Damascus’ White Battles

When you live in a city where it snows for one or two days once a year; even sometimes once every few years, you can’t but be excited about it. I recall, often when it snowed, we played with that white stuff for one day before it would all melt down on the next day — if not by the end of the day. I still hold childhood memories of the times when I felt sad because I ran out of snow.

A couple of days ago, I heard a snow storm was heading for Syria. These things cause a lot of mess in Lebanon and some Syrian provinces, but I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an actual storm in Damascus. Still I wasn’t excited about the news this time. I was rather concerned. I knew if I’d go out in the snow, there would be no warm room to return to afterwards.

This year, probably the same as last year, everything is different. When the war broke out, most of us left every piece of furniture behind and moved into old empty houses in the capital. We no longer have the luxury of listening to Let It Snow while cuddling by a $700-Italian diesel stove or a fireplace. It used to feel cozy even when we sat near a smaller and cheaper Syrian-made stove, but now it’s not easy to get these either. These things can be dangerous in small houses like the ones we’ve moved into, especially when more than one family lives in the same house with all the active children running around.

Many things have changed since the war began. With the daily blackouts and the rocketing prices of diesel, heating has become a serious concern even for locals. Winter is no longer romantic around here. Most people are frustrated with the economy, and everyone seems to be interested in whatever reduces their bills.

When it begins to snow, however, you simply forget about all these details. One cousin points to the window and says, “It’s snowing.” Another one goes out on the balcony. You stick your head out the door to have a look. You instantly decide to go out to see more. And then everyone follows you. Our mothers were not happy about it, but they didn’t even bother arguing.

It started to heavily snow yesterday after 1 pm and, within an hour, white layers began to mount on the ground and the vehicles. When I left the house, our neighbors were already out. I don’t know these people; they’re new in this neighborhood and I haven’t lived in the area since I moved to Eastern Ghouta in 2007. But that didn’t prevent them from throwing snowballs at me; one hell of a way to be friendly, but it worked.

As I walked through the city, I saw more people out there. They were civilians and military, children and adults; all kinds of people playing together, taking pictures and making icemen. Some soldiers were walking in the middle of the street and singing; others were busy throwing snowballs at one another and at civilians, who would strike back. One soldier yells not to hit the windows of the nearby restaurant. “We don’t want to scare away its customers,” says the draft-aged man.

I was hit in the back, so I turned around to scold my cousin for I assumed he did it, before realizing that it was a soldier who hit me. He had an AK-47 so I had to smile and walk away. At some point you won’t walk away. You would forget about his gun, the fact that he’s a soldier, and just engage in that white war. Another soldier was so excited that he handed my cousin his Russian rifle in order to quickly take off with a snowball and get his comrade. Even he forgot he was a soldier for a moment. At some point, the civilians and the military turned into a blurry mix-up, so much that it became difficult to tell them part.

Before that there was always fear, anxiety and tension. Most people didn’t dare talk to a soldier, nor did the soldiers have the courage to communicate much but, for one day, everything changed. It didn’t matter whether you were a civilian or part of the military. It didn’t matter whether you were a Sunni or an Alawite. All that mattered was that you were out there enjoying the moment in winter.

They say you need to break the ice among people, but in Damascus it was ice that brought people together. On days like these you remember that winter is not a bad thing but it’s the lack of good heating that’s evil. Syrians are not violent, but it’s the lack of good politics that breeds conflicts.

On December the 13th the people of Damascus proved they would not hesitate sharing the slightest joy during the hardest times. Most of these people had the same concerns and worries about food, heating and all sorts of security. These are also the ones who usually pay the price for the regional and international policies in which they never get a vote. Yesterday they demonstrated their own political views. The same image was probably repeated across the country during the last few days. All the flags faded in the fog or were covered under snowflakes, and the country was all united in one neutral color that reflected the real nature and potential of her people.

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