Reports

Life goes on in Damascus, if only for the “grace of God”

By Eyad Muhammad Madher and Justin Clark

After six years of war, life in the Syrian capital continues if only for “the grace of God,” says Damascus resident Waseem al-Qadri.

Al-Qadri works with the Syrian government’s Ministry of Industry. His was a well-paying job before the war broke out, but now his entire paycheck barely covers rent. He relies on money wired from his relatives abroad to make ends meet.

Central Damascus has fared better than the rest of Syria. The capital still has a sense of normalcy—it has been spared the bombs that left vast swathes of Aleppo and Homs in ruins.

Still, Damascus has felt the effects of war. The cost of living has skyrocketed as jobs disappear. Checkpoints are ubiquitous in the Syrian capital, where the army frequently detains young men—a move that is designed to catch draft dodgers as much as it is to find terrorists.

To add to the cities woes, a recent campaign by the Syrian government damaged the Ain al-Fijeh water spring in rebel-held Wadi Barada, a region northwest of Damascus, that previously provides up to 70 percent of the city’s fresh water.

“I live half the life I lived before the war”

“Rent goes up day by day,” al-Qadri tells the Syrian Voice. “Not to mention the price of food these days. Gas and diesel are difficult to get, and now there are the water shortages.”

“If we break it down and compare average incomes with the cost of living, a person needs three times his salary just to get the basics in Damascus,” explains al-Qadri.

Haythem al-Ghazawi, a government employee with the Ministry of Culture, says that Damascenes live in fear, both for their physical safety and for their futures.

“I work terrible hours as an accountant for a restaurant now,” says al-Ghazawi. “That’s alongside my government job. I need both just to make ends meet.”

Al-Ghazawi’s government salary is less than SP25,000 ($50) a month. Nearly a third, SP8,000 ($17), goes towards his home’s electric bill every month despite the frequent electricity shutoffs in Damascus.

“Does it make sense for a third of my paycheck to go towards electricity that hardly works?” asks al-Ghazawi.

Maeen Sayf a-Din, a teacher at a government school in Damascus, tutors at private schools to supplement his income.

“After working all day and night and searching all over for work, I live half the life I used to live,” says Sayf a-Din.

Rising rents has pushed many families to live together in shared houses and divide the rent. Sometimes, a single family cannot afford to live in a house alone.

Young Damascenes “in constant fear” of regime checkpoints

Muhammad Ameen finished his mandatory military service years ago, but still gets nervous whenever he passes through a regime checkpoint in Damascus.

“Myself and others like me are in constant fear of checkpoints,” Ameen tells the Syrian Voice. “Anyone could be forced to join the army reserve, which is what happened to my brother a few days ago.”

For those who are fleeing conscription into the Syrian Arab Army’s active forces, checkpoints keep regularly updated lists of anyone trying to dodge their mandatory service, says Ameen.

“If you get drafted, you can either smuggle yourself out of the country, or pay a large bribe to get your name removed from the list,” he explains. “Otherwise, you’ll find yourself fighting on the front lines.”

Residents tell the Syrian Voice that being related to, or having a connection with, army officers or high-ranking regime officials can lessen one’s burden—if only by revealing who to bribe, residents tell the Syrian Voice.

Picture source: دمشق الآن

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إياد محمد مظهر

يغطي العاصمة دمشق، مقيم في الأردن، درس فلسلة في جامعة دمشق، وبعد وصوله إلى الأردن عام 2012، عمل في عدد من وسائل الإعلام منها القدس العربي، والفيحاء نت، وخضع لدورة في الإعلام مع منظمة سوريا على طول.

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