The Suffering ContinuesIt's a beautiful Saturday morning, 13 October 2012; we cross the river in a "drum" to get to Syria from Turkey. Here there are no checkpoints, no passports. It almost feels illegal.
Enthusiastic young men meet us as we pass unlimited hectres of beautiful pomegranate plantations all gone to waste; this is war, there is zero economy, the labour of ordinary farmers and their lives wasted. We are whisked to the centre of Darkoush city, this is the rebel fighters latest "acquisition" having been liberated just four days ago from Asad's forces. The vantage point from where snipers targetted and killed civilians is pointed out. Then whilst touring the religious sites burnt and deliberately bombed, absolute pandemonium, as mortars and shells rain all around the city; the continuous echo of gunfire in the distance; smoke plumes visible everywhere; Asad's forces are back.
Our hosts shove us into the cars in their concern for our safety but in their bewilderment and panic our cars collide as we race down the hill. These people are on edge; with more than 200 civilians dying per day, this is clearly understandable. They turn to us: "the city is liberated but not safe".
Soon bakkie loads of women and children pass us, rushing to the Turkish border. The wounds of men, injured by dense vegetation whilst escaping through mountainous regions, are clearly visible. We visit a "compound" in an open plantation where 200 refugees have just arrived, trying to remain calm in the face of overwhelming odds. The children are silent, their faces ashen, the women cover their faces both from the conservative nature of their society and the embarrassment of being homeless in their own land. Then the unthinkable happens, a group of women approach us (foreign men) to pour out their hearts; this unusual behaviour is certainly a cry of desperation. Nud, an English teacher is the spokesperson.
Her first words make the impact: "Asad is merciless. They just opened fire on civilians and then the shells came; could they not give us a warning and ask civilians to leave before they attacked. We are a peace loving people, why is he doing this to us. This scenario is repeated everyday displacing 20 000 to 30 000 people at a time". A man passes by, tears in his eyes, "they just opened fire on women and children".
Nud continues, "why has the world deserted us, what have we done, all we asked was for a better life with better policies, marching peacefully through the streets carrying placards. What are we going to do; there is no bread, no food, no water, no electricity and winter is coming. This is no way to live. Who can live like this, we want to go to our homes, but it is not safe. The children. Oh! The children. What are they going to do?" Her voice quivers, a single tear runs down her face. She looks me deep in the eye, other women bend forward as she enquiringly asks "Will you help us, will you help the children. How are we going to feed them? Can you arrange food, they need milk, something to sleep on and something to keep them warm".
Their dignity does not allow them to wail, scream or be insistent; just one simple, polite request followed by the same statement we've heard at least 50 times in the last two days, "nobody came back, we are on our own, the world has forgotten us".
As we prepare to leave the area the young children respectfully come and shake our hand, "thank you, thank you". They are not expecting us to return because that has been the norm yet they manifest their courtesy with a pure, sincere and genuine heart.
We leave for the centre of the city around which mortars rained down just a short while ago. It is time to act, it is time to do something, it is time to end their isolation. We are in search of a building that can serve as an emergency medical service, to be the first such facility in the region as a referral centre for fifteen cities. We find the perfect site. South Africa is going to respond soon, inside Syria. The medics have already volunteered their names even though we have not yet asked.