With heavy steps, 45-year-old Ghada walks to her kitchen to prepare breakfast before her children wake up. She has nothing interesting to offer though. For weeks, she has been presenting olives, cheese and bread. Along with her husband Wael (49), she pacifies the protests and sometimes anger of children bored by monotony greeting them every morning.
“We should thank Allah for keeping us healthy and bestowing us his blessings. We mustn’t forget that there are lots of kids who don’t have anything to eat in Homs and Hama,” Wael tells his kids. If one refuses to eat, the others follow the suit. Often the couple plead and sometimes forcibly feed their pampered children.
“The Syrian pound has become worthless because everything is so expensive,” Wael says.
Ghada spends some time explaining the situation to Fadi, her 14-year-old son but he is not always convinced.
Like many families living in suburbs of Damascus, she has had to compromise on her family’s eating habits for the several months. Most Syrians have now dropped many items from their otherwise elaborate and nutritious breakfast. “We cannot afford to have fruits, jams, honey, variety of cheese or fresh juices with any meal,” Wael says, admitting that the family has not tasted apples or oranges for at least six months.
Ever since the Syrian awakening began in southern city of Dara’a almost a year ago, the economic cost of countering this campaign has only soared. The Syrian pound has shed its value by over 50 per cent against the dollar or Euro.
As they gulped down their breakfast, the children left for school with their father. Ghada kissed them good bye while reciting some verses of the holy Quran to “seek protection against the Assad regime’s agents”.
“Being a mother, I feel so sad when I see my children are not happy and hungry, it breaks my heart,” she says, with tears scrolling down her cheeks.
Soon her husband returns home safely after dropping children in school. Wael has no job since his French employer closed down operations in Syria last May.
Ghada doesn’t know how to deal with this crisis. “We have got a small amount of money left and it is getting really hard to manage now,” she says. Ghada has stopped her husband from selling his car and watches. He argues that soon there won’t be any buyer if the situation continues to be uglier.
As Wael reads an old newspaper, she wears her abaya and leaves for the small market next doors. Ghada argues with the bakery owner over the price of eggs. “What are you doing to us now, after the country is turning into a battlefield,” she exclaims. The man ignores her taunts.
“May Allah forgive you,” she mumbles again. He gently explains that everything is costly and scarce due to bloody violence and sanctions. She buys five eggs for Syrian pounds worth one US dollar.
She finds her neighbor and best friend Majida there. Both buy some grocery and vegetables as well.
They crib over the situation. “What are you cooking today?” Ghada inquires. “I think I would cook Jazmez,” a popular Syrian dish, made of eggs and tomatoes.
Ghada replies, “I cooked it yesterday and the day before, but my children want something else now . . . They miss meat. They haven’t had it in the last two months.” Then she whispers in her ears, which is still audible to this correspondent, “May Allah take his life.” Both said ‘ameen’ in unison over the prayer which had obvious reference towards Bashar Al-Assad.
In her long, disturbingly quiet street, she sees three cars with tinted windows, belonging to spies from the interior ministry, waiting for their prey. Though worried, she fixes her scarf and briskly walks to her home.
Despite testing times, Ghada’s family does not prefer to leave Syria but do whatever little possible to support the ‘revolution.’ Admitting a lack of interest in politics, she still adds her two cents on the situation.
“If Bashar steps down in respect of our demands, we wouldn’t face any crisis but the regime wants to use force to silence us.”
She then gets busy preparing lunch lest the electricity is cut off for 12 hours. Ghada has prepared the same Jazmez again. Suddenly, she opens her small closet and counts the money still left and estimates the days her family can survive without borrowing.
Wael lovingly looks at her, assuring that “Allah will help us.”
Moments later the kids arrive. To her surprise, Jazmez did not disappoint them this time. She later learns from her daughter Ayesha (8) that principal visited each class to advise the students not to waste food and not to pressurise their parents for toys or clothes. She feels happy and sad at the same time. “They are my world but what is happening to their childhood joy.”
As he overhears his wife, Wael quips, “They will soon understand that we are going through difficult times for their better future.”
As she finishes Zuhr prayer, Ghada announces from the prayer mat: “We are going to fast tomorrow.” Fadi anxiously asks, “What is tomorrow mother? Why should we fast?”
Pretending to be angry, she throws back a question, “Shall we need a reason to worship Allah, my son?”
Nine-year-old Omar answered immediately, “Mama, I would fast for the kids in Homs and pray Allah to help them.” She smiles and covers her tearful face as if she was offering dua.
Meanwhile, her mother calls from northern city of Aleppo to convince her to move to their place. She replies, “I won’t let Wael feel that he cannot protect and feed us. I won’t leave him and the town where you sent me after marriage.”
As she puts the phone on cradle, Ghada says, “They must be sure, next March will bring us our national independence day, insha-Allah!”
Maryam Hasan is a journalist, whose family struggled against Hafiz Al-Assad’s tyrannical rule and policies. She is using a pen-name due to security reasons.