Some residents of the northern Homs countryside have turned to primitive crafts to secure a living amidst a three year siege, and to save some money to develop their small shops. These craftsmen and craftswomen are considered wealthy compared to the large numbers of unemployed people in the area.
Um Hayyan is a forty year old mother who lives with her husband and four children, in “heavenly” circumstances compared with others, she said. “I take care of the family by securing money we need to live in these siege conditions with highly inflated prices.”
Um Hayyan makes yogurt and sells it to residents, sometimes 40kg at a time. She makes SP 20 ($.09) for every kg, up to $3.71 a day, which allows her to buy bread and a daily meal.
Um Hayyan began to work after her husband lost his job. He was a state employee and used to make SP 20,000 ($92.76) a month, but later became a wanted man by the security forces.
Um Hayyan benefitted from the fact that she lives in the countryside with plenty of cows, and that there is a market nearby to sell her goods. These days, most residents of northern Homs do not have money to buy vegetables because they are so expensive, meaning that demand for yogurt has gone up. Yogurt is both an alternative meal for adults, and used to feed infants after supplies of formula ran out in the area.
Ibtisam is a mother in the northern Homs countryside who used to sew to help her husband support the family. After the regime arrested him, she became the family’s sole breadwinner, a difficult test she had to overcome in order for life to continue.
Residents of northern Homs severely lack all sorts of fabrics, and are often unable to buy clothing. They pay SP 500 ($2.31) to turn blankets into winter clothing, which is Ibtisam’s profession.
“I make money that way to keep the house running, and in return my customers get their clothes made cheaply,” said Ibtisam.
After winter clothes made from blankets became a common phenomenon in northern Homs, tailors started to improvise and design more fashionable cuts and colors. Women in the area are proud to wear new “blanket styles.”
Craftsmen and craftswomen work to overcome life’s daily challenges, and must adapt to their circumstances to continue their professions. Um Hayyan needs electricity to keep the milk from spoiling and to preserve the yogurt. Since electricity is regularly cut off from the area, she keeps the quantities of yogurt she produces low to prevent large amounts from going bad.
Some civilians in besieged areas have taken up dangerous work to make ends meet. Hasan al-Yusuf, a local young men, told the Syrian Voice that, “I go out every morning to smuggle goods from the Houla area into al-Rastan and Talbisa, and vice-versa, and feel as if I won’t come back in one piece.”
“Pro-regime villages lie along the smuggling path I take, in addition to regime forces that target the road, and set up ambushes. I feel like I’m working on a road of death.”
“If I weren’t working as a smuggler, I would have to sell goods at a small roadside stand, which wouldn’t cover the needs of my family of eight, including small children.”
Residents of northern Homs, estimated to be 250,000 in number, have lived under a regime-imposed siege since 2013. They have searched for entrances into their area, but all have been shut with the exception of al-Dar al-Kabira, through which only certain goods are allowed to pass.
The siege has pushed residents of Homs and other rebel-held areas in Syria to search for alternative means to keep their lives on track. They use alternative energy sources, recycle trash, and extract fuels from plastic.