Frustration, fear and powerlessness on the one hand, hope and a new perspective on the other. How do people in Syria deal with the conflict, how has it changed everyday life? Adonis Alkhaled reports.
“Before the conflict, I earned about 700 Syrian lira, and I was satisfied with that. Now I make 10,000 lira a day, but it’s not enough. I have lost confidence in the local economy,” says Samer, a taxi driver in Damascus. He fled Qudsiya when fighting broke out in the rural suburbs and went to the capital.
No money to cook with
Since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, the Syrian currency has lost about 90 percent of its value. In addition, many daily necessities have become scarce, which is driving up prices even more.
Most Syrians are therefore forced to economize in everyday life. Even cooking has become a luxury for many. “I started using lower quality rice and worse food. At the moment I can only eat meat once every three weeks,” says Jasmin, a woman in her 40s and mother of three.
Now she has to pay Damascus rental prices for her apartment after escaping from the suburbs to the city: “Eating bad food is better than living on the streets.”
Dancing while at war
Not everyone thinks about saving money. A quick glance at the city’s nightlife will reveal that there are bars and cafes than before.
“Put money away? Till when? Until I die? No, you only live once,” says Taim, who does not want to give his real name. He refuses to discuss politics. “I go to parties to drink cheap vodka and dance to live music with friends.” The 23-year-old regularly posts videos of these parties on Facebook.
One such bar is called Mazzika in Damascus’ old town. There Taim celebrates with his friends until 4 o’clock in the morning, and afterwards they drive home by car.
“It’s dangerous, but your fears diminish over time. Maybe you’ll get used to it.” Taim laughs after almost every sentence. Perhaps it is the only way to ignore the apocalyptic vision of his future.
Since the war began, there’s been little reliable data on the state of the Syrian economy. But one thing is clear, entire professions and industries have vanished. Furniture stores, once ubiquitous, have closed down. Tourism and travel agencies have also disappeared.
The black economy, however, is flourishing. Transport firms move goods back and forth between the rebel areas and government districts, giving bribes to soldiers and representatives of all parties to the conflict, so they can organize secret journeys. They then profit by selling scarce goods, such as gas for cooking, to the highest bidder.
The government, on the other hand, tries to play up positive news: “Syria’s pharmaceutical exports have increased, and four new pharmaceutical laboratories were approved in 2017,” the government newspaper Al-Thawra cites an employee of the Ministry of Health as saying. But you cannot verify if this information is correct.
Startups at war
“The drowning man finds hope in a single straw,” — so says a Syrian proverb. Despite being in the middle of a civil war, some Syrians attempt to create something new. Young people launch startups.
“Geographically, the startups are limited to Damascus, Aleppo and, more recently, Homs. But they only exist if the funding is provided by international organizations, and even then they are only small experiments,” explains Maen Elhemmeh, who now works as a project manager in Germany.
He estimates the number of startups across Syria to be around 500. The lack of legal structures, to allow crowdfunding or the collection of donations, is a problem for their founders. “This makes success very unlikely,” says Elhemmeh.
Opportunities for women
Since the war began, many academics have left the country. While it is a loss for the Syrian economy, it also offers opportunities.
“Many Syrians have emigrated to Europe and some of them now have good career opportunities there,” says Elhemmeh. “If the situation in Syria improves, a significant amount of know-how will return to the country.”
In Syria, women now work in professions that used to be exclusively the domain of men. During a series of surveys on Syrian companies, the local newspaper Al-Ayyam found that women make up 58.3 percent of the workforce. The newspaper is considered to be close to the government, but the Syrian Statistical Office does not recognize the survey results.
In the coastal town of Tartous, women today work as street vendors, minibus drivers or car mechanics, while in Damascus they’re often taxi drivers. This is a completely new phenomenon. The opportunity has arisen because many men have fled, died, are in prison, or have been arrested by the regime or the opposition. Many women now have to support their families on their own.
Whether this will strengthen the equality of women in Syria when the war is over is one of many unanswered.