their hands after visiting the toilet. His wife collapses. She is malnourished and has anemia. It is still cold outside when she gives birth to her baby. Khaled spends the night outside the hospital in a borrowed car. The pandemic has begun and he is not allowed to enter and greet his newborn.
They receive an aid basket monthly, but it mostly contains lentils, rice, and noodles. He goes to some shop with it and exchanges some goods for tomatoes and cucumbers. It is meager with so little variation of food, day after day. The children eat pickled turnips for breakfast, and canned beans in tomato sauce for dinner. The latter makes Khaled nauseous just looking at it. How he wishes that he could feed his children with decent food.
Every now and then a stray bullet passes by above someone’s head in the camp. Sometimes there are clashes nearby, but it also happens that somebody randomly decides to fire a weapon. People in the tents are terrified of being accidentally hit. It is never quiet in the camp. Dogs bark, and it is noisy in some of the tents. Khaled’s wife finds life there unbearable.
All the scenes above are just a glimpse of what it is like to live in a camp for internally displaced persons in Syria. The full story is appalling.