Monday, December 21, 2015
I still bear scars of shell ... I can never go back home
The dramatic dent sheared into ex-soldier Khaled’s forehead will likely be a permanent reminder of the rocket attack on his Homs home that left him in a coma for a month.
So are the three shards of shrapnel left lodged in his body, as well as the screaming fits that still afflict him even as he has taken refuge in neighbouring Lebanon.
The 24-year-old made it across the border being carried over their heads by friends wading through the chest-height waters of the connecting Nahr al-Kebir river.
He has since been joined, crammed into a basic shack, by his sister Amneh, 22, and her five children - Mohomad, eight, seven-year-old Ahmad, Yamama, four, two-year-old Soud and Abdelhodi, three months.
Khaled’s injuries came when his Homs home was shelled by the Syrian regime, leaving him unconscious and then in a coma for the following month.
‘I can’t remember much of what happened,’ he said.
‘There were massacres all over the place and finally our village got hit too - it was laid to waste.’
That attack happened three years ago but he still bears the scars both physically and mentally.
‘I spent 18 days in hospital but then for five months I couldn’t even walk. It was a struggle to talk too,’ he said.
‘I still have panic attacks and fits. I feel disturbed, frustrated, so much of the time.
‘I can’t bend down without being in pain. I can’t work. I used to paint and decorate - windows, doors, furniture - but that’s not possible anymore. I just don’t know how to cope.
‘Doctors say still have at least three bits of shrapnel, or broken bones, inside my head.
‘Sometimes when there’s so much noise I begin foaming from my nose and finding myself screaming. Then afterwards it’s like I can’t remember any of it.’
Such experiences are equally traumatic for his sister, still haunted by finding him appearing to be dead and resistant to her anxious attempts to wake him.
Amneh said: ‘He’d passed out while sleeping but I thought he’d died. We’re worried for him all the time, every time he goes to sleep - and doctors say we have to pay special attention in case he swallows his tongue.
‘My eldest is scared all the time too. He won’t even go to the bathroom on his own, while all my children barely have any appetite even though there’s so little to eat anyway.
‘They’ve stopped playing. They’re physically tired all the time.’
Khaled is resigned to remaining in Lebanon, rather than even harbouring any hopes of returning to Syria - even if Assad’s regime is toppled and a peace plan is implemented.
‘I will never go back. I saw all my friends killed in front of my eyes.
‘I saw my neighbours, women and children crying. I couldn’t cope with going back there.
‘If anyone could tell me I could simply have the operation I need, and it would be a success, I’d love to go to foreign country just for that.
‘I wouldn’t stay - after all, I wouldn’t know anyone there and I don’t want to be far away from my family. But I can’t even see that happening just now.
‘We don’t want Assad and we don’t want Daesh. We just want someone to intervene and make peace, not war.’