On Ramadan: ‘Five years since the start of the revolution, we miss the way things were’

On Monday, Muslims across Syria began the month-long Ramadan fast, the sixth since the start of the revolution.

In the month where “cooking is everything,” prohibitively expensive food and gas prices—particularly for Syrians throughout areas under rebel control—have many relying on firewood just to survive, Uday Aoda, a citizen journalist from the blockaded Damascus neighborhood of Qabon, tells Syria Direct.

 Street vendors in Amouda sell sweets before Monday’s iftar, the first evening of Ramadan. Photo courtesy of arta.fm.

“People aren’t even thinking more than a day ahead. They are trying to put enough food on the table just one day at a time,” says Ghala al-Hourani, a citizen journalist in Daraa.

 “We have gotten used to this new state of affairs where bombings, destruction and terrible living conditions are just part of the daily reality.”

Here, three Syrian residents across rebel-controlled territory reflect on celebrating Ramadan under the shadow of near-constant shelling, shortages and arrests.

“We miss the way things were,” al-Hourani tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim.

Ghala al-Hourani, a citizen journalist in Daraa:

Q: Describe the atmosphere in Daraa with the start of Ramadan. How is this year different from previous years?

Since the revolution started, we have gotten used to this new state of affairs where bombings, destruction and terrible living conditions are just part of the daily reality. Across the board, things have gone from bad to worse. The markets are unregulated and traders are gouging prices, charging whatever they see fit.

As the jobs have disappeared, so too has the ability of breadwinners to provide for their families. People aren’t even thinking more than a day ahead. They are trying to put enough food on the table just one day at a time, which has become increasingly difficult as the price of food, gas and other household necessities has risen.

The biggest problem, however, is the near-total cut off of electricity to Daraa. Especially in this hot weather, there is no electricity to cool water or to run the fans. Some families have generators, but they are next to impossible to run with the price of gas so high. Even for the families who are lucky enough to have solar energy, prices can be prohibitively expensive. Some families aren’t even this lucky.

Q: What did Ramadan in Daraa look like before the revolution?

Everyone in Daraa has suffered loss. People have been killed, injured, disabled, detained or forced to flee. There is no household in Daraa that does not know this pain.

Five years since the start of the revolution, we miss the way things were. We miss friends and families getting together to break the fast during Ramadan. We miss the time when food was readily available, prices were lower and you could travel—even just short distances—without the constant fear of being bombed or arrested.

Before the revolution, people used to get together in large numbers over Ramadan to go shopping and to pray. Today, however, it is next to impossible to travel any more than just 10 minutes, not to mention that most of Daraa’s mosques have been destroyed. Some have even been bombed while prayers were in service.

**

Wilat Aoji is a local Amouda merchant in the far northeast province of Al-Hasakah:

Q: Describe the atmosphere in Amouda with the start of Ramadan.

What atmosphere? What do we have to celebrate Ramadan? Mediocre dates that cost nearly SP1300 (approx. $5.90) per kilo. The vast majority of people can’t even buy dates because everyone’s resources are spread thin.

 Amouda residents purchase bread before Monday’s iftar. Photo courtesy of arta.fm.

Q: How has your financial situation changed since the revolution started?

The situation in western Kurdistan has gone from bad to worse. Shortages of goods and rising prices have raised serious alarms and made it virtually impossible to prepare for Ramadan.

Before the Syrian people rose up against the oppressive regime, the economic situation was, in fact, quite strong. The revolution was never about money. Since 2011, the economy has steadily deteriorated over each and every year. What’s more, the regime has now made it its goal to blockade and to starve its citizens, which has brought us to where we are today.

There is nothing in the markets, so how are we supposed to celebrate Ramadan? The people have to live off the land given that Amouda is an agricultural area. But what about the things that you can’t grow? I’m just an average citizen, and all I’ve got to rely on are vegetables and grains.

Q: What is the market like these days?

Traders have deliberately exploited the tumultuous economic situation. In only putting a small percentage of the available goods into the market, they take advantage of the plummeting price of the Syrian pound in order to charge the highest possible prices. This is all with the mindset of maximizing their profits.

**

Uday Aoda is a citizen journalist from the blockaded Damascus neighborhood of Qabon:

Q: Describe the atmosphere in Qabon with the start of Ramadan.

There are street vendors selling juices and sweets to welcome the start of Ramadan. People are also making sure to stock up on household provisions because it can be difficult for certain goods to get into Qabon, gas in particular.

Q: Were there any demonstrations in the lead-up to the holy month?

A while ago, people were protesting the local merchants. Families wanted to stock their homes, but they simply couldn’t. Nothing was getting into the city. The people of Qabon took to the streets with the coming of Ramadan and the general state of affairs in the neighborhood. Today, goods in Qabon are double the prices of the same items across regime-held areas. For example, refilling a gas canister for cooking is SP7000 (approx. $31.85) in Qabon, whereas it would cost SP1900 (approx. $8.65) in areas of regime-controlled Damascus. However, today, there aren’t any ongoing demonstrations.

Q: Elaborate on the state of affairs in Qabon. Who is controlling the neighborhood, and what have been the consequences of the blockade?

While the opposition technically holds Qabon, the Republican Guard, Damascus Police and Special Forces all surround the neighborhood.

Fighting in Qabon first broke out on July 20, 2012, but the heaviest fighting took place nearly a year later on June 19, 2013. For the next seven months, there was very intense fighting with the regime, but, finally, in February 2014, we entered into a ceasefire with the regime. Though technically the ceasefire is still in place to this day, the regime has time and again violated this agreement, bombing the neighborhood and shutting down the main road into Qabon.

Q: What has been the hardest part for the people of Qabon in preparing for Ramadan?

During Ramadan, cooking is everything. As such, it presents huge obstacles when gas is prohibitively expensive. People have to rely on firewood. It’s not just gas that is getting out of our price range.

Cooking oil and fat are also both overpriced. Even the most basic goods like bread have drastically gone up in price. In regime-controlled Damascus, a bag of bread runs about SP50 (approx. $0.23) whereas in Qabon that same bag is SP200 (approx. $0.91).

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Justin Schuster

Justin Schuster graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. He was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Justin worked as a reporter and translator with Syria Direct before serving as the Managing Director.