Editorial: Life in Homs

By: @BigAlBrand

In here you’ll read exactly what I’ve experienced on Thursday, June 14th, 2012.

I woke up at 5 AM after three hours of “sleep”, checked if there’s nearby shooting or shelling, got dressed then went out to the bakery. I found 11 people in front of me, and an hour later there were more than 100 behind me. At 7:16 it finally was my turn. I bought $1 worth of bread (We’re not allowed to buy more) and went home.

At 8 AM, I was done with the bread (preparing it and putting it in the freezer to keep it fresh), and then I had breakfast.

8:30 AM, I watched the news, got depressed and went back to bed (Since I don’t have a business to go to, because it’s been closed for over a year now, like most other businesses in Homs, but that’s a story for another time). In bed I tried to check my email and twitter but I found out that 3G and GPRS aren’t working. I don’t have ADSL at home so I have no internet connection now. No big deal, I’m used to it. But unlike the previous six days we have fresh water since morning.

12:30 PM, I got up, went out to buy vegetables which can’t be found easily, and as I was walking, I heard noise, and then a security forces’ vehicle passed by, followed by a tank, then a pickup truck with a huge machine gun (Shilka), I then went to a street where there’s more than one store and found most of them closed.

I went inside an open store and started collecting the things I need, only to be interrupted by the same vehicles once again passing right by me, and that’s when I quickly turned my Smartphone’s camera on and filmed the tank passing by without them noticing.

Seconds later, the Shilka started shooting and it was only 5 meters away from me. I was inside the store so I lied down on the floor next to the salesman. The glass shattered and the goods started falling from the shelves on us because the entire place was shaking badly.

Fire paused for a couple of seconds and that allowed us to crawl to another section of the store that has a wall to hide behind and a sink. The Shilka started shooting again and this time three bullets hit the store’s front. We ducked behind the wall waiting for what’s coming next.

At that moment, surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid. I actually felt like it’s the ending of me and was somewhat relieved. As a Homsi, I made peace with death a long time ago.

The Shilka kept on shooting for a few more seconds, so I decided to film that too, in case I made it out alive, but that’s when my phone started ringing. My mom called me and she was scared since she could hear the horrible shooting sounds as my house wasn’t far away. I told her I was on my way and that I’m okay. She called again seconds later as the Shilka was shooting and she heard the sounds from the call and was very worried so I had to yell at her saying “Leave me alone now!” then I hung up.
The salesman called his family and told them not to come down since his house wasn’t far away either.

Shooting stopped and we heard the vehicles moving, so we sneaked outside and saw that they were gone. I paid the salesman and he handed me some of what’s left of my money when we heard the vehicles coming back towards us again. We ran to the back of the store once more but this time the salesman was fast enough to close the main door half way down. I doubt that the door will actually matter since it’s thin and the Shilka bullets are huge.

Shooting started seconds later and it kept going for a few minutes. Then they left again.

We went out and saw a couple of Security forces officers, we waved at them and asked if we can go, and they said yes. The salesman told me he was leaving the neighborhood and not coming back, and wanted to give me the money he owed me when the vehicles came back once more and we instantly decided to run before they arrive. So I ran towards a nearby street without my money, and went home.

On the street where the Shilka was, I saw hundreds of empty shells, and they were really big, more than 10 centimeters each. I really wanted to pick one up as I was walking right next to them but the officers were watching me and the vehicles were heading my way so I didn’t.

Red Crescent volunteers were moving aids to a store, and most of them ran away when the shooting started, but one was left behind, and a Shilka bullet hit the street and a shred of it injured his foot. I didn’t see this myself as I was inside another store, but his brother is a friend of mine and told me what happened.

As I was walking home, many families were packing their stuff in their cars and fleeing the neighborhood. Many left the area in the past week, and only a few are still living here. Some of them asked me if they can use the street I came from and I said no and told them to be careful.

I arrived home at 1:30 PM, and found both of my parents standing on the balcony waiting for me, and that drove me insane more than what I just came from. Our balcony has been shot so many times before, and I have a collection of bullets from it. It’s filled with holes and even my AC was shot a while back.

I went up and we had a really bad fight, and I did most of the yelling if not all.

My mother told me that when she heard the shooting and I told her to leave me alone, she was so scared she couldn’t think straight anymore. She found herself going out the balcony hoping to see me without thinking about her personal safety. My dad followed her and they both stayed out there until I came back.

I was very harsh with them because all I could think about is their safety. I told them that what they did was very wrong and stupid, and they agreed. We yelled for about 30 minutes, which is a common thing these days since we’re all so stressed and sad from the situation we live in.

As we were arguing and fighting, we heard the tank shooting. That’s when we all stopped shouting and smiled at each other.

I said something I never thought I’d say. I said “One of those tank shells might hit our house and kill us all, let’s not go while we’re fighting and shouting at each other”.
We calmed down, said some nice things, and I went in to write this before I forget any details, and to show them the video I took.

The tank kept firing for a while then we saw it leaving the area with another security forces’ vehicle (A blue jeep like vehicle) around 2 PM.

A bunch of walking security forces members came and started shooting randomly for a few minutes then left without hurting anyone, then at 2:30 PM all that’s left is the sniper gunshots we hear every few seconds.

For the record: I here swear that I saw no Free Syrian Army members or any armed civilians anywhere near my area in months, and when the shooting happened there was no firing back and no attacks. There were no UN observers, and no reporters to cover what happened. There wasn’t even a demo or any kind of protest. There was only a tank, a Shilka, a security forces’ vehicle, some officers and many armed security forces members wearing uniforms shooting at houses and streets filled with us, unarmed, peaceful civilians, and most of them were like me, shopping.

I wonder what kind of story the regime’s media would tell if I was killed there. They’ll probably blame the “armed gangs” like they’ve been doing for months. Or maybe they’ll say I was a terrorist and was about to blow myself up somewhere and they stopped me from executing my evil plan. They might replace the sack of potatoes I had with some explosives before they take a picture of me, or place a hand gun in my shorts and a couple of dollars.

2:40 PM, I am typing this and we lost electricity. Good thing I’m on my laptop. I’ll save this file and go rest. It’s a very hot day here today, and I hope electricity will come back soon to turn the AC back on.

Electricity came back then was gone again, twice. We had to turn the AC off so it won’t get affected.
3:15 PM, a tank rushed into the main Ghouta street and started shooting at 3:17 PM.
10 tank shells were fired in 6 minutes, and counting.

4:00 PM, I counted 18 tank shells including the 10 I just mentioned, and once again only sniper gunfire can be heard, many of them.

Streets are empty and stores are closed.

I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Yeah, no diet when one might get killed any minute.
Sounds of explosions in Qusoor and Khaldieh never stopped since early morning. Actually they didn’t really stop since early June. Black smoke clouds are seen very clearly from my window. I don’t take pictures anymore as I have hundreds already.

I saw a tank leaving my neighborhood at 4:45, then sounds of tank shelling came from where that tank left.

One of my neighbors who left a week ago came by to check his house, I talked to him and he made me realize something. Explosions and tank shelling break glass windows because of the air pressure, and it’s not easy to get a glass window replaced these days so I opened all the glass windows we have a little so they move open in case of high pressure instead of getting shattered.

6:12 PM, a big explosion happened not very far away and caused our windows to open slightly. That means my theory was proven correct. I learned so many things in the past 16 months. Not pretty things, but things that I need to survive.

6:15 PM, I looked outside my window and saw many armed security forces walking around my street, talking, laughing, and from time to time shooting in the air.

After dinner, and exactly at 8:50 PM, I decided to bake some brownies (After facing death, you gotta have brownies), but as I was mixing the ingredients, we lost electricity for the fourth time today, but it only lasted 20 minutes or so, and a while later my brownies were good to go.
Security forces left my street and it was a calm night in my neighborhood for a change, except for the sniper bullets of course.

12:30 AM, After watching 3 episodes of The Simpsons while eating brownies, I checked my internet connection and it was still not working, so I set the alarm to 5 AM and went to bed, hoping that tomorrow won’t be as horrific as today.

12:52 AM, my sleeping plan got ruined when a security forces vehicle showed up in my calm empty street and started shooting randomly, and that awoke the sniper up and he started shooting every few seconds as well.
1 AM, I decided to ignore the sounds and try to get some sleep because my new day starts in less than 4 hours in the line for bread.

1:30 AM, my sleep gets interrupted again with a phone call from Inshaat, they asked if there’s anything happening near my house because they’re hearing some very awful sounds coming from my area, we told them that the sounds are coming from Qusoor and Khaldieh.

1:50 AM, the explosions sounds became much louder and more frequent. Security forces are now back in my area but they’re just standing there without shooting.

2:30 AM, the sounds of missiles being launched from nearby towards Khaldieh have become so much louder and my house is shaking with every explosion. The sniper is active as well.
That’s when I disabled the 5 O’clock alarm because I doubt I’ll get any sleep at all tonight.

2:52 AM, I saw a light in the sky like lightning then a huge explosion happened, followed by heavy gunfire for a couple of minutes.

3:20 AM, Security forces leave my street, while the attack on Khaldieh and other areas continues.
4:15 AM, a different security forces vehicle shows up and stays for a while in my neighborhood.
That’s when sleep finally got to me and when I woke up the vehicle was gone but the shelling on other neighborhood didn’t stop till Friday afternoon.

This is the day that I lived today. It wasn’t all bad, but it was bad enough. Not every day is similar to this one, some days are better and some are much worse. I hope you got a glimpse of the kind of life we live here in Homs, and I hope you appreciate the little things in your life because you don’t know when they might go away.

Notes:

  • Shilka is a weapon made to defend areas against air force attacks, but is used against people. The bullet can go through a wall, or a metal door.
  • The timing of the events is very accurate, give or take up to two minutes maximum.
  • I have personally experienced all the events and I am responsible for the accuracy.
  • I decided not to write about a thing or two because they might affect my safety because they show the exact location of my house.
  • The few hours of disturbed sleep is really all the sleep we can get, and this has been going on since early February 2012.

Source: BigAlBrand’s Blog

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