ALEPPO - Khaldieh sits on a mattress on the floor of a nearly empty room. Memories of her son, who disappeared four years ago, weigh heavy on her face. She manages a frail smile for the camera, and for her two young granddaughters who sit nearby.
“They’re all I’ve got now,” she whispers. “They cry every time their father and mother are mentioned.”
Her daughter-in-law was killed by a mortar shell blast during the siege of East Aleppo in 2016. As for her son, the girls’ father, little is known. Kidnappings have become an increasingly common way for various armed groups to raise money, since conflict broke out in Syria. Khaldieh trembles when she speaks of her son’s disappearance in early 2015, and tries not to go into too much detail.
“I only ever heard my son’s voice once after he was kidnapped when they [his abductors] called us to demand a 1 million Syrian pound ransom [$2,100] ... I am a lone widow; there was no way for me to get that money,” the 60-year-old says, pushing back tears.
As we continue to talk, her two young granddaughters, their clothes old and ill-fitting, bring us pillows and water. One brews coffee, while the other offers a plate of Arab sweets.
“These little ones suffered the most during the siege. It is only through the grace of God that we were able to survive,” Khaldieh explains.
Four years of conflict in Aleppo between 2012 and 2016 reduced the city to rubble. Once Syria’s commercial hub, its residents saw some of the war’s darkest days: electricity cuts became frequent, food supplies were scarce, and there were outbreaks of many diseases. There were nights when Khaldieh and the girls, like many others across the city, would sleep on an empty stomach and wake up with nothing to eat. Their home was destroyed, forcing them into a small apartment, the rent of which they canbarely afford.
There were days when Nour, now 11, had to walk long distances carrying heavy jerry cans to fetch water from the nearest public well. “I know she’s just a little girl and she may have been harassed on the way, but we had no other choice.”
"I do still have hope"
Thankfully, Khaldieh’s family now has a water tank, provided by Oxfam, which connects to the network and stores water for drinking, cooking, and washing. Nour no longer has to make that trip.
Like many others, Khaldieh has lost everything, save for her two young granddaughters whom she struggles to raise. Sherelieson 9000Syrian pounds (approximately $18USD) that a friend of the family sends every month. Everything outside the small apartment where they live stands testament to a war that has torn families and communities apart. Children play in the rubble, jobs are scarce, electricity and water aren’t always available – but slivers of hope remain.
“Seeing the scale of the destruction, you’d think it would be impossible for us to have the life we once did in the city,” Khaldieh looks at me and says, “but here she is, Aleppo, slowly recovering... I do still have hope. I musthave hopethat that day will comeand that my son will return back to his daughters to raise them.”