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Letter from Aleppo No.10 - 21 April 2013

29/04/2013: Syria

Since the 30th of March, events have followed one another rapidly in our city of Aleppo. In fact, at 3.30 in the morning of Good Friday 2013, I received the first telephone call informing me that the quarter of Djabal al Saydé was beginning to be invaded by the rebels who shouted and screamed, warning the people to remain inside their apartments. Was the threat a real one or rather a sporadic incursion without effect on the life of the quarter ? Very softly, the news came of a true invasion of the district, with shops smashed in and vehicles stolen or wrecked. Bursts of gunfire paralysed the people and forced them to take refuge in stairwells. Adults and children were crying. Fear spread ! The questions came tumbling out : Should we leave ? What to do ? Real anguish ! A real drama was announced…

In the course of hours, combats raged, houses were « visited » by armed elements, electricity was cut off, water too… The families imagined it was a question of time, they hoped, waited, but nothing changed ! On the contrary, it proved quite otherwise. Men armed to the teeth installed themselves… Night fell. People listened for the slightest noise, the slightest cry, the smallest howl…No one slept, they watched, they prayed, they awaited help from heaven … It was their last recourse…

Holy Saturday, at dawn, the buildings start to empty as the inhabitants leave. They take with them what is strictly necessary : some important documents, a few clothes, the few savings left, and nothing else… The exodus begins, a people wandering in search of a  possible  exit from hell… They leave when it is still dark… One family loses contact with its two little children who should be with neighbours but are not… Another family is looking for any means to help the old man who cannot walk ! Neighbours call one another, agree to walk together, protected by their destiny. The streets are empty, the lights extinguished. People take a last look at their apartment, at the interior, at a whole history, a whole dream, a whole life ; one would wish the moment would stretch for ever. And before closing the door, one makes the sign of the cross as if to say to the Lord « Into your hands we commit ourselves ». The door is locked, double locked, the door is sealed with a hopeful look. But it is necessary to hurry ! If not, death can rise at any moment… A people walks, a people wanders, a people is displaced… It is forced to empty the quarter, the place of its life , so that it becomes a cemetery of memories, perhaps a pile of stones… There is no time to take a last look at the balcony of the house where a sheet that is not yet dry is hanging ! Only one idea in the head : we must flee hell as quickly as possible, no matter what the price… No vehicle can circulate. It is necessary to walk, walk, walk… Minutes become an eternity… The  page is turned ! Everything is finished !

Saturday about 9.00, the most rapid of the inhabitants of the Djabal el Saydeh quarter arrive in the safe zone : some ring at a relative’s door and others take the path to our Marist community, sole place of refuge… The Marist Blues are there… They welcome, they listen, they do not stop repeating : « Hamdellah  ‘al salameh » « Let’s thank God that you are safe ».

The 300 Christian families and so many other families of the quarter have abandoned it into the hands of armed men… We too, the Marists, can no longer return to our place in the quarter. Our anxiety mounts : what about the refugee Moslem families who are in the schools ? No response…

The Marist community becomes a centre of information, of cross checking data : One calls for news of a family or an elderly person… In fact, some families have remained in the quarter…

The last family to leave on  3 April describes its exodus to us : All the members including the elderly grandmother passed by holes the armed men had made in the walls of the houses … It tells us of the horror of remaining in the hell of the war, the fear, the terror…

Many families come to ask for clothes, mattresses, blankets, pillows, towels, soap… We welcome them, accompany them, respond to their needs…

The empty spaces of the community are all full… We decide to free up the two scout dens and construct 4 showers and 4 toilets…

Together with Caritas and those responsible for Sallet el Djabal, we have organised a eucharistic celebration, followed by a distribution  of money and vouchers for the purchase of new underwear and clothes. The majority of the families take part in the eucharist, communicate, pray and accompany the parish choir… What will become of the two churches of the quarter ?

Sallet el Djabal, the food basket which we have distributed every month since August 2012, will be ready in a week… The people need it…

Easter Monday, a surprise : Ghalia, mother of  7 children of whom the oldest is  9, and who is in one of the schools, comes to our place… She has sought to join us… We welcome her…  Some days later, another family arrives with 11 children… all will be welcomed and accomodated…

We buy a washing machine, we add  4 reservoirs of water to those which already exist, we buy clothing, underwear, slippers, pillows, mattresses…

The project « To learn to grow » is also displaced… It returns to the rooms of the community… The children return in number… They need space, they need to draw, to play, to talk about themselves…

We install a medical centre… Daily consultation… Free medicines…

 

And what about tomorrow ?

All the families of « Djabal al Saydé» are asking this question… We ask it with them… We do not grow tired of repeating that it is in the hands of God.  Should one hope for a possible return to the quarter ? Should one dream ?  Many voices announce the imminent end of the war but how many times have these hopes been vain…Is it true that the temporary situation lasts ? And if this temporary situation becomes a point of no return ?

For us Marist Blues, we will always have a hand held out to live evangelical solidarity, a solidarity which announces and witnesses the love of God for every man and every woman… Together we seek to construct peace, the peace of Easter morning.

_______________
Br Georges Sabe - 21 April 2013
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