Rabea Sahloul feeds ducks near his workshop in Hamidiyeh neighborhood in the old part of Homs, Syria, on Jan. 21, 2018. It wasn't easy for the 43-year-old Rabea Sahloul to start his life from scratch alone in his shattered neighborhood in Homs city, as his neighbors and friends he grew up with are no longer there. When the war started in Homs in central Syria in 2011, Sahloul grabbed his wife and four children and fled his neighborhood in Hamidiyeh area in the old part of Homs toward a safer area. (Xinhua/Hummam Sheikh Ali)
by Hummam Sheikh Ali
HOMS, Syria, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- It wasn't easy for the 43-year-old Rabea Sahloul to start his life from scratch alone in his shattered neighborhood in Homs city, as his neighbors and friends he grew up with are no longer there.
People say that feeling lonely or as a stranger is not only when you lose a home, but when the loved ones are no longer there such as friends and neighbors, those who give life a taste and a meaning.
When the war started in Homs in central Syria in 2011, Sahloul grabbed his wife and four children and fled his neighborhood in Hamidiyeh area in the old part of Homs toward a safer area, leaving behind memories of his childhood and upbringing in a home and a workshop he inherited from his father.
During his displacement years, the only dream he had was returning to his life with his wife and kids, but life doesn't grant wishes fast enough.
Four years of displacement had passed before Sahloul could return and have a first look at his home, workshop, and neighborhood.
Arriving at his shop in Hamidiyeh, Sahloul was deeply shocked by the amount of destruction that has befallen his property and the entire area.
He couldn't handle the shock and devastation and said the sadness caused him to be sick with diabetes.
"When I returned I found my home and workshop completely destroyed and burnt and that was the shock of my life. I was stunned by the scene. The mixture of sadness and shock gave me diabetes," he told Xinhua.
But when he realized that getting more sick and devastated couldn't bring him his life back, he grew a strong determination to rebuild his life, even if he is to start alone, as he was the first person to come back to that street in Hamidiyeh.
"After a deep thinking, I have realized that I must start again because life goes on so I started working alone all by myself," he said.
The chubby man with a grey-streaked beard and grizzled hair covered by a cap said he started coming to his area every day to clean the rubble from his shop and his home, which is on the 1st floor over his workshop.
Days and months have passed and the man's determination kept him up and running, fixing his shop and home at the same time, doing everything by himself with a little help of some workers who agreed to enter that ghost city.
He fixed the walls of his workshop and rebuilt the staircase to his home, and made a new wooden front door. The walls of the house were painted white, contrary to the blackened building facade.
The reconstruction work took him a year and two months to be done, and when the house was livable, he brought his family back.
Still, he was alone in the neighborhood amid all of the surrounding destruction.
One of the coping mechanism of Sahloul was to bring life to his street because he felt eerily lonely with his family and that was almost impossible as people cannot be invited to start a life amid the ruins so fast, so he sought another kind of company.
He brought ducks, chicken, and pigeons and those have become the new neighbors he spends the day with.
"The idea occurred to me when I thought that I need to bring some life back to the street to give some optimistic view for passersby so I brought small ducks and geese as well as chicken and I started raising and feeding them," he said.
"So now when people would visit this street they could have a different view, they could find life," he added.
Now, the passerby would hear the quacks of ducks tens of meters away, filling the empty air in that area.
But as a human, he would get down sometimes as the calamities he had endured where so huge and hard to cope with easily. Still, hope remained his minaret whenever he is sucked down by his sorrow.
"Every time I get down, I think that I should cling to my hope and be more active and positive and this has helped me to overcome the horrible situation of mine," he said.
Now, a friend of Sahloul returned to the neighborhood, an older man who got encouraged by the young carpenter.
He also spends the day with him and feeds the ducks as well, while Sahloul does some simple woodwork for the very few people who started coming back to live in their damaged homes.
The only thing driving these people is hope, which in other cases seems like a fancy topic lectured to better-off people who are bored with the daily lives, but for those who return to start over from ruins whether in Homs or elsewhere in Syria, hope is a life-saving inspiration and experience.
But these people wish also for extra help from the government or humanitarian organization to help them in fixing their homes and neighborhoods, despite the fact that entire buildings need to be destroyed and rebuilt from scratch because it cannot be fixed.
In other damaged areas, where old marketplaces are located, some restoration work has started and some covered souks have been restored, as the rebel groups, including al-Qaida-linked groups, were dislodged from old Homs city in 2014.
Hayat Awad, an official at the governor office, told Xinhua that the old part of Homs has sustained great destruction due to the presence of armed militants, noting that some of 13 neighborhoods of old Homs were 70 percent damaged.
She added that the civilians have started coming back to the areas that are 30 percent damaged, after some engineering teams sent from the government assess the conditions of the buildings.
Water and electricity were brought back to old Homs so that the people could have at least the basics of life in a place that was stripped of life for years of war.