Madaya: Life in a besieged Syrian city | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 28.09.2016
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Middle East

Madaya: Life in a besieged Syrian city

In the besieged Syrian city of Madaya, 40,000 people are fighting for survival. Rajaan Bourhan is one of them. He talks to DW about living on 200 grams of rice a day and going without electricity or gas.

DW: Madaya has been under siege for over a year now. Some aid finally arrived over the weekend for the first time in six months. What was most needed and what was the reaction among the people still living in the city?

Rajaii Bourhan: There is word for this in Arabic: We say "eid," a day of celebration. The UN brought us sugar and flour - those were the most important things. Now we can finally bake bread again. We have been waiting for that for a very long time. We have nothing apart from rice and bulgur. The supplies should last for a month to a month and a half. We ration our stock so that we have food to eat for as long as possible. Otherwise, they also brought us chickpeas, medicine and solar battery chargers for our phones.

At the beginning of the year, there were many reports of a hunger crisis and dozens of people reportedly starved to death. What is the situation like now that aid has arrived?

Life in Madaya is kind of like in the former Soviet Union: We all eat the same thing. Each person gets 200 - 300 grams of rice or bulgur every day and it is cooked without salt or oil.

Sometimes I just don't eat anything and go to bed hungry because I can no longer stand rice. I used to pump iron. You could even say I was bulky. I weighed 93 kilos (205 pounds). Now I am quite thin because I have lost so much weight.

Are there doctors or a hospital?

There is no hospital but there is a medical center. We have a dentist who is actually still studying and a veterinarian but no normal doctors. But the two of them do their best and they take care of the people.

How would you describe everyday life in a besieged city? Do people still work? What do residents do all day?

We no longer have any electricity and there is no work but everyone has a hobby. I love history so that is why I read lots of books. That is all I can do. My friends are all no longer in Madaya; that is why I am alone most of the time.

What are the things you miss the most about your old life?

University. I would really love to study again. I studied economics in Damascus, but I had to leave the university in 2011 because I had taken part in the protests against the regime and was arrested. After two months, when I was free again, I did not have the courage to go back and I lived in my hometown, Al-Zabadani. Then we fled. I have been living in Madaya with part of my family for two years now.

Syrien Rajaai Bourhans tägliche Essensportion

People in Madaya have about 200 grams of rice or bulgur per day - about what's pictured here

What worries you the most at the moment?

We urgently need fuel. Winter is coming, and we don't have anything to cook or heat. We burn plastic to cook. It gets really cold in the winter. We have blankets, but we need electricity and diesel. The UN has promised to return soon and bring some. We hope they come before winter.

Is there any way to get out of the city?

We are surrounded by the army and Hezbollah. I can see many checkpoints from home. Many people have tried to leave Madaya and have been killed or lost a leg because there are so many landmines. Maybe we will be evacuated sometime, like the people in Daraya, and taken to the north.

Even though I do not study any more, live in a house that does not belong to me, eat the same thing all the time and have made no progress in my life, I still do not want to leave my country. It would be as though they triumphed over us.

Rajaii Bourhan is 26 years old and lives in the besieged Syrian city of Madaya.

Rahel Klein conducted the interview.

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