Janine di Giovanni writes: Five years is a long time to be frozen in the grip of war. Five years is a primary-school education. Five years is hundreds of thousands of memories in a single human life.
“I have not seen or eaten a tomato in a year,” Ahmed Mujahid, 23, recently told me by Skype. His home in Darayya, Syria, has been bombed several times; now he stays with friends, or wherever he can. “I think it was last summer when I last tasted a tomato, and that was uneatable, because it was green. There are children who have been born in these five years who don’t know the taste of fruit.”
Syria has now endured five years of war. We know the figures that illustrate that time passing: as many as 470,000 dead; nearly five million refugees; some six million displaced inside the battered country. The opposition walked out of peace talks in Geneva last week. No one seemed surprised. Those in Syria have little hope. When you live through war for that long, you become accustomed to the misery, the drudgery, to not having water, electricity or medical care.
After a while, you forget the book you were reading when the war started, or the love affair you had just ended. Your life is put on hold. With a terrible nonchalance, you get used to the sound of bombs falling.
“This is the background music in which we live our lives,” a friend told me in Aleppo in 2012 as a rocket crashed nearby.
Four years later, my friend is dead, so I can’t ask him what background music he hears now.
Something else happens, as well, when wars continue for too long. The rest of the world grows tired of the photographs of the dead, the smashed hospitals and destroyed schools, tired of the statistics on hunger and rape and how many shells have landed in civilian areas. Five years deadens compassion. [Continue reading…]