Aleppo Rewind

stanley greene

Pubblichiamo un reportage da Aleppo di Francesca Borri. (Foto: Stanley Greene, courtesy Francesca Borri.)

di Francesca Borri

“Tranquilla”, mi dice Ahmed, mentre attraversato l’ultimo checkpoint entriamo in città, un colpo di mortaio che subito scrolla l’aria. “Ora che sei ad Aleppo, sei al sicuro”. E abbassa la testa per schivare un cecchino.

La mia prima volta qui, poco più di un anno fa, sotto l’elmetto non avevo neppure il velo. Poi, dopo il velo, un giorno mi hanno chiesto una maglia lunga. Dopo la maglia lunga, un abito fino alle caviglie. E adesso anche una fede al dito: “perché devi sempre camminare vicino un uomo: l’uomo a cui appartieni”. E perché ora che dominano gli islamisti, e la priorità, per molti, non è Assad ma la shari’a, ora che ai crimini del regime si sommano i crimini dei ribelli, ai giornalisti è vietato l’accesso – di 18 di noi, al momento, non si hanno tracce. E quindi il mio elmetto, oggi, è un velo. Il mio antiproiettile un nijab. Perché l’unica, per infilarsi ad Aleppo, è passare per siriana. Clandestina. Niente domande, per strada, neppure un taccuino, una penna. “Ma non è questione di velo”, mi dice una donna che mi riconosce immediata dalla pelle, dalle mani: “per sembrare siriana, oggi devi essere sudicia, smunta e disperata”.

Il lavoro delle donne

It sounds like a jet approaching, and everybody, it's a matter of instants, stare at each other, your words that choke in your mouth; but it is only a gate that slides and closes. A hatchet chopping firewood is a kalashnikov burst, the footstep of a woman's heel is a sniper shot. We look normal, in Aleppo. Instead, fear is a cancer that wears us out from within.Eight months after the beginning of the battle, one thing only hasn't changed, here: Assad jets are so inaccurate that they never bomb around the front line - they might miss the rebels, and hit the loyalists. And if the favourite target once was the Shifa Hospital, now that its walls are but powder, its medical staff a flower and a framed photo, the most dangerous places are bread lines. They are just kids and women, today. In two hundreds, they compete for a bunch of boxes with some olive oil, some rice, chickpeas. Sugar. They have missing fingers, missing ears, in the sharp wind of this winter's remnants they scarcely wear a threadbare shirt and a few else, their bones that sculpt their skin. Mothers notice you, notice a stranger, and try to leave their newborn in your arms, they say: Bring him with you. Save him.It's starving, Aleppo, swept away by a typhus fever epidemic, in the streets people sell everything, it seems they scattered on the ground their entire living room, teapots, TVs phones, tableclothes, light switches, everything - to be precise: bits of everything: for Aleppo is but rubble, now, someone sells you the stroller, someone else its wheels. Ibtisam Ramdan is 25, she lives with her three children and tubercolosis in a slide of sewer under the river's bank, the door that is a hen-house gate, the fireside a paint's can, and these three children, in the dark of a rancid corner, crying and coughing, they cough so loudly and they cry so desperately that they wheeze - the left-overs of some rice on a cardboard's scrap: they don't even have dishes: and anyway here, for the time being, there's nothing edible. And like them, dozens of other families; all the river's bank is faults and hovels, they aren't sheds, they aren't caves, they are but bits of things, metal sheets, stones, planks, plastic rags - piles, piles of bits of things, at some point, simply, you realize you are inside, amid women, kids, old men, maimed and mute, you walk one centimeter from them and they not even look at you, blackened from the stoves' coal, their feet in the mud. They have but rain water, their skin dotted of infections, even cats, here, are sick, while a jet, suddenly, snarls over your head, you move a shutter, and you find a man who is dying from leukaemia, you move another shutter, and you find a man who is flaying a rat - you ask a question, and your translator who burst into tears and tells you Excuse me, but I have no longer words, I have no longer words for all this.It's so starving, Aleppo, so exhausted that missiles strike, and people continue to live amid the debris. As in Ard al-Hamra, 117 dead - 17 of whom are still here, scattered under you. The alive pop from collapsed stairs, collapsed ceilings, one by one, from crumbled pavements, butts of pillars, a carpet that hangs from a chandelier: they have only what they wear, in the Nokia of Fouad Zytoon, 36, the picture of a head hurled on a shelf, it's his daughter. They insist on telling you everything in detail, Do you want the names of the victims?, they ask you, I got the complete list, and you feel ashamed to say it, but no, you don't need the names, the number is enough, and anyway it's late, and Aleppo is thousand stories and this is just a line of your article, it's late, really, and anyway you are tired, and dusty, and you are scared of this jet over your head, that keeps on circling, and circling and circling, the pilot who is selecting his target, who is perhaps selecting you and no, you need only the number, thank you it's enough, 117, 17 never recovered from under your feet - and the guy, point-blank, who stares at you, tells you: You see? nothing remains, of our lives, not even a name.It looks normal, Aleppo. And journalists left. War has become so part and parcel of this city, so embedded in its flesh that grass grew amid the rubble, taxi drivers notice the Nikon, on your neck, and they stop you, as you were a tourist, they ask you: Want to go to the frontline? - but then you bump into a kid, and she salutes you standing at attention: you bump into a garbage collector, in the street, into an electrician who is fixing an antenna, and it's like a whip crack, suddenly, the body that falls down: shot down: a sniper. Then at the entrance of the hospital, while the jet disappears, appears, glides, gains altitude again, at the entrance of the hospital lie the corpses with no ID, people pass by, they just lift the white sheet, they make sure he isn't a brother, a cousin. Then you walk into a playground, while perhaps he is selecting you, and there is a sleeping bag amid the swings, while perhaps it's your turn, and in the sleeping bag there is a black-and-blue guy, a hole on his temple, then you open a main door, and the walls that are all blood, while they are the fiercest minutes, you look around, and everywhere, these buildings that are one floor inhabitated one floor destroyed, a charred tricycle pending in the air. Then you go into a school, into a classroom, and at mortar fire's noise, children not even turn their heads: only at a rain of kalashnikov fire they start to debate: It's a doshka, Ahmed, 6, says, No it's a short-barrell kalashnikov, Omar, 6, too, says, You see?, it's lighter than a draganov - while perhaps it's your turn, now, and you can only hug yourself, together with all you didn't say, in your life, the times you weren't able to love, the times you weren't able to dare, the times that now it's late for everything, and life shines of a raging beauty, now that perhaps your turn has come. Until you get the news; airstrike on Sheik Said neighborhood. And it's rough to admit it, but it's an infinite relief: Sheik Said: not you - an infinite relief: to know that somebody died. And - and it's like this war has robbed you not of your humanity, but even more violently: like it left you naked in front of the mirror: naked as you really are: because you are the only one who matters, in your life, to admit it bleeds, but this war hasn't robbed you of anything, simply your humanity, your diversity never existed. You are the only one who matters - and such a life, what a life is?Because later, worn out, you twist and turn amid the piled sandbags to escape the never ending snipers. How long does it take?, you ask, your nerves crumbling, how far is it? - and only now you do understand this war; when in the middle of nowhere, Alaa says: It's here.Because of the ancient souk of Aleppo, the most charming 4,000 sqm of the Middle East, a vertigo of voices, and tales colors, an overflow of life, now this is all that remains: rubble. Your feet that you walk in and sink until the ankles, bented spikes of rusty iron bars, shattered glasses, metal sheets, bullet-ridden blown up shutters. Powder and stones. Nothing else. But really nothing else. Rebels drag you around alley by alley; this is the cotton market, they explain you, this is the gold market, on your right you find the spices, down there is the silver. And they are but rubble. Here is where brides buy their gowns, and they point out the butt of something, here their wedding band - verbs in present tense: and you see but nothing. There's not even a rat, here.Rebels and loyalists are so close that they scream at each other while they shoot each other - it's a war of the last century, the war of Aleppo, it is a trench warfare of rifle shots, on the frontline the first time you cannot believe it: with these bayonets that you have seen only in history books, and you tought they hadn't been used any longer since Napoleon's time, today that war is a drones war: and here, instead, they fight meter by meter, with that blade tied to the barrel, and decayed of blood, and for it's really a war street by street, a hand-to-hand combat, the alley cats, out there, that contend for a shinbone. Even tough they are but praetorian guards of an empire of death, by now, ready to offer you tea and cigarette under the sun and fire while from the old mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site, they welcome you with the V victory sign as in front of the Colosseum for a photo souvenir: and instead they are but in front of smashed minarets, walls defaced by bullet holes, briers of rubble while they take off their shoes, as in any mosque, or they stop you: You cannot enter here: this is the women area, and instead they are but the charred remains of objects you don't even understand what objects are - while they keep guard pink elephants: but everything, here, amid the ghosts of the brides, is more sacred than life.You think they are roads, they are The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Even the muezzin, now, calls no longer to prayer: he calls for blood donors for the wounded of the last missile, dropped one hour ago. And only kalashnikov fire, suddenly, wake you up - out there shooting starts again. It is the only sign of life - out there, somebody dies. Somebody hasn't died, yet.

Ieri ho letto sul sito della Columbia Journalism Review questo pezzo che era stato molto segnalato in rete. L’ha scritto Francesca Borri, reporter italiana free-lance, autrice di due libri sulle guerre. L’avevo tradotto forse dignitosamente perché mi sembrava potesse innescare un dibattito sull’informazione. Francesca mi ha scritto e mi ha gentilmente inviato il suo originale […]