Nour, 28, left the city of Harasta with her family in 2011, leaving behind her a home filled with memories. The family was not able to bring anything with them when they left the house. A month and a half ago, Nour was able to enter Harasta after the Syrian army took control of the city and opposition fighters left for Idleb in northern Syria. She headed for her house, which has been partly destroyed by the war, and when she arrived there, she did not find any of her household items. All of it had been stolen, except for a handful of books from the library. Nour says, “I saw my house as a place of love, and now nothing remains of it but a few books. It’s good that those who looted it were not interested in reading or culture, or we would have lost that too.”
Nour stutters as she describes the feelings she had when she reached the old district where her home loomed from afar. It was the first time she had returned in almost eight years. She felt happiness and pain mixed together: happiness that she had been able to return after all this time, and sadness at the destruction of a place so close to her heart, the place where she had lived for nearly twenty years of her life — her childhood, her education, her friends, her first love, and the beautiful days that will not be erased from her memory in spite of the destruction.
Her heart beat quickly as she headed toward the building, transformed by the destruction that had affected large parts of its features and the homes in it. She climbed the staircase — or what remained of it — and reached the door of her house, and felt her heart stop. The door was open. She entered the empty house. All its contents had been stolen, but the thieves had left some beloved books. Perhaps it was lucky that the looters were not intellectuals.
Umm Hatem, a Palestinian woman, had been living in the Yarmouk camp before the Syrian war broke out. A day after a MiG warplane bombed the Abdul Qadar al Husseini mosque in December 2012, Hatem left the camp, along with hundreds of other families who fled the camp to live in the al-Mezzeh area.
When the deal in southern Damascus was concluded, the first thing that sprung to her mind was going to her house. Umm Hatem says, “I brought the house keys with me and went back, accompanied by my daughter and her husband. When we arrived, we were shocked by the scene of destruction, even though I had been following the news and knew the extent of the destruction that had been inflicted on the area. Still, the truth is different. I didn’t need the keys to enter the house, because there was no doors, and no ceiling either. All that remained were some walls and a lot of rubble. I laughed when I remembered I had the keys with me.”
Her daughter Leen says, “The curse of keys follows us Palestinians. My grandfather kept the keys to his house in al-Khalil until his death, and now we keep the keys to our house in the camp — they are the only thing we have left of this place.”
The Palestinian family follows the camp news closely — the street cleaning that recently began, and talks about the beginning of repairs to the electricity lines and water, in hopes of returning soon.
The house of Hussein and Manal is the story of a struggle which is similar in its details to those of many Syrians. The house is in the al-Tadamon district on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, and was the fruits of 15 years of continuous work and effort. Every piece of it contained a few drops of their sweat.
The family was forced to leave the home after clashes broke out in the area in 2013. Hussein initially refused to leave the house and stayed with a few neighbors who were living in the same building. But he was not able to last long, and was later forced to depart as well.
Some National Defense Forces members barracked in the house, which was on the front lines, and had been staying there until recently. About two years ago, Hussein was able to enter the area with an electricity team and was able to reach his house, which had been emptied of all its furnitures — looted in its entirety. The doors, windows, and even electrical and water lines had been torn up. The kitchen was burned and there were a few holes in the walls made by mortars and others from the new inhabitants, who had come up with the idea of making new internal paths inside the house. But despite all this destruction, the roof was still intact, and despite being shocked by the scene before him, this gave Hussein some hope. He remembered his library, his library which had been full of the most important works of Mahmoud Darwish, Adonis, Russian literature, and much, much more.
He hesitated before asking the National Defense Forces about the fate of his books.They grew resentful at him being the owner of the house they had taken over. They told him the winter was harsh and they had to use the books for heating!
That was the most heartbreaking thing, although his heart was already filled with deep sadness, as he saw the misery of a wasted life before his eyes.
Last week, after military operations ceased, Hussein went with his two daughters to the house after he was able to get permission from the checkpoint responsible for the area, with papers that allowed him to enter the area without removing any piece of it.
The trip was the first for the two girls, Rasha and Reem, and when they entered the area, Rasha felt sadness for the district she had left so long ago, but when she arrived, she began to have strange contradictory feelings. “I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I didn’t have any sense of anything or what I was seeing. All I felt next was hate, hate at those who were the cause of the reckless war that caused us to lose everything.”
Hussein’s wife Manal has not been able to visit the house yet, and cannot bear seeing what has happened to it. She tried previously to overcome all of that, but when she reached the first part of the area, her courage failed her and she went back.
The small family is now waiting for permission for the area’s resident to return, to go back to repair the house of which literally nothing remains but the roof.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.