"After three years, not much remained of my hometown."
On November 14, 2016, my father and I went to visit our hometown of Taybat al-Imam after the opposition forces finally took control of it. We had been away for three years.
When we arrived, I was surprised by the destruction of homes, schools and public buildings alike. We didn’t visit what remained of our house. It had been one of the first to be destroyed.
As we walked slowly through the town, the air raid wardens announced the presence of Russian aircraft in the sky.
My father and I ran to hide in the basement of a mosque and when we entered we heard the sound of a small child crying. She was with her parents and elder sister, cradled in her mother’s lap crying and saying “I don’t want to die!” as if she was an adult who knew everything about death.
I took off my niqab as I thought she was afraid of it. We tried to calm the child and talked to her parents, Saleh and his wife. The little girl and her mother were both crying and the father was shaking. The elder sister was shocked and silent.
The mother told me that she and her husband had been forced to stay in the town due to poverty. They had barely enough money to feed their daughters so could not even think about leaving. The family was one of the many who had remained trapped, hungry and frightened under regime bombardment.
When the shelling subsided, we went out to see the damage. We discovered that the aircraft had hit the town museum, which housed beautiful decorated artefacts and paintings from ancient times. The museum had been turned into rubble.
We continued walking until we got to the Grand Mosque in the town square. It had been turned into rubble too. Even mosques are not spared from the regime’s hatred and firepower.
We spent a long time walking around and didn’t see anyone else on the streets, except for one young man who passed by and took us to a basement where people were living. There I met one of my former neighbours and we cried together over the condition we had ended up in.
At noon, the shelling intensified. We couldn’t leave town and so were forced to spend the night.
The locals couldn’t give us anything to eat but dry bread with a bit of rice and pickles. The blockade they live under meant they couldn’t get fresh bread or other basic foodstuffs.
In the evening, the children finally slept, their eyes red with crying from fear and hunger. The food they had received hadn’t been enough to satisfy a kitten. The sound of destruction, missiles and barrel bombs was deafening.
I remembered when the shabiha [regime militia] were operating in the town after the war first began. They used to abduct people in order to make money out of demanding ransoms. They also used to wait till local farmers finished harvesting so they could “share” the results.
I recalled what happened to Mohammed al-Affan, a local pistachio farmer, who the shabiha prevented from gathering his entire year’s harvest. He committed suicide. His wife, who stayed in town, was killed by Russian aircraft which bombed her home and destroyed it over her head.
We spent a terrible night, filled with the sounds of shelling and destruction. The regime and its soldiers had left our town, but they hadn’t finished with their killing and destruction.
In the morning, I went outside on the street and had a flashback to when the streets were busy, filled with the sounds of cars, passers-by and traders selling their goods. Now the people had left, and only death and destruction remained.
Nargis al-Hamawia is a 31-year-old widow from Hama with four children. She has taken part in knitting and nursing trainings in the Idlib countryside, where she currently lives.