Diary of Damascus: The Capital’s Homeless Through a Poet’s Eyes

Damascene Farid Yaghi is authoring a daily account of the city through the stories of locals, the displaced and the homeless, Zaman al-Wasl writes

Among the hundreds of homeless people crowding the streets of Damascus, one woman in her 80s stands out.

She wears a black jellabiya dress with a black band on her head. She sits on the pavement in front of a building in the Bab Tuma neighborhood in the middle of Damascus. She pleads with passersby, but her low voice denies her the possibility of assembling the amounts other beggars gather on a daily basis.

Other than her shabby appearance, she draws attention by opening her mouth and sticking out her tongue as if she is dying, muttering incomprehensible words at times. Despite all this, people pass her by without caring or paying much attention. Some throw her 10 Syrian pounds and others 100.

Writer and poet Farid Yaghi is authoring a daily diary of Damascus city during the war through the movement and stories of its people, the displaced and its homeless.

He recounted the story of the old woman who came from Homs a few years ago, as he understood from her. She suffers from a nervous disease that causes a trembling in her upper limbs and forces her to bend her back.

Yaghi wanted to help the old woman and tried to carry her, but he failed. When he asked for assistance from passersby, they refused to help him. He said he wanted to wash her in the street, buy her some shoes to wear and get her something to eat, but after that he wanted to do more for her.

He called on a laborer working for a wholesaler in the area to carry the old woman to Yaghi’s house in the building opposite where the old woman sat. He managed to convince the laborer to help him carry her to the fourth floor by offering him a large sum of money.

Yaghi said that his parents were surprised when they saw the old woman at their door but allowed him to bring her in. They brought her food, washed her and gave her some decent clothes. After the mysterious woman had relaxed, she asked Yaghi to take her to Homs because she felt embarrassed. She repeated that she felt embarrassed every time she was rejected by others. She told Yaghi that she was in fact not a beggar, and that she had a life and a house back in Homs.

In an attempt to lessen her pain, Yaghi took to singing a famous song, “My Grandmother the Old,” only to find she was reciting the words too. Yaghi learned from the old woman that her son and her husband died in the bombing on one of the districts of Homs. She has two sons who work as teachers, but she has forgotten their names. She said she could not even remember if her name was Zlikha or Fatima.

Yaghi tried to find an old people’s home among charitable institutions or mosques, but they all refused to welcome or shelter her. Yaghi finally managed to find her a space in a center for the displaced in Damascus. There she will sleep “on a pillow more comfortable than the pavement and less comfortable than Homs,” by his description.

This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.


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