PARIS: Her childhood shattered by “grown-up stuff”, Myriam Rawick was only eight years old when she began recording her terrifying experiences during the siege of Aleppo, Syria’s second city.
“I woke up one morning to the sound of things breaking, people shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is greatest’ in Arabic),” Myriam wrote. “I was so afraid I wanted to throw up. I hugged my doll tight, saying ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, I’m here with you’.”
The gut-wrenching chronicle, translated from Arabic into French and published on Wednesday, recounts how Myriam’s working-class Christian family had to flee their neighbourhood in Aleppo when militants ordered them to leave.
“When the war broke out, Mum encouraged me to keep a diary,” Myriam, now 13, told AFP in an interview. “I thought that this way one day I could remember what happened.”
It was French journalist Philippe Lobjois who learned of Myriam and her diary and realised it provided a window on the war from the inside.
“Le Journal de Myriam” (Myriam’s Diary), covering the period from November 2011 to December 2016, was the result.
Adult life intruding
She relates how “grown-up stuff” intruded on her life — revolutionary slogans daubed on the walls of Aleppo, anti-government demonstrations, the years-long blockade of the eastern half of the city.
Aleppo, one of the world’s oldest cities and once Syria’s economic hub, was a trove of cultural treasures before becoming the main battlefield of Syria’s conflict, which has claimed more than 300,000 lives.
Government forces, backed by their Russian and Iranian allies, recaptured the eastern part of the city late last year.
“Aleppo was a paradise, it was our paradise,” Myriam writes in the diary.
The girl fond of drawing and singing will never forget the dark days of March 2013 when “men dressed in black” — militant fighters — forced her family to flee.
“I rushed to put my books in my backpack. I love books, I can’t do without them. I put on two anoraks, one on top of the other, to protect myself from stray bullets.
“In the street I saw a man with a bushy beard wearing a black djellaba (robe), a gun in his hand. I was very afraid. We walked a long time to get to a safer area.”
The family reached the western part of the city, which was under government control but still regularly targeted by rebel bombs.
“The missiles frightened me the most. One evening, I was going to bed when the sky turned red with a deafening noise. A missile had fallen in the street next to ours.
“My parents gave us sugar, saying it would help us be less afraid… but I found it didn’t change anything for me!”
The diary recalls how the family took refuge with a neighbour.
“My mattress was in front of a bay window and I was afraid of windowpanes, that they could be shattered. I’m pretty, I don’t want to be disfigured,” she joked to AFP.
‘I’m living again’
When the last militant fighters surrendered in December, a relative normalcy returned, though water and power supplies remained intermittent.
“We’re no longer afraid of bombs falling on our heads. I’m getting my childhood back, starting to play again with the neighbours’ children,” Myriam told AFP, her eyes sparkling.
Since the end of the fighting in Aleppo, Myriam has returned to her home neighbourhood only once.
“It was like my heart coming alive again,” she said. “Everything was destroyed, but I remember all the times I had. There was a sense of past happiness. But I won’t go back to live there.”
The teenager, who dreams of becoming an astronomer because she loves stars, has not abandoned her diary.
“It’s nice, because I’m living again but I don’t want to forget. I even fell asleep last night over my notebook.”