Our source for this report is Sami al-Rifaie who, by his own account, is an activist and citizen-journalist living in Qusayr. Sami al-Rifaie is not his real name. He recently wrote about the bombardment of his hometown and a Christian friend who escaped from Syria. His latest contribution is about conditions in a makeshift hospital
The Syrian government restricts independent reporting within the country, so we invite Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for personal safety reasons, some contributors do not use their real names. Texts are edited for clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
Sami al-Rifaie in Qusayr, October 23
I woke up one morning to the sounds of the usual heavy pounding of the tanks shelling our town. I got out of bed to wash my face but before I got to the bathroom, I heard someone screaming from the makeshift hospital next door.
I ran and saw one of the male nurses drenched in blood and looking very upset.
“There are many wounded people!” he said, looking around for the photographer who would document the fighter’s injuries. “Where’s Trad?”
I went looking for the photographer, but when I found him he looked pale and exhausted. “Sami,” he told me, “your brother has been shot!”
“They used desk lamps to light the body of my brother, and I could tell that the four men treating him did not have much experience…” – Sami in Qusayr
For a moment, I did not comprehend it. My heart started pounding like the sounds of the shelling. I lost sense of time and place as images of my younger brother rushed through my mind like old home movies as I rushed to the makeshift hospital.
“Don’t worry,” the male nurse said, and I thought, how on earth could they tell me not to worry?
I forced my way into the operating room and saw four nurses surrounding my brother, Rami. He was lying on a mattress, unconscious.
Surgery under desk lamps
The room was gloomy. A sandbag was stuffed in the only window. They used desk lamps to light the body of my brother, and I could tell that the four men treating him did not have much experience, but they were doing their best.
There were no doctors in the room. This was a makeshift hospital as most of the clinics have been destroyed. A few doctors remain in the town, but most were forced to leave for what the government called “safer” places. Some who were harassed by the government for treating wounded civilians earlier in the protests decided to escape to other countries. Some doctors would hide in the fields or nearby mountains during raids and shellings and then return to treat the wounded. They found that their clinics had been destroyed by government forces.
As a result, many have fled and a few courageous ones remain; especially these nurses, who are now trying to carry out surgical procedures that only skilled surgeons should perform.
“…[Rami] made me promise him not to tell our parents or anyone about his injuries because he did not want them to worry about him.” – Sami in Qusayr
I wanted to push them aside and hug Rami. At that moment, I felt that Rami was the closest person to me in the whole world; I felt at that moment how great it was to have a brother.
But they made me wait outside. They didn’t think his injury was serious and they were right.
One hour later, I learned that my brother would be alright and that the bullet that pierced his body did not hit any vital organs.
I spent the night by his side as he rested on that mattress. He was under the influence of anesthesia, but he made me promise him not to tell our parents or anyone about his injuries because he did not want them to worry about him.
I took Rami home the next day.
Rami had shelled the wrong house and escaped
Rami was actually Lieutenant Rami, formerly at least. I had not seen much of him during his four years at the military academy, but since his defection we’ve gotten to know each other better. I could not be more proud of him after his courageous decision to defect from the regime’s forces and join the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Rami is now even performing prayers once again and I felt a huge change in his personality.
“The officer gave Rami the coordinates but Rami knew many people would die, so instead he told his tank commander to shell an empty house next door” – Sami in Qusayr
Rami graduated from the military academy last year as second lieutenant and served for several months in the army.
One day, his commanding officer ordered Rami’s unit to shell a house full of civilians. The officer gave Rami the coordinates but Rami knew many people would die, so instead he told his tank commander to shell an empty house next door.
When his superior officers questioned his decision, Rami insisted that as the field commander he made the right decision. He got off with a warning, but he felt a huge change in treatment from his superiors.
From that day, Rami felt that he was being watched. His commander refused to let him come home on leave. When, finally, he got permission to visit a friend in another city, he came home instead and joined the local FSA brigade.
Falling into a trap in Burhaniya
The residents of neighboring Burhaniya appeared to be neutral regarding the Syrian revolution. They helped neither side, so we minded our own business and they minded theirs.
One day, we learned that two FSA officers from Qusayr had been captured by some shabiha who had temporarily occupied Burhaniya.
Rami’s FSA commander contacted some people from that town, who promised that the two FSA officers were safe and that they could come and get them.
Rami and some other FSA fighters – who were also good friends from the military – went on the rescue mission to save the two officers.
A few truckloads of FSA fighters drove to Burhaniya and were welcomed by the villagers. But all of a sudden, all hell broke loose and shabiha were shooting at the FSA soldiers from all directions.
Meeting resistance, the shabiha captured some local men hoping that this way they would get out of town alive. My brother and another fighter were injured in the shoot-out with the shabiha.
When the shabiha finally got away, they released some of their captives but kept a few villagers until their own officers, who did not manage to leave town, were safely returned. Only later did it become known that earlier in the day the shabiha had executed the two FSA fighters they were holding captive.
Raised by a mother of the revolution
I was worried about how my mother would take the news of Rami’s injury. She is always worried about us.
Rami felt much better now and was recovering well, but when she saw him she started crying inconsolably. She just could not help it.
My mother has always been worried about our safety but when peaceful protests began in Qusayr last year, she would yell at us whenever one of us missed a demonstration.
I think she could not be more proud of us today and I bet she is willing to send her eldest son to the FSA if necessary. My youngest brother is a first-year university student. He joined the FSA and is now fighting on the front lines along with his friends.
“…we cannot stop at any cost; we cannot betray those who sacrificed their lives for our sake.” – Sami in Qusayr
I sometimes feel hollow inside because news of someone’s death or injury does not leave the same lasting effect it once used to, and that makes me feel a bit ashamed of myself.
Therefore, we all try to keep our wits during this crisis; we try to keep reminding ourselves that our martyrs did not die in vain but for a noble cause; for us to live free. That is what gives us hope, that is why we cannot stop at any cost; we cannot betray those who sacrificed their lives for our sake. Their memory gives us even more incentive to continue what they had started.
When a Free Syrian Army fighter or an activist is martyred, tens more fill their place.
Besides, what more have we got to lose! Assad and his forces think that by destroying our houses, burning our fields and killing our women and children, they will scare us off.
There is simply no way we can back out after what we have lost and experienced from this brutal regime.
We welcome your comments about Sami’s story further below.
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David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.