Aleppo: A quiet day amid the storm of chaos

Aleppo: A quiet day amid the storm of chaos
Blog: As a ceasefire briefly takes hold, Zouhir al-Shimale shares a typical day in Syria's city under siege.
5 min read
13 Sep, 2016
Market stalls have little to offer the residents of Aleppo, Syria's city under siege []

It is Tuesday. So far, the morning has been quiet. The "ceasefire" appears to be holding, at least here in Aleppo. But over the past few weeks, my city has been living from day to day with the devastating effects of a war that seems endless.

These effects, these consequences, have an impact in all aspects of everyday life.

But what is everyday life for us in Aleppo? You might be surprised...

In the morning

Waking up to the sound of the helicopters - unless your district has already been bombed - and not being able to have a quiet coffee due to the lack of electricity. No coffee is one thing, but no breakfast either? Just some of the perks of living in this endless war.

However, in any case, people just get on with their lives, as normally as possible. In Aleppo people have become used to living like this.

Going to work

If you're lucky enough to have a job or some way earn a living - a blessing in itself - getting into work is an odyssey in itself. There are no trains, taxis, buses... anything! It all disappeared after the second siege.

In pictures: Click here for Zouhir al-Shimale's photoessay
on East Aleppo's marketplace

Therefore, you have to walk, walk with an empty stomach while feeling dizzy due to the incredibly hot weather, even early in the morning. 

For some this would be a reason enough to go back home and give up on the day. Instead, for residents of Aleppo lucky enough to have a job, there is no other option.

Walking a long distance in such conditions is much better than having nothing with which to feed your family.

The working day

Finally, after the long slog walkin in, you've made it. You're at work. You're already a survivor!

Hopefully also your body is still complete and you have lost no limbs or other appendages in to the frequent shelling around the city.

Every day, ordinary buildings are targeted in Aleppo. My work space is no different from any other home, school, hospital or bakery. All are available targets for pilots who seem to know nothing more than just pressing their fire button and flying back to base, who seem not to know or care about the massive devastation they have just caused civilians - civilians who just crave a normal life like any other human being in the world.

Children on Tuesday take advantage of the ceasefire to
play in the streets of Aleppo [Zouhir al-Shimale]

Is living a normal life too much to ask?

After work

If you live in London, Madrid or any other big city, you may go for a drink or just go home - complaining all the way about your commute and public transport. I wish we had that to complain about in Aleppo!

Assuming your day went well - without any bombs hitting your office or other major issues of the day, then you pack your things and off you go to catch something to eat - if you can find something in the market, that is.

Not everyone in the city might be lucky enough to have even one meal per day, as the local bakery and food shops quickly run out of supplies. Often, due to the attacks, they might just not be working any more.

Sadly, there is not enough food here to fill the bellies of a city.

Just a portion of food every two days should be enough to see you through. If you want to buy more bread, then you'll have to pay double. Most families here have nothing but just this little share of bread - and here we are, talking just about how complicated it is to get bread! Imagine how difficult it is to buy the rest of the shopping list! This is misery!

Read more - Holding on to Aleppo: Meeting those refusing to leave

This "war lifestyle" is lived, day by day, by more than 300,000 people in Aleppo who have had no other choice but to get used to it.

Some here have said the siege was a wrath imposed by God. But everyone has their own perspective in this devastated city.

The effects of this terrible war leave you thinking that life here has nothing to do with you. I mean, even if you had been on the front lines of the war from the beginning until today, you still couldn't stop it.

At the same time, you can't absolve yourself of your responsibilities. In the end you might get fed up and decide to leave, become a refugee statistic - a walking zombie in a world that once had the chance to stop this war but did nothing other than just sit and enjoy the scene as an idle spectator.

Today, it has been one night and one morning since the ceasefire started.

'All that is left now is play,' writes our correspondent
in Aleppo [Zouhir al-Shimale]

People have felt safer and it has been great not to hear helicopters in the sky or jet fighters and bombers alike killing the innocent people below.

It has been slightly peaceful and the weather has been good too, so maybe a trip to the park with the children?

Maybe not, you think, as you remember the park being destroyed in a series of relentless attacks.

Perhaps just playing in the streets among the destruction is safer for now. With all this rubble strewn about the place, the children can pretend to build a lovely house as if this were real-life Lego, and make-believe a normal life.

For now, play is the only option for children to live out their childhood. No sweets, no homemade treats. For many, their best friends have left the city. Other friends have left this life.

All that is left for now is play.


Zouhir al-Shimale is a journalist and reporter based in Aleppo, Syria. Follow him on Twitter: @ZouhirAlShimale