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On the Road to the Stone Age

Subsistence living in a once thriving city
On the Road to the Stone Age

It has been fifty-five days now without mobile or internet communications in Hassaka city, in the north-east of Syria, with even landlines out of use, except for local calls inside the governorate.


Residents of the city have remained without proper communications and internet for two months, without any reason or excuse being given.


There does not appear to be any solution on the horizon either. Other cities inside the same governorate including al-Dirbasieh and Qamishli have subscribed to Turkish mobile networks for perfect coverage, while those in Malikieh and Amouda have subscribed to Iraqi and Turkish mobile networks available there too.


If for example, a Hassaka resident wanted to go to the bank, he or she would immediately be told to go to Damascus. The teller would suggest this idea so easily, as if he didn't know that Damascus has become as remote as another planet. The bus journey between the two cities, which used to take eight hours maximum, now takes a minimum of sixteen due to the need for the drivers to maneuver around and avoid areas where plundering and pillaging is taking place, as well as over 35 checkpoints along the route.


Before travelling, anyone should also make sure his last will and possessions are in order. But this is just one of many travelling rituals.


During this period, and for previous long months, we have all suffered from these and other difficulties. At times there has been no electricity for days on end, forcing people to throw away food supplies which have rotted in freezers and refrigerators. One friend has transformed his refrigerator into a shoe cupboard.


During the continuous lack of electricity, we have spent most of our savings (and our nerves) on buying candles, oil lamps, chargeable lights and generators. They are all Chinese-made goods and we were sure that great People's Republic of China is quite happy to prolong the war as long as its companies keep profiting indirectly this way.


With the loss of gas, and the rise in its price from 500 SP, to 3,500 SP and finally 4,000 SP, we have bought kerosene ovens which have been out of use since the 1960s, and electric heaters which we used while in the army or while at university campuses.


A huge cloud of smoke and soot now hovers over the city streets and its houses because people are so dependent on wood for heating as a fuel substitute.


When my children went to sleep after a short walk in the city recently, they smelled like burnt wood, and when they move in bed, it seemed as if the leader of the nation was roasting them on a grill.


Some stony-hearted people have even found work cutting down the forest surrounding the city, and its parks, then follow it up by burning people's pockets selling the wood.


In many villages, people put plates and barrels outside to collect rainwater for drinking, because it is often unavailable for many days. Water should be pumped by machines dependent on electricity, and because there is no electricity, we drink river water (which is called mineral water).


The city that has three rivers; the al-Khabour, the Tigris and the Jagjag,  along with three reservoirs and 500 springs, all of which have no water. So, a new job emerged recently selling cold water in summer to people.

Hassaka –  the city on which three quarters of Syrian economy depends, for cotton, wheat, barley, gas, petrol and water – has become one big village with no services.


I had to travel 100 kilometers through nine checkpoints to reach the city of Qamishli in order to send an article to the newspaper I write for via Turkish Internet and to surf my virtual life on Facebook, because my heart-ached friends from all over the world are worried about us.


I wasted four hours waiting and two hours traveling just to experience this virtual reality.


When bird flu broke out and the price of a large chicken hit 25 SP (or fifty cents, back then), our poor people were starved of chicken. When I asked my neighbor, Abu Muhammad as he carried a cage full of live chickens over his head, his dirty dress flapping around him, whether he was afraid of bird flu, he replied: "My children haven’t eaten meat for two years, so let them eat meat, then rest in peace."


"We have reached the stone age" an old man said tells his friend as they sit in a coffee shop.


“No, no,” his friend replied wisely, “We still live in houses and not in caves, we still wear civilized cloths and not animal skins, we can still cook instead of eating tree leaves."


“Is the stone age far?", the first old man asked.


"No, not at all, it is very close", replied the second.


We have lost everything, and the first thing we lost was sympathy for others in their misfortune.


Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer


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