You can hear the relentless shelling and airstrikes from kilometers away. The agonizing screams jolt you awake every night. If you look outside, all you can see is death and destruction, with mangled bodies dotting the landscape and the rubble of bombed homes littering the city floor. This is Aleppo, Syria and this is what I experience every day of my life as a 13 year old boy in a war zone.
I am Aman Mohammed and I was born here in Aleppo and if hell was a place on Earth, it would be my city. The only thing common between my average day and yours is probably that we both wake up, have food, and go to bed. Other than that, my life is pretty much like a horror movie, but forever. After waking up, I eat my daily breakfast of porridge and bread with my twelve other family members who all live in the same, miniature house as me. Our house is in a slightly more privileged area of the city and so we have a small kitchen with one little stove, a somewhat spacious living room, three cramped bedrooms, and one bathroom for everybody. We actually have a television, a luxury that few families in Aleppo have. I sleep in my room with my brother Omar and two cousins Ahmed and Adnan. My sister Sara and my other two cousins Amira and Maya sleep in the second bedroom. My mom Bana Mohammed and two other women sleep in the last, slightly larger bedroom. My dad Halil Mohammed and the other men sleep on the floor in the living room. Despite all the downsides of my house, I don’t complain because I realize that I am more privileged than many others in this world. After breakfast, all of us kids bike to our school, The Friends’ School of Syria, attended by 800 kids. The school actually is a mosque that was used as a makeshift school after three of our past schools were bombed by the government and the rebels. This new school is much bigger than my old schools and has a basement which we can use to protect ourselves from the heavy violence in the area. All twelve grades study in this school as the city doesn’t have the resources to maintain multiple schools. Adnan and Maya’s mom is the sixth grade math teacher here and she is the best teacher I have ever had because through all the hardship in my life, she has found a way to make me understand fractions, the hardest math topic of them all, in my opinion. My favorite school subject is English as I love writing and reading about the world around me. I keep a diary in which I write about my daily experiences. Whenever we hear bombs and gunfire nearby, which is almost every other day, all of us in the school have to evacuate to the basement and stay there for almost three hours until violence lessens. Tranquility is impossible in Aleppo, the hub of the Syrian Civil War. After school, we bike back home as fast as possible, steering clear of anything that resembles a landmine. When we get home, we do our homework, take part in daily prayers, eat dinner, play some games, and go to bed at ten. Most people take little time to go to sleep, but in Aleppo, sleep doesn’t happen for what seems like an eternity because of the omnipresent sounds of violence outside. These sounds are like a fly annoyingly buzzing near you that you just can’t swat away. Yet we all get by and pray to see a better tomorrow!
If you left Syria in 2010 and came back today, you would have thought that you were in a coma for decades. The civil war has left huge scars on our country which barely resembles the beautiful, diverse Syria that we were proud to be citizens of. Our rich culture was fostered by our beautiful homeland, which has been ruined by violence. Syria was the cradle of civilization and was the epicenter of the Bronze Age, where writing was first invented and the first musical notation was created. The beauty of Syria before and after the war can best be seen in my favorite place, the Citadel of Aleppo. It’s located in the center of our city and is one of the oldest and largest medieval palaces in the world, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. I went there twice a year with my family until the war broke out. Today, its glamour has been severely tarnished by bombings and part of it is now fully wrecked. We can’t even get close to the Citadel now because of the heavy fighting in the area. Last year, I visited the capital of Damascus with my family and there was one monument that really stood out to me among all the landmarks in one of the oldest cities in the world. It was the Damascene Sword Monument, a patronizing but colorful sword in the center of the city. The monument towered above everybody but it represented the strength and perseverance of the Syrian people. It exhibited the Syrian identity, one that trudged through hardships in order to live and see the light of a better future.
After all of the hardships we faced, our family was still pretty jovial until something happened that changed our lives forever. We had all gone to mosque for a religious ceremony and we were coming back home in a very talkative mood. I was indignantly debating with Adnan about football as we neared our street until suddenly, there was a horrified scream. Our eyes darted to the direction of the sound and we saw that it was my mother, fallen to our knees and with her hands cupped over her mouth and eyes wide. Her hand hesitantly pointed toward our home, which many generations of our family had lived in. It was in complete ruins; fires burned over the rubble and black smoke drifted towards the sky. I couldn’t comprehend the sight in front of me. Destroyed homes and buildings weren’t something foreign in our city, but we had been protected from the brunt of the destruction. We had always prayed for the people who had lost something, yet we had never experienced the feeling of losing something ourselves. The adults were sitting on the floor, wailing at the loss of their most prized material possession. All of us kids looked at each other, with tears in our eyes and ran into our parents’ open arms. The family shared the abundance of sorrow that had been abruptly inflicted on us in the most cruel way possible. My dad, always being the leader, wiped himself off and stood up. His voice shaking, “Our home has been taken away from us. But we can’t just sit here crying. I think it’s time to leave Syria!” Gasps followed from all of us. Many of my friends had escaped with their families but I had never thought that our family would also have to do that. My dad continued, “It’s not safe to live here anymore. I have some friends in Turkey near the border that we can meet up with if we get across the Turkish border. We can look for a ride to the border and get across to Turkey via a small boat ride. Now let’s go inside these ruins of our house and look for anything left untouched.” While thinking about his words, I scoured the remains of our house and found a cabinet, damaged by fallen debris. I opened it and found some money and jewelry. So I excitedly called to my dad. He told the rest of the family and decided to walk to a nearby road and call a taxi. The taxi driver demanded all the money we had to get us to the border and my dad reluctantly gave it up. The drive to the border took fourteen hours and I slept through most of the ride. When I woke up, it was night and we had gotten to our destination, a small marina near the border. I cleared my drowsy eyes and watched with my jaw dropped almost down to the floor as the family men sadly gave up most of our precious jewelry so as to get on a boat to Turkey. It just dawned to me that we were doing something completely illegal that could put us in jail for years. Worriedly, I climbed on to the boat and prayed to get across the border safely and lead a better life. I put my head on my mom’s lap and tried to forget about all the tragedy that had happened to us.
When we arrived at the Turkish border, there seemed to be no security, but I didn’t dare to get my hopes up, remembering the stories from school about the punishment that illegal border crossing was given. Turkey just seemed like a barren desert with some forests. As we climbed off the boat, Ahmed said that he needed to go to the bathroom. His mother told him to go with me into the woods nearby as she was taking care of the younger kids. I waited for Ahmed and when he was done, I suddenly heard shouts and there were some soldiers in the distance. “Oh no! Run away towards Mom and Dad!” I whispered. At that moment, we realized that we didn’t know where we were, but we just started running in a direction away from the soldiers. The shouts increased and we picked up our pace, scared about the repercussions we would face for running away from these officers. Soon, after what seemed like an eternity, the shouts stopped but we kept running until we left the pitch-black forest. We were in a small town it seemed and some people walked toward us. Ahmed and I looked at one another, terrified about whether we would ever see our families again! We were about to run away until one woman asked us our names. Suddenly, all of the fear, anger, and sadness inside me rushed out like water from a broken dam. The woman soothed us, took us to a little orphanage and placed us in small beds where we instantly dozed to sleep.
Next morning, when we awoke, an elderly man who told us to call him Adil, asked us to tell him everything that had happened yesterday night. We recounted the story to Adil, who never interrupted us. When we finished, he was quiet for a minute until he said, “I’m sorry. I am the town mayor here so I will do everything I can to try and find your parents. If you lost them nearby here, we may be able to return you to them. Don’t worry. We will find them.”
It has now been many months since we lost our family and every day, I’m gazing out of the orphanage window, hoping and praying to see my loving mother and father once again.
Ripping families apart, destroying their most prized possessions, and causing anger, fear, and sadness everywhere, war is the bane of civilization! If countries and people just cannot compromise and let go of disagreements, the world will soon come to an end. As the great Mahatma Gandhi once said, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind!