Incomplete happiness accompanies Syrian celebrations due to living hardships

Children playing in a temporary shelter in the northern city of Aleppo after the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey - February 13, 2023 (Reuters/Edited by Enab Baladi)

Children playing in a temporary shelter in the northern city of Aleppo after the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey - February 13, 2023 (Reuters/Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Nour Mouazen

Hayat, a resident of Damascus, waited for the cake that her sister, who lives in Germany, ordered to hold a celebration for her success in her high school diploma in her scientific branch.

Feelings of joy at success were accompanied by a sense of bitterness due to the high cost of the celebration, which amounted to 180,000 Syrian pounds (about $13.85), even though it was a remittance from abroad, and the absence of her brothers in the countries of asylum.

The rituals of celebrating success came burdened with worries after a difficult academic year and the difficulties Hayat experienced like other students, amid deteriorating living and economic conditions, the absence of basic life needs, the accompanying psychological conditions, displacement, and the distance of family and relatives.

Hayat, who last month passed the baccalaureate, said that the joy of the celebration was not complete.

The presence of a cake and the absence of basic materials in the house is an imperfect happiness, pointing out that the amount of 180,000 Syrian pounds is equivalent to the expenses of the entire family for about three days. Not many people have the luxury of owning this amount over the course of an entire month.

Aleppo-based Abdullah Mouazen told Enab Baladi that the first birthday celebration of his firstborn was a “simple and costly party” attended by 13 family members.

The party’s preparations were limited to some fruits and crackers worth 50,000 Syrian pounds and a cake for 30,000 Syrian pounds. His wife made Saleeqa (a traditional legume dish), which costs about 12,000 Syrian pounds.

The young man was not able to buy ready-made sweets, as buying a kilogram of them became comparable to the cost of an entire party. A kilo of “Raha sweet” and “almond mash” costs 75,000 Syrian pounds, chocolate bars are about 60,000 pounds, and a kilo of Ghraibeh (Syrian sweet) costs 160,000 SYP.

Various rituals to celebrate

The only margin of happiness that Hayat felt was her success in an academic year, in which 147,243 students from the scientific branch sat for exams, of whom 97,667 students passed.

Celebration rituals differ from one family to another and one region to another, and some circumstances and customs governed its establishment.

“It is as if the Syrians were destined not to be happy,” Hayat said, and mentioned that her joy was accompanied by a feeling of guilt, for having fun in light of what the Syrian families are witnessing has become “above luxury.”

Hayat celebrated in a simple way, and some of her family (the family members only) shared the joy with her amid a feeling of sadness due to the absence of her brothers and their inability to share the joy with her.

Ahmed Hilali, who lives in Aleppo, has not yet celebrated his success in the baccalaureate with a score of 1,600 out of 2,400 in the scientific branch because of his desire to take the complementary exam to raise his grade point average (GPA), indicating that he is thinking of celebrating after its completion.

In southern Daraa city, the collective celebrations overshadowed the individual after the initiative of some people to share with their friends and relatives the joy of the success of their children in their own way with local chants and songs.

Notables and residents of Busra al-Sham town walked the streets and congratulated the successful students, and everyone who met them on the road joined them in a ritual that imposed itself and broke the bitter reality that Daraa and its neighborhoods live in.

Living conditions disturb personal joy

Students in Syria face many difficulties and challenges, including the difficulty of transportation, its high cost, and the interruption of electricity, which is available for about an hour or less per day, in addition to the catastrophe of the earthquake that struck four Syrian governorates on February 6.

The earthquake affected the education sector, as a result of which 2,636 schools were damaged in Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo, 140 of which were out of service. These statistics were preceded by official statements with a smaller number of 2,288 damaged schools.

Also among the most prominent difficulties is the decline in the purchasing power of citizens in various regions of Syria, especially with the depreciation of the Syrian pound against foreign currencies and its recording of lows that exceeded 14,000 pounds for every one dollar.

The average monthly salary in Syria in 2022 was about 146,000 Syrian pounds, according to the Salary Explore website, which specializes in salary scale numbers and wages around the world. With the recent salary increase of 100%, the situation has not become better, as the increase in fuel and transportation prices and the decline in the value of the pound against the dollar have caused the purchasing power to erode more and more.

A decree was issued by the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, on August 15 to increase the salaries and fixed wages of state workers by 100%, accompanied by a rise in the prices of basic materials, most notably fuel.

Anxiety and social distancing”

Families and students in Syria interviewed by Enab Baladi considered that celebrations at the present time are secondary to the list of basic requirements that they need.

Some of them believe that even if the financial conditions allow for a celebration, the feeling of happiness is lacking in view of the state of the country, relatives, and neighbors.

Hala Haj Ali, a fellow at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, considered that the Syrians’ feeling of guilt when celebrating is twofold.

First, This feeling is natural and proves that Syrians are still united, and that sympathy still exists among them. As for the second part of the feeling of guilt, it is scientifically a tool for pessimistic, negative thought, and increases periods of anxiety in the person, and generates an abnormal feeling, pointing to the need to search for what are the causes of thinking in this way and to treat them.

The assistant researcher added to Enab Baladi that some of the reasons for this way of thinking are the bad attitudes and trauma that a person has been subjected to throughout his life and that most Syrians have experienced trauma in their lives.

Therefore, most Syrians live in this conflict, which is reflected on mental or physical health due to anxiety and stress, she added.

Two social classes in Syria

Years ago, people in Syria were somewhat classified as middle class, and most of them had the ability to rejoice in success and celebrate it and the disparity between the middle and poor classes was not noticeable, according to Haj Ali.

At the present time, the city of Damascus, like the rest of the regions, has been divided into two classes, either “extreme poverty” or “extreme wealth,” with no middle ground between them, and the discrepancy between the two is very large and clear, starting from education to luxury, said Haj Ali.

Omran’s fellow considered that this disparity is reflected as a tendency of hatred or negative feelings towards the other party, in addition to the feeling of guilt among some, and the focus of those who are in an acceptable condition on the feelings of the insolvent, the extremely poor, and the disadvantaged who may look with regret while seeing others able to live normally.

Haj Ali believes that social media has strengthened this feeling and revealed all the secrets to people, and people have begun to circulate all news and details on social media and often the images do not reflect reality, and the suffering has caused an increase in negative feelings towards the other side for many.

Changing living and social patterns

The absence of basic needs and their lack has become a common occurrence for most families in Syria, but successive crises have left their mark on society.

In the last months of 2022, the fuel crisis cast a shadow over the areas controlled by the Syrian regime, reflected on the lives of Syrians, and affected vital sectors. Institutions and activities in various fields stopped working across the country, affecting the living and social patterns.

This crisis is one of the crises affecting the lifestyle of Syrians and their ability to cope with problems, according to a field study issued by the Harmoon Center for Studies last January.

The study stated that circumstances forced most Syrians to undertake a series of stereotypical transformations, including daily lifestyles, the space and limits of personal behaviors, and the frameworks, nature, and concepts of social relations.

The deprivation of necessary services led to more oppressive and angry feelings and a sense of the absence of social, economic, and psychological safety nets.

Negative feelings emerged among the Syrians and produced more susceptibility and readiness for deviation and social distortions resulting from feelings of distress, tension, and anxiety due to the lack of basic needs.



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