Love among the ruins: life in Aleppo

A glimpse at life in one corner of war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria, from AFP:

The aging Christians holed up inside a retirement home in the devastated northern Syrian city of Aleppo have no light, no telephone lines, and little idea of what is happening in the outside world.

But fellow Christians and rebel fighters still ensure they do not go hungry, bringing the dozen or so residents whatever food they can every day.

The St Elie Rest Home, founded in 1863, is behind a black metal door on a street strewn with debris and rubbish a short way from the front line where rebels and regime forces face off against each other.

“We welcome everyone who has been abandoned or is in need,” says Sister Marie, 75, the beaming Mother Superior.

“This is a place where life can be enjoyed,” she adds, gesturing to the 20 rooms adjoining a cloister and courtyard with a fountain and greenery.

“If we’re hungry, there’s always something we can eat,” says resident Evan Wehbe, 66, who arrived at the home nine years ago because she could no longer pay her rent.

The costs of running the home are borne by Syria’s Christian community and by rich sponsors.

“We are a small community, but we join forces and look out for one another. That makes us strong,” says 53-year-old Michael Oberi, who sought refuge in the home with his wife Sarbi Magarian when the confict began.

“Our home was hit by a shell. We had nowhere else to go and we were welcomed here,” he adds.

Sister Marie says a doctor sometimes calls to check on the residents, and “there is a small dispensary nearby.”

“They treat us very well, and if we need medicines or check-ups, all the medical fees are paid by the Christian community.”

Residents of the home also get 500 Syrian pounds ($7) a month pocket money “to buy some tobacco or some small treat,” says Mrs Wehbe, who admits to having a sweet tooth.

Only two common areas are heated Ä by wood-burning stoves Ä so it is there that the residents congregate to chat over a coffee.

But the din of warfare is ever present.

“We usually hear shooting and explosions going off every hour. The day we no longer hear fighting, that’s when we worry,” says Sister Marie.

Read more. And pray for peace.

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