all along the road to Aleppo are the images of president Bashar, in remarkably vivid colours – as if they have been here not so long yet

NB: not all the pictures are equally sharp, I am afraid, as many have been taken from a driving bus with a partly malfunctoning camera. But you’ll get the idea.

Only a few days ago we drove through Quneitra, seeing the remains of the damage done by the Israeli army 50 years ago on display. The Syrian government had decided to leave this as it is, as a reminder of the savage tactics of the Israelis.

sheep in the fields, at the beginning of our journey

We are driving north, and soon we hit to motorway to Aleppo. The countryside is, as so often in Syria, pretty dry, populated by a few sheep with their herders, and at one stage lots of pistachio trees. Our tour guide explains that these are the famous Aleppo pistachios, that need to be harvested in July or August, but only after full moon – this will open the nuts, with a small, audible crack.

soon this becomes the dominant image: destroyed villages and town

some of the buildings damaged, others just emptied, it looks; nobody is living here

Slowly, or rather abruptly, actually, we notice a change in that countryside. No more pistachio trees, no more nothing really. There are small towns all along the motorway, but there is nobody living here anymore, on both sides houses are empty, I mean, without windows or doors, no curtains, no cars parked outside, no people. No dogs. No life. Many of the houses have been damaged, others have been shot to pieces, it looks. Roofs have collapsed, concrete floors have come down. The factories we encounter are damaged, or shot to pieces. Shot to pieces by the Syrian army, I presume – we get no explanation from our tour guides, except that there needs to be a buffer zone between the road to Aleppo and the rebels, who are holed up in Idlib, to the left – the west – of us, not that far away. And to the right, I guess: indeed, we cannot visit Ebla, one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in Syria, a mere two kilometres off the road to the east. Military zone? Rebel-held territory? I don’t know.

a village or small town, as so many along the road to Aleppo: deserted if not destroyed

factories have not been spared, either

more damage to industrial infrastructure

this used to be a shopping centre

and this used to be a fuel service station

But looking around here, from the safety of the bus, this is a war zone, pretty shocking, pretty ugly, despite the tinted windows of the bus. And you know? This is not different from Quneitra, possibly worse even. Except that this is not a foreign power doing this to the enemy, but a state doing that to its own citizens. Or is there a foreign power involved? Are those Iranian flags, we see occasionally?

agricultural infrastructure, too

and those flags, they look remakably like Iranian flags…

Yet, our tour guides do not deem it necessary to comment on this. As one of my group members observes, not so long ago we were happily chatting about the famous pistachio trees, now there is complete silence. Prompting them the next day we get a little more info. The people in the towns that we saw empty along the road, they have moved to their other house, or they have left for abroad. Matter of the fact. I don’t think I should be asking much further, the details will remain the big white elephant in the room for the rest of the trip.

everywhere along the road, new Bashar portraits

The check points here are more serious, there is a grim atmosphere. The list of passengers is always being checked, but now also the luggage compartments of the bus are searched, and a soldier even enters the bus. You just feel the tension, much more than at the earlier check points. Every other lamp post supports a picture of Bashar, the president. Where in other parts of the country these were rather faded, over time, here they are in bright colours – they have not been hanging here long.

another apartment building shot to pieces, outskirts of Aleppo

this is the Aleppo suburb where the school is

some of the deaf children

obviously happy with the visitors, or at least happy that they have a school

We reach the outskirts of Aleppo, which is no better. Buffer zone or not, here whole neighbourhoods are empty, houses equally destroyed. Except that in between all this, we visit a church that houses a school for deaf children. In the middle of the ravages of war, a really nice project, for kids that otherwise would completely miss the boat in this country, that by itself doesn’t provide these facilities. There are about 150 children here, and 28 teachers on a total of 40 staff. The children learn sign language, the Arabic version, and for the rest all the other things schools teach, physics, maths, languages, including English and French. And at the end they do state exam, and many pass, with flying colours. In addition, where possible the children get hearing aids, and speech therapy. Great and uplifting project. Within this bleak reality of destruction.

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One Response to 11. the road to Aleppo

  1. Thea Oudmaijer says:

    The school is the only positive thing over here????????????

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