Fatima, a 64-year-old grandmother from Hasakeh, remembers when the first electricity connection came to this city. The artificial light was exciting, a novelty.
Today, her family has reverted back to old times: with only one hour of electricity per day, they must rely on her old-world ingenuity to survive. Food and water are kept in burlap sacks so they stay cool. With wood supplies running low, fires for cooking are created with matches and used books.
“I used to collect small pieces of wood with my neighbors in order to make a fire for cooking, but we are not living in a forest, it’s a city, and the wood is limited,” Fatima said. “When we ran out, I remembered that I had some math, science and Arabic textbooks left from my children back when they were at school. Nobody needs those books anymore as most of my children are abroad. Unfortunately I had no choice other than to use them to make a fire. I hated to do that, but what else could I have done?”
While affected, Hasakeh, in northeastern Syria, has not felt the full brunt of this country’s war. But like all areas, it’s been hit by shortages of basic supplies like fuel.
Manal, Fatima’s 33-year-old daughter, has not yet left Hasakeh. She is the only one of Fatima’s children to stay. Her husband does not want to lose his house and job, but the worsening quality of life is taking its toll on his wife.
“I cannot take this life anymore. We live in the worst conditions that you can ever imagine,” she said. “It’s true we do not have rockets falling down on our houses every day, but we still need basic human supplies, like water, gas and electricity. Food is too expensive.”
Manal has a son and a daughter. She did not want to have more children because of the family’s deteriorating financial situation. But now she’s eight months pregnant. Initially, she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, but then she changed her mind, she said, because “it made me so happy and [brought me] back to life. I feel I have a reason to live again. This baby is giving me self-esteem.”
Aria, Manal’s 14-year-old daughter, rises at dawn each day to study for primary school exams. Despite the conflict, which has cut off many Syrian children from traditional education, her mother says the exam results “are a big issue in Syria as the results decide your future.”
Aria studies until dusk to take advantage of the natural light, working around regular power cuts.
“Before the sunset, I take my book to the rooftop of the house to benefit from the last bit of sunlight,” she said. Like a typical 14-year-old, she happily noted that after sundown, she does not have to study: “My mother told me studying with a candle is bad for your eyes.”
While Manal and her daughter stay, Fatima, the family’s matriarch, has since joined her sisters and other relatives in Kurdistan. Until Fatima is back, Manal said, they will be using fewer books, the fire serving one less person.