Editor’s Note: This commentary was written by a man who lives in the Shaar district of Aleppo with his wife and six children. It was written with the help of Aleppo journalist Mahmud Abdur-Rahman and has been translated from Arabic and edited for clarity. The family fled the fighting and privations of war in 2012, first to the north and then the west of the country, but could not escape the violence and so returned to the ruins of Aleppo where they continue to face grave danger and hardship. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.
A father of six describes how his children live amid war
Some cry, some laugh, one doesn't understand the concept of natural death
I try very hard to explain to my kids, especially those who were born after the war began, what is going on around them, but it’s not easy.
So I spin tales about battles in the neighborhood between right and wrong and tell them about our revolution and our demands for freedom.
I told them about the demonstrations that swept the streets demanding (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad go, and how he and his army came with tanks and warplanes so more than half of the people fled.
After five years of war, children are not surprised by the sound of the planes. Some of them scream in fear and some of them cry and some of them laugh. They bombard me with a stream of questions.
Who is bombing? And why? And how long they will continue? Where do the planes come from and who pilots them?
My daughter, who is five years old, was born in this war and does not know anything about normal life. She is used to seeing the streets in ruins, full of debris; houses without walls or ceilings; and trees broken or burned.
She has never once asked to go to a park or a playground or the theater, because all of that ended in Aleppo before her birth.
His name is Omran: The bloodied boy in Syria
READ: Images of two Syrian boys reveal so much of the horror
All she knows is that people are dying because of the bombing. She cannot even understand a natural death. When one of the neighbors passed away she asked if he died because of the shelling. I said no. Then barrel bombs? I said no. Then shrapnel? I said no.
So she sat, puzzled, and asked, “Then how did he die?” It was difficult to explain to her how people normally die.
My oldest son, Ibrahim, who is 10 years old, was injured in the legs and abdomen and it almost cost him his life.
To this day he fears every strange sound or loud noise, whether it’s a plane or a motorcycle or a speeding car. Every sound for him appears to be caused by the bombing he was exposed to. He once jumped from the motorcycle I was driving when he heard a loud sound and thought he was being bombed again.
Children of conflict
We tried to console him
A single hour does not pass without me communicating with my family so I may be reassured of their safety. Existence in Aleppo means that you are always in danger. When my son nearly lost his life and his legs, he had only gone to a shop on our street. The shop was hit by an airstrike while Ibrahim was there.
I learned that the raid targeted our neighborhood. I hurried home and learned that Ibrahim did not return from the store. I continued to search for more than an hour, under the rubble of collapsed walls but was unable to find him. Then we started to search the local hospitals where we found him in the emergency department.
I could not believe I found him alive. He was lying covered with dust mixed with blood that filled the wounds on his body and wounds on his legs and abdomen. A few hours after he entered the operating room, he was out of critical condition and began waking up from the anesthesia.
He was crying and repeating unintelligible sentences. We tried to console him, to tell him it’s OK and tell him he’s a hero to overcome this ordeal.
READ: Behind rebel lines in Aleppo
When he woke up totally he did not ask me who bombed him – he knows quite well that it was the Assad regime. He did not know why and did not care. He had seen many children before in his same situation. He was only concerned with the fate of his leg because he could not feel it.
He didn’t dare ask the question because he was scared we would answer, “Yes, they amputated your leg.”
We tried to convince him this was not true, that he would not lose his leg, that it was fine. He wouldn’t accept it. The only solution was to take a picture of his leg on my mobile and show it to him so that he could be sure it was OK.