Marco Werman: The two-year battle for the Syrian city of Homs came to an end in early May with the evacuation of the last rebel defenders. Now residents are emerging from their shelters to see what's left of their homes. Among them are Soumer Daghastani's relatives. Daghastani works for the BBC Arabic service in London, but he has grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Homs and he spent every summer visiting there as a kid. Then came the war. Daghastani says it has not been easy to communicate with his extended family.
Soumer Daghastani: Most of the telephone lines have been cut. Sometimes you can get through. But we manage to get in touch, mostly through the Internet. Itâ€™s awful because I mean I sit in the newsroom and I receive all the news about the bombardment and shelling and explosions that's been happening in the city for the last two years. So whenever I hear anything I just ring them and it was like, "Are you alright?" and they were like, "Yeah, yeah, it was a few meters. It's that street. It happened there. A shell landed on whatever relative's house." And it's been really stressful times I would say.
Werman: Yeah, for them and for you.
Daghastani: For them and I am. I mean I'm away. I feel helpless. I can't do anything. I'm always worried. But when I hear them over the phone, I mean they're coping. They tell me, "No, it's alright. Don't over-worry. We're doing fine."
Werman: But some of them were wounded I gather?
Daghastani: Yeah, my my aunt and her daughter, so my cousin, they were both in a vegetable market not really far away from my grandparents' house and then a shell landed on the market and they both were injured. They were taken to the hospital. My mom called me and she told me what happened. I called them. And then my little cousin who is seven years old, she picked up the phone and she started telling me what happened. She was like, "Yeah, we were there and I was injured and then they took us to the hospital and then I had a little wound and I had seven stitches." And I was like, "So how are you?" and she was like, "Yeah, yeah, it's not a big deal."
Werman: All very matter-of-fact.
Daghastani: "It's not a big deal." And I'm almost in tears and I was like, "Are you alright?" and she was like, "Yeah." A very strong little girl. And itâ€™s just awful that these people, my relatives, a child, would have to go through this, but they're resilient, they are.
Werman: Were they living in the Old City of Homs?
Daghastani: My aunt, she lives not far away from the Old City. After the rebels left the city she went back to her house. There's two shells that landed on the house, so there was not much left. Actually she only went there to see if she could find some photos because when she fled the house she left everything behind. She went back, everything was taken, but she was able to get some photos for her and her family and her boys, three little boys, and she was extremely happy. My other cousin actually went to his house and there was nothing left. He was able to find a photo of his mom and dad when they were on their honeymoon and he was thrilled to find this.
Werman: Wow. That was just in the rubble? Just kind of like lying there in the dirt?
Daghastani: Yeah. Yeah. Just between the dirt. So you just go and search in the dirt, trying to find anything.
Werman: Is it mostly just those kind of sentimental pieces from the past that your family wants to keep? I mean they're not obviously going to find, I don't know, furniture or anything. Or do they?
Daghastani: No, there's no furniture, there's no nothing. Everything was taken. Everything.
Werman: So I mean now what? Because I mean Homs has been so brutally destroyed and devastated. Does it really have the same meaning as a city for your family? Will they stay there? What happens next?
Daghastani: I think it does. I mean most of them are devastated at what's happened. They felt that after two years they paid an extraordinary price for what happened and they feel it was for nothing because at the end what happened? The government is controlling the city again and they rebels left, and they feel that price was for nothing. They lost everything. So they feel kind of defeated, but they still feel itâ€™s their city and they strongly love this city and they feel that theyâ€™re going to rebuild it again. But now they just feel that there's a bit of relief, like "Well, we just have some time for rest. At least there's no fighting, there's no bombardment, there's no shelling, and we just have some time to rest."
Werman: Soumer, I would imagine that at some point you're going to go back to Homs, you're going to visit. But I'm just wondering is it something you want to do kind of immediately to kind of get the full scope of what happened to this city of your family's? Or is it really something that you're kind of hesitant about?
Daghastani: I'm really scared actually to go back. I mean I've seen all the images from the city and itâ€™s a city I canâ€™t recognize anymore. I mean Iâ€™m trying to draw a map of the city in my mind, and I just canâ€™t. I just see all this destruction. I mean most of the city has been flattened. I do want to go back. I want to go back to visit the places, where I grew up, where I played when I a little kid, to visit my grandmaâ€™s grave. I do want to go back. I'm really scared. I don't know, I don't think I want to do it now, but at some point I do want to go back.
Werman: Soumer Daghastani, a producer with the BBC's Arabic service in London. His family is from Homs. Soumer, great to speak with you. Thanks for your thoughts.
Daghastani: Thank you.