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“No end in sight” A day in the life of a journalist during the Damascus fuel crisis

These days, Amal Damashqi begins her morning negotiating fares with taxi drivers. After several rounds of back-and-forth, she finally gets in to an already-crowded taxi.

9 May 2019

These days, Amal Damashqi begins her morning negotiating fares with taxi drivers. After several rounds of back-and-forth, she finally gets in to an already-crowded taxi.

Taxi-hunting, negotiation, and ridesharing have all become part of Damascene daily life as the fuel crisis that began last winter has gradually grown more acute.

Residents told Syria Direct that life in the capital city came to a virtual standstill during the height of the crisis in mid-April. Drivers spoke of hours waiting at gas stations just to fill their tanks.

However, local media outlets have been largely silent about the fuel crisis, depicting fuel queues as jovial social gatherings.

Damashqi described the local media’s portrayal of the crisis to Syria Direct reporter Waleed Nofel as “a blatant contradiction of the daily lived experience of those in Damascus.”

“The reality of the fuel crisis is horrific, but as a journalist in Damascus, your coverage has to remain within certain bounds,” she explained.  

According to Damashqi, in order to be a journalist in Damascus, there are a number of red lines set by the Syrian government that cannot be crossed.

She had previously published an article about the crisis, but due to the government restrictions placed on her coverage, she felt it not worth her time to continue covering the fuel shortage.

Still, as painful as the fuel crisis is, it could be merely an omen for an even larger catastrophe.

“The influence of the rising fuel prices will have dangerous repercussions in other sectors,” said the Damascus Chamber of Commerce in a statement. “Basic foodstuffs, produce, and basically any Syrian-made product will also be subject to rising prices.”

In a session held on Tuesday, the Syrian Cabinet requested that the Prime Minister, Emad Khamees, form a committee to counter rising fuel prices. They also requested that the interior ministry and local municipalities institute price controls on public and private transportation. Anybody found in violation of the price ceilings would be fined.

These potential price controls would be applied in all governorates, including Damascus.

For its part, state-affiliated media blamed the EU and U.S.-imposed sanctions for the ongoing fuel crisis paralyzing the citizens of Damascus.

Waleed: How has the fuel crisis impacted your daily commute in Damascus?

Amal: The cost of taxis and public transport has soared, whereas public bus fare has only increased a little. However now that buses are the only affordable means of transport, they’ve become impossibly crowded. They have always been crowded, but not to this degree. Now I might wait for the bus only to find that there is no space for me inside.

Currently, taxis can only fill up their tank once every 48 hours. As a result, drivers increase their fares and exceed the government price limits.

Before the crisis my daily commute cost me 800 lira ($1.55) but now it costs me 1,200 lira ($2.33). I need a second paycheck just to pay for taxis!

Now I also have to negotiate with every taxi driver before I get in. If we don’t come to an agreement, I must look for another taxi. Often times I’ll end up sharing the taxi with other people, something that drivers typically try to avoid, but with the fuel crisis, they have no choice.

Sometimes I’ll walk to save money.

In terms of delays and wasting time, the fuel crisis has not really had an effect on our daily lives. Before the fuel crisis, there were other obstacles to commuting and daily life in Damascus. Now the main obstacle is a fuel shortage. But whether a fuel shortage or something else, a delay is a delay.

Waleed: How has the fuel shortage influenced your daily routine in general?

Amal: Everything has become more expensive. Prices have risen by 30 to 40 percent.

There are two reasons for these price hikes. The first is the fuel crisis. The second is the rising price of the dollar.

I bought a kilo of bananas the other day for 600 lira ($1.20), it used to be just 450 lira ($0.95). Rice, sugar, butter… Everything is more expensive! Right now the cost of a meal is 5000 lira ($10), so I can only cook every two or three days.

We’re living in a horrific situation. It is worse than the war was. Death and bombs look sweet in comparison. Today you’ll hear people saying ‘if only the war was still going!’

It was better then; we could afford our daily needs. Now that the war has ended, we’re stuck with a weak economy.

Waleed: What about the liquified natural gas (LNG) shortage that Damascus went through last winter?

Amal: The gas crisis has not ended. Currently, a family is entitled to a cylinder of gas every 23 days. But if the family uses the gas for cooking, the gas will only last them 15 days. And it’s next to impossible to get another cylinder before the 23-day period is over.

The gas we receive is definitely diluted as well. I don’t know with what, maybe water. So sometimes I send my empty gas canister with drivers who are going to the Lebanese border, and they fill it up for me there.

Thank god we are in the summer. In winter I had to use the gas for heating, and I had to constantly send the empty canister to Lebanon to get it refilled.

To put it briefly, right now, life in Syria is painful.”

Waleed: Has the fuel crisis affected your work as a journalist?

Amal: It has, quite negatively. As a freelance journalist in Damascus, I depend on public transportation to take me to my sources. Whether it’s photography or interviews, I can’t complete my current assignments if I can’t afford the commute to my work site.

For that exact reason, these days I am only doing about 25% of what I usually do. If my entire paycheck is going to transportation anyway, it’s better for me just to stay home with my kids.

I published one article covering the fuel crisis, but to be honest, it was not really worth the effort. The reality of the fuel crisis is horrible. If I want to publish a report about it, I have to stay within certain lines. If I cross those lines… bye bye Amal!

Personally, I think it’s better if I write articles that can address problems that everyday people have. The goal is not to get likes on social media, it’s to help people’s voices reach their representatives. In order to do that, I decided to stop writing about the fuel crisis and focus on other topics I could accurately cover.

Waleed: According to local news sources, there is an end in sight to the fuel crisis. Is there any truth to this?

Amal: I don’t see any end in sight. Right now, the future is murky at best. The crisis might get even worse during Ramadan. The government is saying that crisis will get better, but their words are not corresponding to reality.

There is no coverage in the media about the fuel crisis. The only coverage we have is filled with lies. They broadcast videos of people having a great time, singing, being happy. For example, they were videotaping people in line for gas, and they showed them eating together, smoking hookah, and enjoying themselves.

Of course, there are people entertaining themselves while waiting in line, but the media is mischaracterizing the situation with these videos. The only reason people are doing these things is because they are waiting in line for six hours, sometimes more. They have to keep themselves occupied somehow.


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