The First Bombs in Damascus

I never bought vegetables from his shop, I’d pass by several times a day and would always say hello, always promising myself to buy something from him one day, I never did, there were lots of similar shops and some even closer to my house. Did he mind I often wondered?

Those first days of the war in Damascus were the scariest, we knew it was coming, sometimes we were anxious, other times it seemed it could never happen on such a beautiful day, then almost overnight it arrived, all the shops closed and the streets emptied, gunfire filled the night sky and small mortar bombs landed in the narrow streets around my house, nobody came to collect the rubbish.

The shock and adjustment took a few days to sink in, the kids came out and collected the rubbish, shops were re-stocked and open again, life slowly emerged from behind the gated houses, the war continued but we adjusted, money had to be earned and food had to be put on the table.

The little vegetable shop though stayed shuttered, I walked past often expecting to see him sitting in the patch of sun on the other side of the alley, his pot of tea and cigarettes on a little wooden table.

The old man died under the first bombs, I never knew his name and never bought vegetables from his shop.

IMG_0170cfcvbt
Syrian school children walk past the old mans shop, Damascus 2012.

I lived in Damascus ten years until I was forced to leave my house in the summer of 2013, now in Istanbul I am sharing some of my memories.

More from my Damascus diary; Do You Have Any Weapons Asked the Syrian Officer?

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53 thoughts on “The First Bombs in Damascus

  1. Nice piece.
    I always wanted to live in Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city… made it to live in North Africa, but by then the Syrian thing was underway. It underscores how important it is to experience things when we can. At least I can see Damascus through your eyes, now. Thanks much

    1. Thank you Laurie
      Hopefully one day soon you will have the chance to at least visit.
      The war thankfully has not touched much of the Old City, its a beautiful and charming place.
      When peace comes 🙂

    1. Thank you Liza
      Its a very sad story, for me I chose to be there, the situation for Syrians is obviously much worse.
      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.
      Happy travels
      John

  2. Hi John
    As usual your Syrian memories are both enriching and sad for me. If I have to be honest, one of the things that surprised me the most of this post was your phrase “no one came to collect the rubbish”. I’ve never seen war, or unrest. I’ve never seen an urbane, sophisticated human ecosystem going to the pits as quickly as Syria’s did. In fact, come think of it, I’d be as surprised you all were to see the rubbish piling up. It’s an image that really struck me.

    Thanks

    Fabrizio

    1. Thank you Fabrizio
      Its such a difficult subject to write about and I always worry about the impression I may give.
      War does bring out the worst in humanity, it does all show the other side.
      When the first bombs fell and we knew now the war had arrived few people went outside but soon the realization was that whatever is happening we have to deal with it, which meant different things to different people, the neighbors took it upon themselves to move the rubbish since the local government was unable, all over the country where regular Syrian people have had the chance to work, rebuild and carry on they have, there is a very worthwhile civil society movement but sadly this is overshadowed by those fighting.
      Hoping for better times.
      Thank you again
      John

  3. Hi John. I just found your blog and found it really interesting. I always wanted to come to Damascus after seeing some pictures I saw before war began. I kept postponing and at the end, I never got chance to travel there. Well, now, I am not sure when I can come to see how the country is. Even If I have chance in the future, that must not be Damascus that I always wanted to visit in the past. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Regards from Istanbul.

    1. Hi Nurul
      Thank you for dropping by and your comment.
      Syria will not be the same again I know but Damascus is largely undamaged-at least the more historical center, the suburbs are decimated, peace will come and Syria will endure and maybe you will have the chance, I hope.
      I hope life in Istanbul is good for you?
      Ramadan Kareem
      John

  4. Wow, what a beautiful thing that you shared this memory and in your own way have honored this unknown man’s life – that he was noticed and mattered and missed. So sorry you endured that and all the sadness of violence.

  5. Very powerful – thank you for sharing your stories, for keeping a memory of this old man and his shop alive and for reminding us of the everyday horrors of war.

  6. Reblogged this on AirGap Anonymity Collective and commented:
    Those first days of the war in Damascus were the scariest. The little vegetable shop though stayed shuttered, I walked past often expecting to see him sitting in the patch of sun on the other side of the alley, his pot of tea and cigarettes on a little wooden table. The old man died under the first bombs, I never knew his name and never bought vegetables from his shop.

  7. You have perfectly described the impact of war on ordinary people, so very sad, unnecessary, futile – “Those first days of the war in Damascus were the scariest. The little vegetable shop though stayed shuttered, I walked past often expecting to see him sitting in the patch of sun on the other side of the alley, his pot of tea and cigarettes on a little wooden table. The old man died under the first bombs, I never knew his name and never bought vegetables from his shop.”

  8. Wow, you incredibly talented man. Very thankful that you linked through my blog, your entries are incredibly well written and your photography has left me speechless.
    Thank you!

    1. Oh Katie thank you so much for such kind words, thankfully not quite speechless 🙂
      Really this kind of feedback is an inspiration-thank you.
      Where in the world are you these days? Last I heard a city of Sin?
      Cheers
      John

      1. Hi John! I’ve actually just left the middle east, I spent some time in Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and Iran – I’m a bit behind on my post. I’ve just arrived in Southern India, spending a bit of time refueling with some Yoga… It’s a wonderful little area here. I can’t wait to write all about it. Wishing you a great day. I’ll Hopefully be more active online in the coming weeks. It can be hard to connect while traveling sometimes.

    1. I am doing my best to make the blog interesting and informative at the very least. Am sure I am not amazing but love you saying it, really thank you.
      You are indeed fearless Ruth
      I hope all is good with you
      Cheers
      John

  9. I found this so, so sad. I went to Damascus for a weekend just before the troubles started. It was such a beautiful and interesting place. We went for the day to Maaloula where we went to saint Tecla’s convent, which had been started in the first century. We used to joke that it was the same nuns who were still living there, they looked so old. But now they have gone, where? Are they still alive? It is appalling that so much history can be wiped out, so randomly, so cruelly. I know these thoughts are not original, but nevertheless…

    1. Thank you Basia
      Maalula did have some bad times but as far as I know things there are okay and am sure the Nuns are safe.
      I would often go, a quick trip to buy their wine 🙂 the best in Syria

  10. Thank you for calling, and have enjoyed reading some of your writing and seeing the great images. Hoping to keep your interest with more posts on travelling in Ireland and the Western Isles , Scotland.

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