In a camp inside the Bab al Salama border crossing, roughly 5,000 people live in small tents, with little by way of protection from the elements. There is very little clean water and only a few toilets for scores of people. Elsewhere in Northern Syria, the displaced are living in empty schools or abandoned homes.
Um Haitham is from Aleppo, now living among the displaced in Al Bab. In a square in Al Bab, the civilian council is handing out sugar to needy families. Dozens of women and men gather under a eucalyptus tree at the base of a hill covered in a cemetery. Um Haitham’s face is completely covered by a black scarf, as is the custom for many of the women in Al Bab. She wears a long gray coat.
SD: How did you celebrate Eid?
Um Haitham: Because of the horror we’ve endured, we couldn’t prepare anything for the Eid. MIGs come to bomb the city often. I have a daughter, who is two and a half, but we can’t celebrate under these circumstances.
SD: How difficult is it to buy the food you need every day?
Um Haitham: It’s very hard to get bread. Maybe the bread scarcity forced this response, that they [the civilian council] prevented anyone from selling it for more than 50 lira [less than one dollar]. All kinds of food are difficult to get. Even sugar and tea [gestures toward the crowd] — you can see this crowd. As for meat, there is meat in Al Bab but we have no money to buy it.
Because I don’t have money, I can’t buy my daughter new clothes, like trousers or shirts. The things I would normally buy for the holiday.
SD: How does your daughter handle the bombings?
Um Haitham: My daughter is very scared, very afraid. She’s a little girl. A lot of families nowadays are living together in one house. Maybe three or four families will be together in one house, because a lot of refugees are coming from Aleppo or Homs or other areas.
SD: What does your family eat every day?
Um Haitham: I’m cooking less and less food because of the scarcity of ingredients. Most of the time we depend on basic foods like oil and bread, food like this.
During the time of Bashar, you could find whatever you wanted, like bread or anything. But because Bashar and the shabiha are taking these things to the criminals, everything has changed now. There is no gas, nothing to warm ourselves although we are coming to winter, to the cold weather. I cannot find anything to keep my daughter warm.
SD: Is it worth these sacrifices to bring down the regime?
Even when Bashar falls, I don’t expect I will live happily. I don’t expect an easy life after Bashar.
[At this point, someone spots a MiG in the sky and the crowd scatters, running for cover.]