When in Homs

(This piece is part of an ongoing series  on Beyond Compromise about Homs. In memory of the city, its brave people and its countless dead.)

Around ten years ago, my older cousin and I went to the stadium to watch our favorite team in Syria, Alkrama, play a friendly game. As kids, we were very happy to be there chanting with the crowd. Although I was 13 at the time, I knew that there were limits to what could be said in public and I knew, as we used to say, that the walls had ears. If someone ever said something that crossed the red line, I knew, even at that age, that I should get as far away as possible from them– even if that were to happen in a crowded place like a stadium. On some occasion, almukhabrat would enter the stadium and arbitrarily beat people up for reason no one knew. In response to these random acts of violence, people would sometimes shout “showaya”, which could be translated into trash or Shabeeha in today’s terms. I was taught to never say “showaya”. But these sparks of outrage from the public towards the state show that oppression and resistance to them, in various forms, preceded March 2011.

On the day of that particular game, everything was calm and peaceful up until the end of the match. I even saw security guards opening the gates for the fans to go down to the field after the game ended, which appeared to me as nice gesture. I ran with my cousin to take some pictures before it was too late. My cousin and I ran to the corner to photograph the entire field. As my cousin was preparing to take one of me, I felt the ground shaking under me as though an earth quack was happening. My cousin, who was preparing to take the picture, started running.

I glanced behind me and saw that everyone was running toward me, where the only gate out of the stadium and away from the security forces was located. I realized then that I also needed to run, I didn’t know exactly why I was running but I ran and feared as though I did. I didn’t know where I was going. In fact, I didn’t have a choice except to follow the lead of approaching crowd. My cousin was way ahead of me. As I was running out of the stadium, I saw a security guard holding a stick and beating people as they tried to escape, striking both kids and adults, making no distinction between the two. I was running towards him and considering how I might avoid being hit. I felt the pain before I was actually hit and wanted to cry – I was a kid. The closer I got to him the more pain I felt. By God’s mercy, I was able to escape, I don’t how. My eyes were closed.

I believe some other kid got hit instead of me, but I felt his pain.

I want to say sorry to that kid. I hope he is still alive. After escaping the monsters, I was out of the stadium. My cousin was waiting for me; we kept running for no reason. We were happy to survive and still terrified, we were laughing and crying.

Our neighborhood was only a few blocks from the stadium, yet we took a different route to get home – a much longer one! What if the walls told on us?

-Anas Attal

Anas Attal is from Homs, Syria. He was born in 1990. He has a degree in in International Relation and wishes to pursue a law degree in the near future. Currently, he works at Michigan State University as a program coordinator for the Arabic department.

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