As part of a collaboration between Syria Deeply and Rookie, we’re publishing the memoirs of a teenage girl living in the midst of Syria’s war.
In my life, simple things have turned into great concerns that take up all my time. I’m talking about food: yes, food! I recently discovered that food is a great thing, and that eating it brings marvelous joy. In the past, I didn’t dwell much on food. When it was in abundance, it didn’t mean much to me. I used to be called for breakfast and would have nothing but a glass of milk. I never wondered what I would have because our table was full of everything I like: meat, vegetables, fruits and desserts.
But where are those nowadays? We fantasize about food, reminiscing over the well-stocked fridge we once had. We can’t eat meat because of newly exorbitant prices, and fruits and vegetables are a thing of the past as they are no longer available for purchase in our city. On rare occasions when they’re allowed in, they are too expensive and we can only look on without the hope of a bite. Younger children who don’t remember life before the war don’t even know the names of certain fruits, or how to eat them. Imagine a young boy trying to eat a banana without peeling it. This is what we’ve come to!
Sugar remains the most valuable commodity in my city. It became so expensive that we opt for saccharin, a sugar substitute, despite the fact that it’s terribly unhealthy. We crave dessert, chocolates and biscuits.
The residents of my city survived this year’s exceptionally barren winter. Fruits and vegetables do not grow in the bitter cold. We did manage to buy some grains, despite the price hike, and added it to our winter pantry.
We used cattle feed to make bread, replacing rice and wheat. Some people mocked us, saying that we shared the cows’ food, and in return, they denied us their milk. At jokes like that, do we laugh or do we cry?
Some residents were able to get barley, making their bread out of it despite the fact that it has little nutritional value. The barley was also soaked to make beer. Even though it was once only fit to be consumed by animals, barley is now the only affordable option for us. Only a few wealthy traders and farmers have been able to buy wheat for their families.
The limited rations have affected residents here. Everyone is weak and is suffering some sort of ailment, be it dermatological, digestive or urological. Children at schools have no energy and faint constantly, feeling vertigo or short eyesight.
Everyone, young or old, is affected by a lack of food. Men, women and children, and even infants who need baby formula, have suffered. The health clinics are full of mothers whose weak bodies couldn’t produce enough milk for their hungry infants. Clinic staff have had to improvise and made baby formula out of mauled grains mixed with starch. We still can’t believe how these infants accepted the formula: I think it is entirely unsuitable for their fragile little bodies. Some got gastric ailments after drinking it.
Most residents have limited their food intake to one or two meals a day. The third meal is in our dreams: Grilled chicken, fried fish or fresh fruit.
Nowadays, I go to school possessed by the idea of food. I ask myself, what will I have when I get home tonight? We’ve become used to suffering and deprivation, but the lack of food has affected our concentration. We study but our brains aren’t fueled enough to store the information.
I hold my schoolbooks and the photos in them make me think of the past. I sit for hours, staring at the books, but my mind is elsewhere. I can’t concentrate on my studies. As soon as the sun sets, I put my books aside as it’s impossible to study at night due to the lack of electricity in our house. I have always dreamed of graduating school, and with the looming examination date, I study while trying to overcoming my problems. I dream of getting into university. I yearn for a life I might not get.
Imagine studying for a test you aren’t sure you can sit for. On top of that frustration I am hungry, and my thoughts are blurry, my concentration shattered. Dreaming is near impossible, although I try. Whether we are children, youth or elderly, we wonder why we have to live though this.
I once read that I have rights and obligations, but what rights are we talking about? I once read that I have a right to a balanced diet, a right to an education, to health care, but where is that reality? I no longer believe in books and what their pages hold. I only believe in my reality and it is a painful one.