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It's like I was walking on cardboard, painful earthquake testimonials

It's like I was walking on cardboard, painful earthquake testimonials

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Opinion Homeless

Wednesday 15 February 202301:49 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

كانت الأرض تمشي تحتي وكأنني أقف على كرتون


For months now, I've been taking anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication every day. I buy it without a prescription, since it is classified as the non-addictive kind, or so I like to convince myself, especially after I discovered that most Syrians have carried on with living until now without losing their minds , through the use of these drugs and other causes of temporary happiness.

It’s a small heart-like pink pill, that I continuously flirt with, and with its magical effects. It removes that heavy lump that I wake up every morning feeling pressing down on my chest, and returns my anxious heartbeat to its normal speed, so that I can continue my day despite my subconscious repressed desire - every night before I go to sleep - to not wake up at all the next day.

The idea of bedtime approaching scares me in itself, as it marks the opening of the gate of hellish nightmares that I have been watching every night for twelve years, like a series with seasons that never end. I try to postpone this moment as much as possible until I am completely exhausted, so that I would be able to surrender to the terrifying and "surrealist" images that I will soon see.

That night, still under the influence of my usual nightmare of carrying the dead body of a child with amputated legs and passing a group of armed men in khakis, I was awakened by the sound of shattering glass in the kitchen. I didn't understand at first what was happening. I thought that my cat "Pepper" is doing one of his nightly rounds of deliberate vandalism, to wake us up so that we could feed him before his usual time for breakfast, a habit that Pepper started this winter because of the cold that brings a state of constant hunger to all of us alike.

The bed started shaking, and maybe it was shaking before the glass started falling, but I just hadn’t realized it, I tried to turn on the light to understand what was going on and I concluded that the electricity was cut off, and by the light of my mobile phone, I found the chandelier dancing right and left in a crazy movement. I looked at the clock and it was 4:30 in the morning, I cursed the electricity rationing because it was supposed to be our "time in the day for light", and then I realized that it was an earthquake.

I didn't get scared, and that made me more scared. I recalled the days of artillery shelling when I would shower in less than five minutes with my ID with me in fear that the building falls while I was still showering and I become an unidentified corpse

I didn't get scared, and that's what made me go into a greater fit of fear. I recalled the days of various artillery shelling and mortars, those days when I would shower in less than five minutes with my ID with me, get fully dressed in less than a minute, and return my ID to my pajama pocket for fear that the building would fall on top of me while I was still showering, and turn me into an unidentified naked corpse, until all the neighbors or the ones who survived saw me.

I remained lying down and looking up at the ceiling, thinking that if I left the bed now I would freeze from the cold, and I had just barely been able to get it warm enough to sleep in and gotten rid of the cold spells that shake my body day and night. My shoulders would constantly spasm, and the tips of my fingers would become numb without any means of heating aside from burying them in my clothes. I keep our share of electricity for the bathroom. I will not waste it on lighting the heater as long as we have enough blankets.

I look at the blackness of the ceiling as the quaking goes on and try to count the time that I felt had no end. I was not afraid, all I wished for was the same wish that I had been wishing for years, to die one quick death. I do not aspire for more than that.

I fell asleep. Yes, I simply went back to sleep in my warm bed, to continue the remaining nightmares. I didn't die, like all those times I miraculously survived car bombs, explosions, mortars, or clashes and stray bullets, and every time I would be left stunned because I wasn’t afraid, but rather let it pass like a very normal daily event.

When I inquired about my state, a psychologist told me that surrendering to fate with all this assurance is classified as a kind of "war trauma". Ah, so there was a logical explanation for what is happening to me despite all this madness.

Is it not time for us to be one? To be more compassionate and less selfish, as we all stand on an earth that’s like cardboard without exception?

In the morning, I drank my magic pink pill, cleaned the broken glass, fed Pepper which kept following me with reproachful eyes, and realized the magnitude of the disaster from the missed calls at night from my Beiruti friends and their attempts to check on me, and from browsing social media to see the losses.

I called a friend from Tartus to check on her. She had spent the night with her children out on the street, and told me in a panic about the rumbling sound of the earth she is still hearing in her ears, "The earth was moving beneath me as if I was standing on cardboard."

Opinions were divided, as usual, just like borders had divided us. There were those who were stunned by the response of many countries sending aid and relief convoys to Turkey while completely ignoring Syria under the pretext of the blockade, forgetting that a large part of those affected by the Turkish earthquake are also Syrians residing on the border strip separating the two countries.

The "Syrian north" is now called the "Turkish south", in a timid attempt to avoid mentioning Idlib, Afrin, Atarib, and other Syrian cities that have fallen out of the control of the state and are now called ‘liberated areas’. Even the numbers of the losses were biased towards either the Turkish south or the Syrian north, without clear statistics on the total numbers for all Syrians, in both the north and the south.

A humanitarian catastrophe of this magnitude called for a wide campaign launched by the Syrian Ministry of Awqaf to pray, seek forgiveness, and read the verses of ‘Surah Al-Zalzalah’, while volunteers on the ground were staying up day and night to collect donations for the afflicted, from those who have been afflicted like them – those who have been barely able to find the price of a loaf of bread or been able to drink a cup of hot tea in such cold weather due to the lack of gas or electricity – and while ambulance owners appeal to those who have the capabilities to provide them with gasoline just so that they would be able to continue their work in helping the injured.

A humanitarian catastrophe of this magnitude led to a campaign by the Syrian Awqaf Ministry to pray and seek forgiveness, while volunteers on the ground were staying up day and night to collect donations for the afflicted, from those afflicted like them

There’s a severe shortage of heavy machinery to remove the rubble of houses that broke down like biscuits on top of their occupants, some of whom were still alive on the third day of the disaster despite all this cold. There’s a severe shortage of vehicles to load aid and transport the afflicted due to lack of fuel, and a major delay in international response.

With the recent arrival of international aid convoys, the dispute arose again over who it will be distributed to and whether they will actually be distributed to the needy, with a complete lack of trust between the citizen and the state as a result of many previous indicators.

Famous and public figures compete to announce the figures and amounts they are donating to the benefit of those affected by the earthquake, in a nauseating phenomenon. The amount of one hundred million Syrian pounds, which we the poor may think is large at first glance, is not actually worth more than fourteen thousand US dollars based on the exchange rate, the price of one concert by an artist of average fame, and much less than the wages of an actor in an Arab tv series.

Houses left by their owners for fear of a new tremor are being robbed and looted. Electricity has been cut off for days on end without any attempts to improve the situation of the dilapidated network in these circumstances or even any exemption from the electricity rationing, if only for a little while as the rescue efforts soldier on. And with the absence of electricity, the cellular phone network is absent, which makes emergency communication even more difficult.

Is it not time for us to be one? To be more compassionate and less selfish, as we all stand on an earth that’s like cardboard without exception?

The appeals on social media break my heart on the first day, yet the Syrian government had not yet made any official statement about its expected mechanisms in dealing with the impact of what happened, nor did it announce a period of mourning.

My little pink pill no longer does its usual effect. My heart shakes like my chandelier did that morning, as I watch from my window the snow that falls on Damascus today on top of the existing calamity.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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