The difference between what is before a barricade and what lies after it summarises the contrast between life in Syria before the outbreak of the revolution, and life following it.
Before you reach the barricade, the distance you are crossing is loaded with fear and estrangement: the alley where you spent your childhood does not recall you; the street corner where you had your first rendezvous is occupied by a security officer who is armed to the teeth and wearing a grim look on his face.
Barricades move unexpectedly from one place to another, which gives you a sensation of victory once you cross them.
After the barricade, where the area which is theoretically liberated lies, you own the entire place; this was the state of Zamalka during Thursday evening. All the shops shut down in complete compliance with the call to strike. The city would have been completely empty if it wasn’t for small groups of young men who were organising traffic in a street blocked by concrete blocks, in order to make room for protesters.
They were members of the revolutionary committee “The Eternal Childhood”. What distinguishes them from the rest of us is that their beautiful hearts do not know fear, which is why they insisted on lighting fireworks after the demonstration started, ignoring the calls by older people to stop because of the panic the sound of the fireworks could cause.
It has become difficult to distinguish the sound of fireworks from that of bullets, despite the bouquet of colours that fireworks leave in the sky, adding a lively ambiance that we have nearly forgotten. But the fireworks were actually beautiful; they made our minds wander for a few minutes, thinking about a day we are still anticipating.
Walking the few steps that separate the silence of the dark, closed roads from the place of the demonstration was similar to travelling in time. The only similar thrill I can recall is being on the school bus as it made its entry into Lattakia while our gaze was glued to the window pane in search for the blue line of the sea looming from afar.
Upon arrival, we found activists hovering around us, supervising the preparations they had started, while discussing the latest political topics: the Syrian National Council, Ar’our – the prominent opposition Salafi cleric – secularism, as well as the Free Syrian Army.
But the heated conversation did very little to offset the cold of that January evening; that task was reserved for the rituals of the demonstration.
At the heart of the square, the voice of Zamalka’s own Qashush, Hama’s revolution singer who was killed and thrown in the Assi river, resonated while the crowds repeated his chants, creating a cacophony.
The dances made up during the revolution reminded the elderly of what they had been trying to ignore. After a short while, however, the fiery jumping to the tunes of “Damn your soul Hafez” made them forget the many years that separate them from the rest of the crowd.
The female rebels took up part of the front of the square– they were young women who came with their children from various places in Zamalka and Damascus. One of them pointed to an elderly lady standing in the front row, saying that she was the mother of a martyr. The lady then pointed to a large portrait of a handsome young man held by one of the protesters. “This is my son, the martyr,” she said. I put my arms around her after I found my words faltering. I then snuck into the back rows as one of the young female activists gave a speech, while everyone was cheering for her, saying “shamiyya, shamiyya – Damascene”.
We then started cheering for the Syrian cities and villages one at a time, make a tour of our entire country while paying respects to every part of it. But when we got to Darayya, I cried until I lost my voice. I miss Yayha so much. Yahya and his friends were unlike anyone else I have known during the revolution; they were a revolution within a revolution. They were there before it had started, and they will continue to exist after it finishes. Amidst all the contradictions which have left me unable to react, they are the only thing I could clearly read and feel. They never changed with time; they were able to give a little bit peace to my soul, burdened with the daily details which looked nothing like that carnival in Zamalka…
The demonstration was over and the square was empty, gloomy and dark, but it was still within the barricade. The barricade could fly at any minute and land inside of it, or it could turn into hundreds of soldiers and security members ravaging the city, but every time the people of Zamalka will repeat everything they have done since they felt, for the first time, the difference between living before the barricade and living past it, or even without it … hurray for Zamlka and Al Ghuta. Hurray!