Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home

Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home
Displaced Syrian, Wissam Diab, 19, plays the oud at his new home, a tent surrounded by luscious plants, which recreates his childhood home, in the town of Atme in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2020

Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home

Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home
  • Fears over the spread of the coronavirus forces Syrian family to move somewhere more secluded

ATME, Syria: Among the olive trees in northwestern Syria, displaced teenager Wissam Diab plucks an oud outside his new home, a tent surrounded by luscious plants.

Inside, there are more tumbling indoor plants and a collection of tiny cacti, as well as dozens of books lined up on a cloth-covered table from authors such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Haruki Murakami and Egypt’s celebrated Naguib Mahfouz, the only Arab to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Syria’s war forced the Diab family to flee their village of Kafr Zita in central Hama province, but when 19-year-old Wissam moved into a tent in northwestern Syria he decided to recreate his childhood home.

“It’s been four years, and we haven’t been able to find a house or go back home,” said the young man with green eyes and shoulder-length brown hair.

“What I’ve done with the tent is me trying to settle down.”

And settle down he did in his own tent in an olive grove in the area of Atme, in Idlib province near the Turkish border, while his parents and two sisters have a separate tent next door.

A patterned stone path leads up to the front door and wooden sticks top the canvas roof.

All around, plants and flowering shrubs thrive in large plastic pots, or in neat rows in the soil of his front garden.

Indoors, he has hung a textile curtain along the tarpaulin wall, and made a small living room with a floor-level sofa.

An ornate red carpet pads out his tent underfoot.

“Our home was like this. We had a garden, we had a library, we had a lot of flowers,” he said. It “was like this, but much, much better.”

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011.

In Idlib, a major rebel bastion, around half of the 3 million inhabitants live in tents or shelters, many after losing their homes in other parts of the country now back under government control.

In October 2016, Diab and his family were forced to flee their home further south, as regime aircraft bombarded the surrounding area in a bloody campaign that killed his only brother.

Scrolling through his smart phone, Diab shows images of their old home in Kafr Zita, which he says was blitzed in the fighting.

The family lived in a displacement camp until eight months ago.

But as fears mounted over the spread there of the novel coronavirus, they decided to move away to somewhere more secluded.

When they ran for their lives four years ago, the Diabs grabbed the bare necessities and Wissam managed to save a few of his precious books.

His collection now contains 85 novels and other books, including translated works by Dostoyevsky or Murakami, he says.

“Here I had to start again from scratch. I bought plants and books, and built the library up again,” he said.

To pass the time, he is also teaching himself to play the oud via tutorials on YouTube.

Diab says many of his neighbors were surprised to see how much energy he had poured into transforming his tent.

But the young Syrian says he fears it will be some time before anybody can go home.

“I know we will be here for a while,” he said.

So in the meanwhile, he looks after his cacti collection and waters his creeping jasmine.


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
Updated 38 min 53 sec ago

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.