Syria’s civil war has created the worst refugee crisis in the world, with more than 4 million people fleeing the country. Millions more have been displaced inside Syria, though we rarely hear from them.
Over the past year, NPR’s Morning Edition has spoken three times with Saeed al-Batal, a photographer and filmmaker who doesn’t use his real name for security reasons.
He lives in the rebel area of Douma, just a few miles outside the capital, Damascus, and he spoke with Morning Edition host Renee Montagne about the worsening conditions.
On losing his home again
Actually, three days ago, I had to move again. Sadly, it’s become a habit of mine, you know, to find a new home and try to find what we see as safe. There is nothing or nowhere exactly safe here.
A few days ago … I was out doing something and when I was back, half the house was destroyed by a missile attack. And we had to move again. And that’s how I lost my laptop and my stuff. Actually, I have been practicing to not be attached to stuff, because we are losing them every time.
On the situation during Ramadan
We are in Ramadan now, the fasting month of the year for the Muslim people, which is the majority over here, and situations are really bad. Usually we have those charity works that provide food to people in this month. But this year there’s a lot less, there’s a lot of people who do not find anything to eat.
No one eats more than one meal a day, even if it’s not Ramadan. But, you know, the situation gets harder in Ramadan. We used to, before the revolution began, we used to have special months when you have a family meeting on the meal and you have a table with all kinds of food. Now you are down to one type of food, if you can find one.
Nothing can make you less human than being hungry. One kilogram of sugar is now costing like $18, and to make you understand what $18 means here, you have to know that before the revolution, it used to cost less than 15 cents.
On the siege of his area
The only road that you used to have now is a front line and there’s heavy fire on it, so things are, like, really getting bad. People here are really hungry and they are on the point of breaking, close to the point of breaking. I know that the siege can bring [out] the bad side of any human, you know.
Little by little, people here can be turned … a little less human and a little more [like] animals. You know, you have to think of your meal all the day long, nothing else. You don’t have time to think about anything else.
I think we’re going to be living in a jungle or something like that. Like people might get into a fight for a cigarette or half a cigarette.
On the lack of electricity
People have sold everything because we don’t have electricity. Because you don’t have electricity, stuff is very cheap. For example, you can get a 42-inch TV for less than $50, which used to cost like $400 before the revolution. You can buy a refrigerator — a big one — for about 5,000 Syrian pounds, it’s like about $10. No one can use it because there’s not enough electricity for that. So people are selling everything … so they can provide food.
On thinking only about the present
No one thinks about the next day. Maybe tomorrow you lose not your refrigerator, maybe you lose your family or maybe you lose your house. For example, a friend of mine just lost all of his family in one airstrike. He had four casualties in his family. He lost his father and his mother and his sister and his younger brother and that was, like, in the blink of an eye. And he didn’t even cry. He was like expecting that something like this was going to happen sooner or later.
On keeping track of the wider world
We created ways to find always a connection to the Internet. So we depend on that satellite and the Internet connection, and we run it on plastic, we’re on generators on plastic fuel, and and that’s how we get most of the information.
Most of the people get the news, they have this two hours a day of electricity and they watch television. But they don’t watch it with that much care anymore. They are more interested in the local news.
The only thing that’s changed is the number of people who die; nothing major has changed.
Even this morning we had two airstrikes. So people are walking in the street. They hear the plane coming, so they just look up, wait for the bomb to fall, and after that they keep walking normally like nothing had happened.
They used to care more in the past. Now they care a little less and they got used to that. That’s one side of human nature — that you can get used to anything.
On his perspective on the future
To be honest, to stay or not to stay, it’s a very difficult thing, you know. But if the situation allows anyone to get out of here, he would. No one can take it anymore. Not because he lost faith, but basically because he got nothing else to lose, so even if the road is a very dangerous one, people are trying to take it.
I don’t try to think about the future, because thinking about that can really make you frustrated and put you more in a bad place.
All of this now, there is a different perspective, where every time before you go to bed, you say to your friend, ‘Goodbye, maybe I won’t see you tomorrow.’ And tomorrow when you meet with him, you say, ‘Thank God, you stayed alive.’ And that’s how we do it.