By: Hail Khalaf
The summer of 2008 in Damascus was the best one that I can remember I ever had. I saw the rock band Gorillaz play in the old citadel of Damascus, had lots of fun drinking nights on the streets of Bab Sharki in the old city, and took a super fun trip to the beach with friends. I thought I had the best life anyone could ask for, then 2011 came.
I decided to do my military service that year. Four months into it and while I was still in training, The Syrian uprising started against Assad and his regime. We all thought it will be a couple of months then we will move on and hopefully have better lives and a change that the country needed. That didn’t happen.
Instead, I had to defect from the army and cross the line to opposition-controlled Syria. We lived under siege for several months and the uprising turned into a brutal war that dragged on for 12 years, 13 million displaced, an entire cities leveled to the ground including my hometown of Deir Ezzor, about a million dead and the number keeps growing. This was the first time my parents were forced to leave their home and was also the first time they had to start from scratch. They needed a place to stay. We had to improvise, and we chose the farmhouse that needed extensive rehabilitation to be livable, we did that. My mom made a new community for herself, new friends and she was happy.
Then my parents got sick from the cold country weather and couldn’t bear living in a village. We improvised again and decided to move them to Antakya, Turkey where I lived at that time. They moved with clothes and some belongings including the family pictures which held our history and was a precious thing that my mom recovered under sniper fire from our house in Deir Ezzor.
This was the second time my parents had to start from scratch. My mom made a new community and new friends and was really happy to be there. Antakya is a beautiful city that is close to the coast, has amazing food, and very welcoming and nice people.
Then came the earthquake.
I woke up on Monday morning in my house in the French countryside to get my daughter ready for school and saw around 100 messages on our family WhatsApp group. I skimmed quickly through them and realized that a devastating earthquake had hit Turkey and Syria at night while everyone was asleep.
My three siblings who are between the two countries were ok. There was no word from my parents. I lived through hell in two days trying to locate them or reach anyone in the city.
I took the decision to fly over there and go look for them.
They were found alive under the rubble while I was on my way there. I flew from Geneva to Adana and made it to Antakya to see the city that I loved and called him for a while leveled to the ground. I found my parents sleeping on the sidewalk with other displaced people. I looked at their apartment and immediately realized that this will be the last time we see it and probably the last time we see Antakya. My parents managed to get their documents and their medications. Nothing else made it out. We lost the pictures.
As I lay in the temporary apartment that I rented for few days in Mersin to help my parents recover from the shock and I have some time to come up with a new improvised plan on where they would go next, how to get them there, and where to begin in our third start from scratch time, I am thinking about other people in other parts of the world that has some sort of a normal life.
A normal life is one without a massive kind of crisis every now and then. I want to be a postman in Switzerland, a farmer in France where I live, a bartender in Chicago, I want a life without war, earthquakes, devastation, and sadness. When I drove in Antakya after the earthquake, I saw people with defeated faces. Syrians who made a new life and settled after the war, now they have to start from scratch again. Turks who lost their beloved city and loved ones. I was comparing the crises that I had in my life and realized it would be better if we stick to war. The earthquake summarized 12 years of war in a couple of minutes.
I still don’t know where to go next with my parents. But what I know is that I have my run bag with my passport, some cash, and a spare battery ready for the next disaster that will for sure come our way. It is just a matter of time.