Anders Birger | Syrian Border
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Syrian Border

The Dull Sound of Bombing

At the border I meet a photojournalist. He’s rough looking, missing a few teeth and wearing bulletproof gear. He looks at my thin leather jacket and then my blue eyes.
“You don’t have any combat gear? Anything warmer than that?” He asks me with a British accent. I don’t.
“Go with your gut-feeling mate, if you feel scared, turn away. And good luck!”
Right now I’m about to do exactly that. Just turn away and go back to where I came from. Someplace safe.

It’s a five kilometres walk through concrete and barbed wire from Turkey to Syria. Green grass grows on both sides of the road. There’s a mosque, a graveyard and then a few red signs warning trespassers of mines.
In the other end a big, newly printed banner welcomes me to a Free Syria. The empty frame where Bashar al-Assad used to greet visitors from now hangs empty. Someone is yet to fill this gap.
The new bureaucrats are young. Laughingly they throw passports back and forth between the desks and I get my stamp. Right across the border a mini version of a village has been erected by the use of white plastic tents donated by charities. Roughly 6000 people live here.

First stop is the Free Syrian Army’s media centre. Six men hang around, watching European football on a flat-screen television. My passport as well as press card are photocopied, we have tea, they ask me a few question, assign me a press officer and then we are off.

The camp is drenched. Even though there is only a limited number of tents for the many families, many of them stands empty due to flooding. It has been pouring for the last three days and today is the first with a bit of sun. All over clothes hangs to dry and small barriers of sand lies in front of each to try and keep some of the water out.
The refugees in this camp come mostly from the rural area around Aleppo. These people were not rich before the uprising and don’t have a passport. Without passport there’s no access to Turkey. The kids are in sandals and their clothes are drenched. Smilingly they run after me and throw me the V-sign every time I raise the camera. This is hard.

A few hours later the sun begins to set. I decide to head back to Turkey, hoping that re-entry won’t be a problem. As the sun throws its last long shadows and the Turkish half moon shows in the distance, a deep rolling thunder sends me on my way. Even though I’ve never heard real bombs go off before, there’s no doubt in my mind. This is real. This is war…

I spend the day organizing. First of all I need to change hotels. The one I’ve been staying in for the last two nights costs 90 Turkish Lira, about £30. My previous one was only £13. I’m here on my own budget so money matters every single step of the way.

People here are always offering to take me to Aleppo. I’m tempted but at a price of 300 American dollars each way for the 40km drive, it’s simply not possible for me. The steep price also indicates the level of danger. I met an Italian photographer that had been there. While I share a beer with Michele he tells me of his eight hours trip. The way that he grasps his head and looks down while he explains how a bomb landed just two blocks away says it all. It’s not worth going. From his eyes I can see that he is right.

After changing hotels I work for a few hours. The organizational side of things takes up a lot of my time and with the sun setting around four I have to be economical with the hours. When done I grab my camera and head out to locate a NGO run medical clinic for Syrians injured by the war.

On my way there I collect imagery not directly connected to the Syrian conflict. These pictures are meant for another project in my diary build on a scientific exploration of the so-called ‘Arab Felix’ that was sent by Danish king Frederick V in 1776 to explore the Arabian Peninsula.

I come across sheepherders and men blowing out the engines on their Yahama 4-gears. For these people this is just everyday life. But for me as a foreigner this is something absolutely stunning. It’s the power of looking, catching a glimpse and trying to comprehend.

A man in an impeccable suit stops on his motorbike. He talks to me in Turkish. I smile and say ‘hospital’ and he gestures me to get on. He speeds up and the wind in my face feels great.

We get to a three-storage house looking stranded. The wall is crumbling and Syrian number plates identify the cars parked outside. Inside is another world. Four small rooms are packed with hospital beds. In each bed lies someone wounded in one way or the other by the Syrian conflict. Some are FSA soldiers, some aren’t. Some are civilians and others are not. One thing that almost all of them share is that they’re just kids…

While I talk to patients that have lost arms and legs in the constant Aleppo bombing, a guy sees me and starts to yell. He’s angry and aggressive. I’m guessing that he is not Syrian, as he looks different from everybody else here. He shakes one of his crutches at me and I walk away.
“Don’t mind him, he’s just al-Qaeda” the other patients explains.
It’s clear that they don’t like him much. I ask if there are many al-Qaeda warriors in Syria and they tell me that there’s quite a few. Right now they are all fighting Bashar al-Assad, so it’s okay. But when the fighting is over and the winner has to be found they will become a problem.
“I’m Syrian and a Muslim and I am scared of them” one of the wounded tells me.

Date

August 23, 2013

Category

Reportage