Tag: rain

Death in the rain

Thanks to yesterday’s rain and thunder storms a mere 65 were gunned down across Syria, a friend joked that God had saved many young martyrs “They don’t fear bullets here, but they don’t like the rain!”

The guy I’d come to see, the one I was visiting last year hasn’t been picking up his phone, is he avoiding me I wonder… or maybe he got picked-up after yesterdays protests… or even worse he could have been killed – In these dangerous revolutionary times these are all real possibilities.

Out of nowhere a young women grabs me in the street and starts kissing me, I am stunned and pleasantly overwhelmed for a moment, then I recognise her, she is a friend of the guy I’m here to see, “Where is he?” I ask “Maybe he was arrested yesterday” she says, after the protests that followed Friday prayers, we exchange numbers and she promises to help find him and I move on my way.

On the surface life in Damascus hasn’t really changed, people rushing around with their busy day, this isn’t a country at war, not yet anyway, but there is a nervousness when you stop to speak with people, most know that this problem isn’t going to go away.

Later I meet a close friend who has been on the front-line, we exchange horror stories of the deaths we have both witnessed first-hand in this wave of Arabic uprisings, he tells me stories of massacres here in Syria, and I of what I saw in Yemen last month, massacres which, it has to be said, went largely ignored in the Western media.

And is it a coincidence that in both Syria and the Yemen ‘plain-clothed’ snipers fire on the demonstrators from buildings, with both governments claiming that the gunmen are merely civilians, whilst those on the ground believe them to be the secret police or other government agents.

I am told that the Syrian government has been handing out arms to supporters of the president in order to create a loyal army who, with or without orders, are taking to the streets and firing on protesters after Friday payers whilst the army in uniform stand back, keeping their distance.

Today we watched pictures of families from a small town I visited the last time I was here crying over the dead children in their arms, the town was the scene of a massacre last week, my friend tells me that the unofficial death toll here is well over 500 and there are 800 or so people still missing; lifted, kidnapped from the street or their homes.

Despite the supposed lifting of emergency law in Syria people are still disappearing, “So what does the lifting of emergency law mean?” I ask, my friend laughs and tells me that following the lifting of the emergency law the government has told the people they can demonstrate but (like in England) they need to get permission first.

A lawyer friend of his recently went in-person to seek permission to organise a demonstration the day after the emergency law was lifted, to test the governments will, he hasn’t been seen since.

A day of rain

It was raining when we landed, I sailed straight through an eerily empty passport-control, but then a burly man caught my eye and asked me to put my bag through the x-ray machine for a second time, I could see him wondering why I was here, I obviously stood-out like a sore thumb; but with no big camera inside my bag just a small touristy looking one I was soon on my way and eating hummus and drinking Arak in my old seat with my oldest friend in Syria.

“It’s a different place” he said as we walked home casually greeting groups of plain-clothed cops, “These secret police guys stopped me last week at 3am and asked why I was wandering the streets at such a time” (3am street activity used to be normal here), we pass more plain clothed police, police cars are positioned on street corners, this certainly isn’t the same Syria I left just 4 months ago.

My friend at the hotel greets me, “Are you here for the trouble?” he asks, I smile “Why do you ask?”, I joke that I’m here to get away from the royal wedding, he tells me that the secret police have been making more visits than normal and asking too many questions.

“How long will you stay, where will you go?” “I don’t know” I say… OK OK, it is clear that he is uncomfortable with me staying here, later he confesses that as a friend he doesn’t want to speak against me to the secret police, and he doesn’t want trouble, he never talks about what is happening with Syrians, he wants to keep his nose clean. The hotel always used to be full, now I am one of only 5 guests, he gives me a double-room for the price of a single.

I awake late in the morning to the sound of thunder and hail, it sounds like gunfire, I remember that it is Friday, a proposed ‘day of rage’ in Syria, downstairs everyone watches the demonstrations on the hotel television – it is difficult to imagine that this is the same safe, stable, Syria I left just a few months back, now it seems 10 cities are taking part in the protests.

I join my friend again for morning coffee “Damascus is quiet due to the rain, but outside this sleepy city Syria is shaking” he says, “It is sitting delicately on the edge of an abyss, no-one knows the future, some don’t want to take the risk of change, but most do now” he says, as the rain thunders around us like gunfire.