Printed Edition ‖ Society ‖ No.: 230
“Give me your notebooks, books, magazines, every single paper you see, I don’t want to see a paper left in this house”, Ahmad holds on tighter to his notebook despite his father’s screaming and the terrifying atmosphere at home, he hides it inside his shirt, but his father notices puffiness in his belly and snatches the treasure away from him, throwing it on top of the pile eaten by fire in the middle of the house yard. Thus, his attempt to protect the phrase “Excellent, may Allah protect you” -which he used to show-off his peers with- failed.
Ahmad Natoof, a Syrian young man born in Muadamiyat al-Sham in the countryside of Damascus in 1979, lived his childhood with the events of the eighties and the chases of anti-Assad Sr. activists in Syria. Ahmad’s thirties of age began with rebelling against Assad Jr., so will his life be lost in sorrow between two tyrants?
“I grew up with opposing publications’ presence in our house, in addition to news of arrest and martyrdom of my father’s friends”, Ahmad says, “I was a child when my father asked us for the school’s notebooks and books, he burnt all papers at home after he heard of his friends’ arrest out of fear that he would be next. He did not want any evidence of his political activity at home. Nevertheless, that did not spare him from being called. Thus, he and my brothers had files in Palestine Branch with a barred from traveling order. In this way, I had the first seed of fear from the regime because of the tyranny I witnessed from him.”
“Those who do not fear Allah, you should fear them”
“Like all Syrians, I witnessed the March 2011 protests onwards. At the beginning, people of Muadamiyeh did not call for overthrowing the regime, but they were calling for resolving the expropriation, as the regime owned 60% of lands in Muadamiyeh”, Ahmad narrates what he examined at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, asserting that slogans calling for overthrowing the regime only started with the beginning of security forces to oppress the demonstrators with live ammunition and raid and arrest campaigns.
“After watching people die one after the other, and the martyrdom of a large number of my friends, fear crept into my heart of a regime that would not stop from doing anything… the regime does not fear Allah, and that who does not fear Allah, you should be afraid of.”
All of that prompted Ahmad and his family to flee towards Jedaydet Artouz, in August 2012, after the Syrian regime stormed Muadamiyeh with tanks. The family stayed there for a few days in an “under construction” house, but the army soon stormed Jeddayde looking for people from Muadamiyeh, we heard the soldiers screaming: where are Almaadmh (people of Muadamiyeh)? Where are Almaadmh?”
Inside a water tank
“I quickly ran along with my brother to the bathroom’s shed, when we heard the soldiers’ military boots banging doors, there was no place to hide in except for a small water tank with an opening that one can barely get through. We managed to get inside and hid. Fortunate enough, only half the tank was full, which gave us a breathing space.” In this way, the two brothers hid still. Ahmad tells of how surprised he was of their patience back then, being in that state and in that horrific atmosphere, in August while heat was very high “and we were fasting.”
“The security entered the house cursing and insulting using bad words that we could hear. They only found the women of the family. When the sniper knew that they were from Muadamiyeh, he yelled in my mother’s face saying: where are your men? They are fighting us back in Muadamiyeh, for sure”, the young man adds “my mother was begging the officer and crying, my pregnant wife collapsed, and we were holding our breath while listening in our place inside the water tank, at the sight of snipers searching the house for any man, any man from Muadamiyeh (Medmana).”
“We will be back” the two snipers threatened the family. They stationed on the roof of the same building exercising their mission of sniping people, according to Ahmad, “we stayed in our hiding place fear of their return, and they came back indeed every half an hour asking for water or tea. Every time the doorbell rang, my heart would stop beating.”
The two brothers stayed in the tank from 6:00 AM till 5:00 PM, “our limbs were numb due to the fluidity of our blood and our stillness, we were afraid to adjust our positions causing the slightest hiss. Sounds of shelling and sniping were increasing our fear. Would you believe me if I tell you that I reached a state where I wished for them to catch me instead of staying like this. We were very exhausted by tiredness, water and horror for 11 hours.”
That day was one of the most terrifying days in Ahmad’s life. His wife took control of monitoring the situation through the house’s window, once she saw the regime’s soldiers withdraw with their tanks and spoils, she told him. He got out of the water tank as reborn, as well as his brother. They started hugging and hysterically crying, as if they were brought back from the dead, “we were extremely exhausted, but there was no way to stop, I made my decision to go back to Muadamiyeh, there is no place for us here.”
Dead bodies everywhere
On the way to Muadamiyeh, the family saw bodies on the streets’ sidewalks, “all the young people who welcomed us in Muadamiyeh were among the deceased, which is the regime’s way of punishing those who show humanity in war. We found our neighbor killed and thrown in a building’s garage. The smell of death in Muadamiyeh was no less than that, destruction and wreck was tremendous when we went back.”
However, the family could not withstand the shelling and the security escalation anymore, so Ahmad sent his wife with his family to Lebanon, and stayed back to convince his father to leave Syria, as he was totally against it, since he was a 70-years-old man who would like to die in his house in Muadamiyeh.
At that period, Ahmad participated in rescue and humanitarian acts, he did not carry a weapon, but that was annoying the members of Free Army. When violence by the regime was intensified over Muadamiyeh, he decided to leave to Lebanon. After a series of escapes among the groves of Muadamiyeh, Daraya and Khan As-Sheeh, as well as staying alone in one of the groves, a criminal security officer “smuggled” him in return for some money, and so he entered Lebanon at the beginning of 2014.
Lebanon: First dispersion
In Lebanon, Ahmad met his wife and family, he met his son “Nour El-Deen” for the first time, as he was born away from him. He only had 2000$ on him; “savings of his life”. He started looking for a job, since he has promised his wife a good life.
“I rented a small house in Beqaa valley and worked in the electricity field, fixing the washing machines of refugees in camps with a simple fare that suits their condition”, however that seemed to be disapproved by “craftsmanship owners” working in the same field, “I only found out about that when 5 Lebanese men attacked me while I was returning from work, they beat me up heavily. I found out that they were sent by a Lebanese man, old in the field of electricity, they threatened me not to go back to fixing electric devices, or else they will hand me over to the regime. Their words were so racist and Tashbeehi (those who intimidate and use violence in favor of someone/the Syrian regime); a racism we used to hear everywhere in Lebanon.”
Reemas: A lump in my throat
Ahmad got more attached to Reemas, his eldest daughter, in Lebanon. She was smart, beautiful and friendly. But she did not walk like kids at her age. He has taken her to the most famous doctors in Damascus, who confirmed that she will be walking normally with days, but she did not. Her body was full of bruises due to her frequent falls, and Ahmad used to carry her daily to school, where everyone there loved her.
A while later, Ahmad started noticing the paleness of Reemas’s face. He took her to the hospital to check on her health, “after a series of tests, the doctor whispered into the nurse’s ear in French, and I was able to distinguish the word “leukemia” among his words. Life blackened in my eyes, I completely collapsed. Leukemia was a guest in the little girl’s body, I tried to protect her from shelling and horror, but I could not keep sickness away from her. There was nothing I could do to prevent her this disease.”
Reemas battled the disease. She used to cry at night, in pain, calling “Daddy I am hurting… take me to a doctor”, her body was more like a sifter full of holes, we give her blood and hemoglobin to get better for a few days, before she gets worse again.
Getting hemoglobin was not an easy task, “our suffering was on one hand, while getting hemoglobin for my daughter was on the other. I used to walk in public squares ask for donors, look for places of Syrians, contact volunteers’ numbers in hope someone might give blood to the little one. At times, it took me 3 days to find hemoglobin to my daughter, not to mention commuting from Beqaa to Beirut, which drained me financially. I went through such a harsh time between my daughter’s sickness and the financial need to provide what I need for living, treatment and transportation, during these hard times, I found no one to stand by me, neither a close person nor a relative.”
A piece of me in Lebanon
Five months of sickness and Reemas was dramatically worn out, especially after treating her with cortisone. The family took her to hospital in Beirut, where her condition got tremendously worse, the doctor told them about deterioration in her health and that she had bleeding in her brain that turned into a clot that cut off blood of her brain’s right hemisphere. Reemas stayed in the ICU for 15 days, “I had no place to stay in, I used to sleep in the garden of the hospital in the coldness of January, and coldness ate up my bones, just like crying dried my tears. My wife had no one to support her but me, and my wife was my only supporter. We continued between praying and supplication in front of our daughter’s still body, till she passed away a month after staying in the hospital, in February 2015. A Lebanese man donated a grave for my daughter.”
“I buried her with my hands, her life rolled in my head as I buried her. I was so attached to her, she loved me so much, I don’t know: why did this happen.”
Cancer paralyzes the family, not to mention being in a foreign country?
“After my daughter died, I could not stand staying in Lebanon, life just darkened for me. We left the house and everything that reminded us of our daughter and lived with my parents, then we decided to migrate”. Ahmad borrowed some money from one of his relatives in Austria, his wife returned to Syria to obtain a passport for his little son, but the security on the Lebanese borders stamped her passport with “denied entry” due to violation of her stay, and she is still stuck in Syria till now.
And so Ahmad decided to travel alone, on basis of claiming her in reunion within few months. On the 17th of September, 2015, Ahmad traveled to Turkey and left a piece of his soul in Lebanon.
Turkey: Second dispersion
“For 10 days, I daily tried to escape from Turkey, every time something would come in the way of the ‘bulm’ (inflatable boat) and we would return; one time we were out of fuel, another the engine broke, and on a different time, the Turkish coastguard caught us and brought us back to Bursa, where we signed pledges, but that only made me more determined to migrate, also, I had no place in Turkey. I headed again to Izmir. We used to wait among trees, in the rain and in the open for a smuggler to take us to Greece.”
Till he was finally lucky and arrived to a Greek island, then he headed to Europe. Within 6 days he was in Germany, on the 6th of October, 2015.
Germany: third dispersion
Ahmad lives today with friends in a small house in one of the German villages, and because he speaks English well, he helps with translation for the new refugees. He is self-teaching himself the German language at home. He communicates with his wife in Syria through the internet, “I thought reunion will happen within months, I did not expect our separation to last this long. I have been in Germany today for 10 months and there seems to be no hope in the near future. I fear to die of dispirit after I survived shelling. I have a wife whom I love and wait for, a son I named (Joud) from afar and I have not carried in my arms yet, and my parents consider me their only hope, can you imagine…the only hope.”