SYRIA WITNESS: Living the Dark Ages in Assad’s Damascus

By: David Arnold

As far back as a year ago, Syrians were already suffering from bread shortages. Hope, a Syrian women writing under an assumed name, describes how international economic sanctions against Syria and dwindling government funds have exacerbated the food situation in many parts of the country, making life increasingly difficult. She writes to us from Daraya, a suburb of Damascus.

Damascenes queue at a bakery, March 15. (AFP).

The Syrian government bans international reporters from entering the country. We invite Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, to assure their personal safety, some Witnesses do not use their real names. Some texts are edited for clarity, but no changes to content are made.

By Hope in Daraya, May 3, 2012

I was shocked to realize that the price of a kilo of sugar had almost tripled. At the beginning of the revolution it was 35 pounds [currently about the equivalent of 60 cents], and the new price raised it to 90; then it settled at 75. A kilo of tomatoes is 50 pounds now. And during this same season last year we get bought our tomatoes for 25, if not less.

A year of revolution and government repression has produced economic sanctions, a decline in imports and exports. The rate of exchange went from 47 pounds to the dollar to 100 pounds, and settled recently at above 75 pounds. The price of most common goods doubled or tripled.

The cost of the military campaign launched on some Syrian cities and towns, and the huge sums of money paid to shabiha [government-paid thugs], the military and the security forces have forced the government to ration our electricity in Damascus and in the Damascus suburbs.

We get power for eight hours each day, divided into four-hour periods. Four hours off and four hours on.

It is a trauma without electricity. That affects everything, including housework and access to the Internet… – Hope in Daraya

Sometimes the blackouts go into the nighttime. No one walks in the streets during hours of blackout. They are afraid of the shabiha, of course, in the evening.

Is the power guy still alive?

People started to get mad at the blackout, as schools and universities students face difficulties studying without electricity.

Housework was divided also into hours where the power is on. As for our work, we found ourselves working late at night to finish cleaning while the electricity is on.

We have returned back to the Dark Ages. It is a trauma without electricity. That affects everything, including housework and access to the Internet to connect with friends and the world. No TVs to watch to learn what’s going on.

But Syrians have invented new and old ways to cope with the lack of electricity, such as depending on power generators, batteries, kerosene lanterns and candles. I forgot to tell you that even the price of candles has gone up.

The funny thing is that when the electricity stayed on for more than four hours, we would joke about it with one another.

“What’s wrong with the person responsible for cutting off our power?’”one would say.

“‘Is he still alive?’”a friend would ask.

“‘Some of you go and check,” another would reply. “Wake him up if he is asleep.”

Trouble in the kitchen

Daraya witnessed a lack of bread, as the regime punished the revolting towns by cutting down the allocations of flour to the bakeries. People lined up for hours to buy nine loaves of bread. As the crisis continued, my townspeople were obligated to go to Damascus to buy their bread. We had to drive for 25 to 30 minutes to get bread in the city.

My family waited three months until it was our turn to fill a barrel of fuel for the winter. We were more than lucky because other families did not get the chance to get fuel – Hope in Daraya

Syrians faced with shortages during the economic sanctions of world powers line up to fill their tanks with fuel at a petrol station in Damascus on March 13, 2012.(AFP)

Again, necessity is the mother of invention. Some of our people started to bake their own bread at home. The problem is that the government has restricted the sale of wheat flour to commercial bakeries so it is hard to find flour for baking at home. Our diet changed in a way that we started to cut down on minor food stuffs like cereals, luncheons and other ’luxury’ items. We buy necessary things first because prices are increasing each day.

For cooking we use domestic gas which was unavailable for a while also. Its price increased heavily. A gas cylinder was 300 pounds and reached 450 and 500 in recent months. Wood is available for cooking but those who live in flats and apartments have no place to store it. And even then the price of wood has increased.

As for fuel, it was a rare commodity for several months during the uprising. The tanks and other military vehicles used to kill civilians consumed most of the fuel, so thousands or people queued up in fuel lines for two days or more. My family waited three months until it was our turn to fill a barrel of fuel for the winter. We were more than lucky because other families did not get the chance to get fuel. As a result, people started using wood instead of fuel for cooking and heating. Old days returned anew to the 21st century due to the reforms of the Assad regime.

The main problem facing most Syrians is losing jobs. Most young men in Homs left to find work in Damascus as shop assistants after their own shops were burned and looted by Assad forces. My friends tell me that all the shops and companies in Homs have been closed for the past five months.

Most young people lost their jobs because the shops in Homs, Daraa and Idlib were bombed. Many other companies were closed. Most of the foreign development agencies were closed. A friend of mine used to work at a German agency for international cooperation and now no more. Four of my friends left the European Union offices and it was very difficult for them to get another job. Another friend worked for the Japanese government’s development agency, and now he left to the United Arab Emirates to work as he was jobless in Syria.

My brother is an accountant and warehouse keeper and the father of two children. He found himself jobless from the very start of the uprising because the company he worked for was insolvent. Now he drives a rented taxi to survive while many others who lost their jobs have no way to support their own families. And the price he has to pay for a tank of petrol used to be about 800 Syrian pounds but now it is about 1,000 Syrian pounds.”

Source: Middle East Voices

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