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Deraa, a Growing Flame Emily Wang

Bashar al-Assad, the notorious president of Syria, dressed in his usual suit of lies. Everybody wants a democracy and for him to abdicate.

February 21th, 2011 There was a soft breeze blowing into the meadow, ruffling my Abayah and cooling my hidden skin. I grin, and behind me, my 14-year-old brother, Souzan, runs around, energetic as always, with wind combing through his raven hair. Suddenly, the wind picked up, forming a formidable tornado. The twister destroyed everything in its path, whisking Here is a picture of a protests in Tunisia. The people were extremely angry at the government for ignoring the people for being so corrupt

dirt into the air. It was headed straight towards us. Shrieking, I ran, propelled by fear, but when I looked back, Souzan was gone. I could not move a single muscle. I sat up immediately, sweat beaded on my forehead. It was that dream again. That haunting, malicious dream. I looked around the quiet bedroom. The rising sun gave the room a ghostly aura. Three nights ago, Souzan got arrested by the unscrupulous Syrian government along with some other teenagers. My family is the most important thing to me, and blooms of worry sprout whenever I think about Souzan now. He had just turned 14, yet he was taken by the unforgiving police. What he did was just an immature prank! How can these devils be capable of something so terrible? So selfish? When our father died in a steel factory to makes just a little bit more money, Souzan and I got much tighter, having nobody else to turn to. Our mother was hit by depression and started working full-time at a grocery store in Deraa, Syria, while I worked as a waitress. Back when father was still alive, mother would be the one cheering us up, telling hilarious jokes and aiding us with homework. She had always stood tall, repelling any negativity. Now, her cheeks are wan, which makes her seem miserable and downcast. One death and an arrest has changed her. On the 16th of February, Souzan and fourteen teenagers disappeared. Only later did we hear that the impulsive teenagers were taken by the secret police. Nobody had any idea where they were. Rumors floated around the village about what had truly happened. Souzan and his troublemaking friends spray-painted offensive anti-government slogans all across their school! It reads: "The people want to topple the regime." It was just there for everybody to look at. Whispering, gossiping, the villagers always have something to say. But whenever I tried to enter a conversation about it, everyone would annoyingly quiet, my brother was one of the 15 that were kidnapped. President Bashar al-Assad is the reason why my brother did what he did. Syria is a dictatorship, and that is not necessarily a horrible thing unless the dictator is as corrupt as ours. The government has literally no idea what is best for their people and what we want. To start off with, we want political freedom so the

decisions of the government can be more accurate and accommodate. So many hard-working Syrians are unemployed and extremely poor, unable to make choices and to keep to their families healthy. What people are suggesting the government do is to transform the dictatorship into a democracy that will be stronger and more efficient for the citizens. The people of Deraa tired of being repressed like weak ants. Many in Tunisia and Egypt have already began asking for more rights, a louder voice. No matter how much people show their anger, the power-hungry Assad ignores them. He's going against his own people, and I want him to abdicate. There have been so many days where mother returned home with barely enough money to buy food. On many nights, I have sacrificed my own food for Souzan. We often go to bed with our stomachs pleading to be filled up just a little bit more. Assad, a heartless dictator, ignores his people's needs, leaving most of Syria like this. Just a month ago, there has been massive protests in Tunisia and Egypt, with probably thousands of people on the streets screaming and carrying signs demurring the government. Around my village, there has been much secretive talk about starting a protest in Deraa. Every soul in the village knew about the scrawled graffiti. The most common rumor is that we are going to start a destructive protest if the boys stay missing, taking inspiration from the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. In my opinion, I think it is sublime, but I am worried for my mother and Souzan. I don't know how they are going to react to this. After getting out of my cocoon of blankets and out the house, I meet up with the conversable Amira, a waitress as well. As we trudged along the dirt road, she sparked up conversation. "Have you heard about that protest everyone's talking about?" She inquired. "Yes," I responded, "But do you think the protest will actually happen? It could turn pretty bad if Assad decides to unleash his vexing police forces on us," I say in return, thinking of all the ways it could go wrong. "I know, but my parents barely make enough money for us to eat, pay rent, and buy necessities! It's ridiculous, in fact, most people in Deraa are faced with the same dilemma! Maybe if the Assad decided to actually listen to the people for once, it wouldn't have to come down to this. We need to unclog his mute ears." I agreed to what Amira ranted about, but she was not done. "I'm so sick of Assad thinking of his people as animals! Rima had a nightmare the other night about Assad coming to kill Mother!" Rima is Amira's 3-year-old sister, Amira loves her to bits. If the a rebellion does happen, Rima would grow up in a dreadful environment! Imagine having danger crouching on the rooftops waiting to pounce and death around the corner, looking for its next victim. I wish I could do something to help my city, and I wonder what is happening to Souzan right now. Is he even alive? I cannot imagine what the other families with the missing teenagers are going through right now. If Souzan died or was molested beyond help, my hate for the government will quadruple, and I will fight hard for Assad to renounce. I just can't help but think about all the bad things the government could be doing to Souzan right now.

I had participated in this event and have seen Amira get killed. It was horrifying but this protest showed the government our anger with our sacrifices.

March 16th, 2011 The people of Deraa are getting restless. The fifteen schoolchildren, including my 14-year-old brother, have still not returned after a month following their careless scrawling on a school building. The citizens are exasperated with the government, blaming Assad for subduing us like children. Assad is power-hungry and it seems like he would do anything to keep his spot as dictator. Recently, there has been

talk going about Deraa rising up as a community and overthrowing Assad so he would abdicate. Many other cities like Aleppo has already started the forward rebellion. I am livid at what he is doing not only to the country and economy, but also to what he has done to my family. Mother and I have been worried sick about Souzan. He and his spontaneous actions has landed himself with the secret police. Fretting all the time is like sitting on a rocking chair. It keeps me moving, but gets me nowhere. I despise the government. I do not understand why they would pick on a few immature minors. Last week, Mother and I made contact with the other parents so we could go face the authorities to demand for the return of the children. We reasoned and accused with the police for what seemed like centuries, but they did not budge. One man with a black goatee the color of Assad's soul waved his gloved hand at us, as if we were just a group of pestering flies! They shunned and insulted us, calling us a group of idiots. Another man rolled his dung-colored eyes and said: "Forget your children. If you really want your children, you should make more children. If you don't know how to make more children, we'll show you how to do it." The police laughed their heads off, chuckling. The mother of a boy called Mouawiya Syasneh looked like she was about to faint. One by one, we filed out of the tobacco-smelling room with our hopes crushed. I cannot believe he responded that way. What is Assad ordering the police do if they are literally speaking to citizens like this? In front of their wives and children? In fact, the aggravating police did not even answer us when we asked if the teenagers were alive. They laughed us off, as if we were a bunch of four-year-olds asking for driver licenses. When the news got out, these arrests finally struck a chord. The citizens had had the last straw, and the last wall finally broke. A protest was going to happen, and Assad was not going to be able to suppress what more than 100 people were planning in time. On the revolutionary morning of March 15th, the protest started. Mother and I woke early so we could participate and give the government a piece of our mind. That day, there were so many people that it seemed like everyone in Deraa showed up. Children sat on their parent's shoulders, waving Syrian flags, and across the ocean of people, white banners rose, criticizing the government, the police, and Assad. Most of these impacting banners had something to do with the missing children. Mother had created a sign that read: BRING OUR SONS BACK! People yelled and chanted to free the boys, and for a democracy so they could have a better future. One sign read: Tick, tock, your time is up! Another called Assad names. The rebels clearly wanted to show how displeased they were and how they had no faith in the government. "Bring the boys back!" A tall man with glasses shouted. "We want a democracy!" Yelled another in front of me. And an angry woman roared: "Abdicate, Assad!" The crowd of people was like a current full of bumpy elbows and shoving shoulders, moving forward. I was soon swept away from Mother. I looked around frantically and prayed that she would be fine. Nothing bad had happened yet, or so I thought. This motivated protest that was gossiped for weeks took such a wrong turn. The people were so focused on demonstrating their anger that they did not realize the police marching along on the rooftops. Of course, I never noticed until they started shooting at us. The police caught us all by surprise, in a trap. Do they have spies? Who has turned against Deraa? BAM! A crack in the air. The first bullet had been shot. Then a grunt, gasps, and the sound of a body collapsing close by. A small circle had been formed around a woman shot right in-between the shoulder blades. She died. I did not notice that this was Amira until I was told later. I shrieked. Why her? Why? What about her family? They need her. How about Rima? I couldn't feel my limbs, and if it wasn't for the moving mob, I would have collapsed. A thousand glares turned to the direction of the shooter, and all in two seconds, another bullet rattled out. Then another one. Screams sounded out. Shouts for family members and shouts of surprise. BOOM! Another gunshot sounded out. I was scared, I had to find Mother. Panting and sweating, I sprinted to the nearest building as fast as I could. I could only think one thing at that moment, and it was to run. I have always been slower at running, but I finally noticed my potential, I beat many people to the shop on the other side of the street. I huddled underneath a table and waited for the protest to be over. It was not over that easily. 4 more gunshots rang out until it was over. In the shop, there was a man bleeding and bruised from being practically trampled. We waited for around 30 more minutes, when it was completely silent then crept out warily, keeping to the back streets. I found out that four innocent civilians have been killed, two men and two women, including my best friend.

We had no idea this was going to be the result of this protest, and I sprinted home, not losing any of my adrenaline. Mother was home when I returned, and for the first time since Father died a few years back, she gave me a hug. I had missed those hugs, and I noticed how different it was. This was a hug of desperation, and her body felt frail, as it if could blow away even by the smallest gust of wind. I am so relieved that she is safe. "I cannot believe what just happened!" Mother says under her breath. I see her lip quivering. "Are you alright?" I nod. "I'm fine, just a little shaken and surprised. You?" Mother says nothing, but this time, her actions speak louder than words. She seemed to have finally broken. Her snivels filled the empty house, devoid of Souzan. After Souzan was taken, she had tried to stay strong for me and to keep up a front so the villagers of Deraa would not spread more rumors about Souzan, her son and my brother. We had survived and our desperate demonstrations were heard. But like a herd of cows, we were just whipped back into the pen. I was and still am scared. Who will the government punish next? Who will they kill? How many will die? Will the people succeed? Have we inspired more Syrians to stand up for themselves? There are so many monsters under my bed. Questions drove at a hundred miles per hour in my mind, keeping me awake and disturbing me. What will become of my hometown? A pile of rubble?

March 23th, 2013 It has been almost two years since Souzan has returned from being tortured by the ignoble police for 45 days. According to the 14 children who have returned with him, their wrists were confined to a sinister beam suspended to the ceiling, leaving their toes My brother and histhe 14 ground. friends spray painted this slogan on the wall barely touching Next, they were of their school. It reads: "The people will topple the regime." beaten in this position as the unruly police pelted them with insults, laughing at their agony. Souzan returned with a miserable black eye, a cut lip, and a painfully bruised body. Mother and I had tended to his wounds, comforting him as he wept and stuttered. Just the fact that he survived the abuse astonished me. 15 were kidnapped, 14 returned. I wanted to envelop him with a hug as soon as he limped home, but I was wary to not hurt his fragile body. He had over 40 bruises, and they were never-ending. The welts ranged from a puke green to a rotten purple. My ire towards the government was now growing at an exponential rate, increasing every day. Mother's frustration towards the government was even more prominent than mine. When the oppression of the police was unveiled to her, her face turned redder than a fire engine and tears sprang into her miserable eyes. Anger is the fuel that burns down the sanity in us. Some people of Deraa seemed to have gone mad from anger. I can just imagine tendrils of smoke swirling out of their ears. Even though the teenagers did return, they returned in a horrible state. Souzan is extremely prudent about going anywhere without mother's company. He has been through things even a sixty-year-old man hasn't been through. The old spray-paint had fainted to being barely legible now, but the ghosts of the rebellious words still remain. The harsh police control of these schoolchildren has been the reason for another protest that had happened shortly after the 15 boys returned. Around a dozen rebels have been killed with even more maimed. All this time, I thought about Amira. Even after a few dozen deaths, the mighty people of Deraa didn't back down. We wanted to be heard loud and bold, and we were willing to sacrifice and to challenge the government to create a better future not only for ourselves, but also for the future generations. Perhaps outsiders would scold us for maintaining these protests to stop more blameless people from dying, but the people of Deraa chose to do this. Syria knows what it is bargaining for.

On the 21st of March, Assad caught Deraa by surprise. Most barrel bombs have been dropped on Aleppo and Tunisia, but that brisk morning, a helicopter with the dirty government's emblems was spotted hovering through the morning mists, heading straight for a cluster of buildings. When this happened, I was still resting, totally oblivious of what was happening to my village! Barrel bombs are basically barrels packed with explosives, oils and other metal fragments that will be tumbled from helicopters. They devastate the surrounding areas where they land, and those people not killed in the blast of the bombs can still be severely injured by flying shrapnel. Almost 50 citizens were injured from the flying blades of shrapnel alone. Chemical weapons such as chlorine are also often found in these bombs. Barrel bombs rip families apart and hurt innocent people. Millions of innocent children have been slaughtered during bombings. Assad, a damaging earthquake, destroys everything in his path and leaves a trail of wreckage behind. He has hurt so many families, especially mine. Anyone who was still sleeping during the bombing must have all jolted awake when the second bomb hit. Following the malicious bomb, an unfamiliar trail of black smoke rose up into the air. The buildings were on fire! When the bomb was dropped, some people in the building were still resting, asleep. They had no idea, and infants lived there! That is just so ignoble; these humans did not even begin their lives before they were taken from them. How can Assad not have a single fraction of kindness or consideration in his heart? Why would he do this, knowing the destruction it causes? Screams rang out all around the site. The victims of the bombed buildings were like horses trapped in a burning stable. Before we could wrap our minds across what just happened, other bomb fell clumsily from the sky. Now, everyone in the village must have been awake, echoes of worry and fear could be heard in every corner of Deraa. I ran outside to the courtyard as fast as my legs would allow. Heart pounding, mind spinning, I saw a smoke claw reach up towards the sky. I was stunned at what had happened and just stood there like a scarecrow, not moving a single muscle. Waves of dust started spreading over the houses, obscuring my vision. It was heading over towards me. Panic struck me like a blade of hot iron. I willed my legs to sprint back inside and to slam the door. I was a second too late. The soot from the collapsed buildings spread faster than the plague. My lungs complained, trying to cough up the smut. Wheezing hard, I slammed the door. Chest heaving, lungs hurting, I had collapsed on a rickety chair. My family survived, my neighbors survived. We are safe‌for now. Eventually, I walked over to the cold bedroom. Souzan hid under our bed, quivering like a leaf as Mother crouched down beside him, smoothing his hair, trying to gather some of her confidence. She kept on repeating: "We're going to be fine‌" but we weren't fine. A bomb had just been dropped, and we had just witnessed probably a few hundred people die! Why did Assad do this? Assad, a merciless tyrant, gives no care about the lives and bonds of people. I despise him even more for this. Just look at what he has done to my family, my brother. The helicopter had hovered a little longer over the destruction it created, but the bringer of terror finally left. "Souzan! You alright?" I enquire. Stupid question‌of course he is not alright. He was shocked and panic-stricken about everything that has happened in the past few years. I miss his laughs, his jokes, his pranks. But now, he barely has the motivation! Souzan mumbles, his head dropping low. Fresh tears still flowed from his eyes, and I wrapped an arm around him. The revolution has started a month after Souzan was kidnapped, in March 2011, which Assad clearly knows about. Yet he still ignores us, not giving us an option, not negotiating with any us. Protests and bombs is what the people and the government uses to communicate. I just don't understand why the government would do this. I am supportive of all the Syrians who agree a democracy is the type of government that will give us the best chance for a better life. The people are angry, we want to make choices. We want to participate in future decisions. We don't just want a voice for the citizens, we want a roar. I do not care how long this terror is going to last, but I will fight for Deraa, for Syria, for my friends, and for my family. I know that if we stick it out and remain brave, we will be stronger. The government already know that violence is not suppressing our hurricane of anger. They are just adding to the growing fire. Our mindless government represents a ship, and the people symbolize the ocean. Waves can decide whether they are going to remain calm or to topple the ship. Without water, even a cruise ship could be practically useless. So much bloodshed, so many lost souls, and so many families torn apart. Are our sacrifices going to have meaning? Will the government transform to a democracy for the people and be better in any way? I do not know what the future of my country will be like, but I am so worried for my family. I have seen my best friend get killed, seen 4 buildings collapse to rubble by the just the cruel drop of two barrel bombs, and my

brother almost beaten to death! Look at all the sacrifices that we have made! If the rebel citizens gathered together to explain why we have done what we have done, we could be talking for weeks. Since the March of 2011, the people have fought hard for our beliefs. We have given Assad our opinion, loud and crystal clear. If he chooses not to listen to his people, it will be his own loss. Choose to ignore it, he will burn.