‘I no longer have a desire to live': After five years of ill health, loss, Daraa farmer gives up

Abu Ayman recently decided to stop kidney dialysis. It certainly was not an easy thing to make the bi-weekly 100km trip from opposition-territory in west Daraa countryside into Damascus for treatment.

As a civilian, Abu Ayman can cross into regime territory for medical treatment. He has to, since the hospital near his town of Nawa in west Daraa cannot help him.

But five years after developing kidney disease, a long-term symptom of diabetes, the Daraa farmer tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier that he no longer cares about his health, or his life.

“I no longer have a desire to live, because there is nothing in life that differentiates it from death,” he says.

Hopelessness is everywhere he looks, Abu Ayman says. He lost his two sons to a revolution that has left Assad in power.

 “The Features of a Homeland” by Akram Abu el-Foz and Bassam al-Hakeem. Photo courtesy of The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution

“I don’t have words to express the overwhelming defeat that I feel inside.”

Abu Ayman, 52, is a farmer in Nawa, Daraa who has diabetes and kidney disease.

Q: Describe your life right now.

As an old man living in a war, I don’t have a way to provide for myself. My two sons were killed during peaceful demonstrations in Nawa at the beginning of the revolution. Now my wife and I live off donations from distant relatives.

I also struggle with my illness, which has worsened since the Tasil hospital shut down its dialysis clinic four years ago.

Q: Do you feel that your illness is a burden?

Yes, the absence of treatment has made kidney disease a burden for me. I’m also burdened by fear, the lack of security and sadness for my sons and my country. I don’t have words to express the overwhelming defeat that I feel inside. I’ve started to wish for death every second of the day, because everything in this country, from medicine to security, eludes me.

I can’t even have my children; the regime killed them.

Q: There is not a dialysis clinic near your town. How have you been able to access treatment these past five years?

The first year, things were normal because the medicine I needed was available.

I didn’t need dialysis until 2014, a year after I was diagnosed with kidney disease. But by then, dialysis wasn’t available at hospitals in west Daraa countryside.

I had two choices—go to a Damascus hospital, or to Naseeb in south Daraa for treatment. I chose Damascus because I can take a bus, which costs SP3,000 ($14). Going to Naseeb costs double, because I have to rent a private car. It’s very expensive.

Sometimes I go to Naseeb when I need emergency treatment.

Q: Can you live a normal life, despite your sickness?  

I feel pain. I no longer have a desire to live. There is nothing left in life that differentiates it from death. For that reason, sometimes I only go to Damascus for dialysis treatment once a week. I no longer care.

Each time I go to Damascus, I feel like, even five years later, we haven’t achieved any of the demands of the revolution.

Instead, we drive long distances to Damascus for medical treatment. This means that we still recognize the Syrian government—that the regime is still our ruler, despite all of the bloodshed and destruction it has caused.

I’m no longer holding on to life. I’m tired. We have nothing—no medical treatment, money or security.

Q: Last month, the Tasil hospital opened its dialysis clinic for the first time in four years. But it can only serve six out of 17 patients in west Daraa countryside. How did you feel, once you realized that you wouldn’t benefit from the new dialysis machine?

At first, I was overjoyed. After four years, we finally had a dialysis machine in our area. I would no longer have to worry about transportation to Naseeb or Damascus. My sufferings, I thought, would decrease.

I was shocked when hospital staff told me that they only received one machine and could therefore only treat patients who live closest to the hospital.

Q: So you continue to go to Damascus for treatment. Tell me about the journey there. How often do you go? How do people treat you at the checkpoints?

I started going to Damascus for treatment in 2014.

I used to go twice a week, but lately I’ve only gone once. I’m always searched at checkpoints, especially since many members of my family have fought with the opposition.

Each time soldiers at the checkpoint see my ID, they tell me: “Hello, terrorist. So, you people of Daraa still want freedom?”

They ask me about my children and I tell them that they died. They laugh and say, “We killed them because they were terrorists. Really, in what way are you benefiting from the revolution? We want to know.”

Q: The Tasil hospital cannot treat you, so why are you still in Daraa? Why don’t you move to Damascus, where you are able to get treatment?

I don’t want to leave my home. I’ll stay here and persevere until I die. This house, this land, is my only reminder of life before the war.

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Amaal Ahmad

Amaal is from al-Maydan in Outer Damascus. She moved to Jordan in 2012. She hopes to use the skills learned at Syria Direct to pursue a career in journalism.

Jessica Page, Reporter/Translator

Jessica was a 2013-2014 Georgetown University Qatar Scholarship Program fellow in Doha, Qatar. She received her BA in both Arabic and International & Area Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked and studied in Jordan, Oman, and Qatar.