[Marxism] I Survived a Sarin Gas Attack
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 10 11:08:17 MDT 2017
NY Times Op-Ed, Apr. 9 2017
I Survived a Sarin Gas Attack
By KASSEM EID
On Aug. 21, 2013, I woke up in the dark around 4:45 a.m., struggling to
breathe. My eyes were burning, my head was throbbing, and my throat was
blocked. I was suffocating.
I tried to inhale but all I heard was a horrible rasping sound as my
throat closed up. An unbearable pain drummed in my head. The world began
to blur. I pounded my chest but couldn’t breathe. My heart seemed about
Suddenly, my windpipe opened. A gust of air pierced my lungs. Needles
seemed to stab my eyes. A searing pain clawed at my stomach. I doubled
over and shouted to my roommates: “Wake up! It’s a chemical attack!”
More than two years earlier, on March 18, 2011, my hometown,
Moadhamiyeh, a Damascus suburb of about 80,000 people, had held its
first demonstration against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Within hours, regime forces attacked, shooting and arresting protesters.
I had recently returned home from college in the city of Homs, where I
studied translation from Arabic into English.
About a year later, in June 2012, Mr. Assad’s forces started a siege of
Moadhamiyeh, hoping to starve out the rebelling residents; food and
medical supplies were blocked. The bombing and shelling, which had been
going on since the winter, was relentless. The town emptied. My
childhood home, close to the front line, was bombed repeatedly. My
mother and siblings fled. About 10,000 people remained trapped.
A council to manage the besieged town was formed. I worked as a
translator, helping communicate with aid organizations and foreign
governments. By the summer of 2013, I had seen children and infants
starve to death. Several friends who tried to escape the town were
captured, tortured and killed. We buried their mutilated bodies.
I moved into an abandoned apartment in the city center with three
friends: Abu Abdo, my high school writing partner; Ahmad, a friend from
middle school; and Alm Dar, a Free Syrian Army field commander. The
siege had reduced us to eating weeds and leaves and to going through
trash to survive.
On the night of Aug. 20, we spent about four hours looking for food.
Even the trash offered nothing. Eventually we found some wild grass. We
boiled it, drank it as soup and went to sleep. And the next morning we
found ourselves battling a chemical gas attack.
Ahmad and Abdo scrambled out of bed, fighting for breath and coughing
furiously. I splashed water on my face in an attempt to ease the
burning. We staggered around the room, panting and retching. We heard
urgent knocks on our door. “Help, please, they’re dying!” gasped our
neighbor Umm Khaled. She was carrying her children, 4 and 6, one under
each arm. Both were unconscious. Their faces were blue and yellow and
they were foaming at the mouth.
Alm Dar ran downstairs to get his old Range Rover. Ahmad and Abu Abdo
followed, carrying the children. I raced through the building — past
blasted-out windows, crumbling walls and piles of rubble — looking for
the injured. When I reached the street I froze: Dozens of men, women and
children writhed on the ground. Others screamed out for doctors,
wailing, praying, pleading for their beloved fallen to breathe again.
I screamed too. And then I noticed a little boy lying in the dirt. What
I saw eclipsed every horror I had seen so far: burned and rotten corpses
after massacres, bodies of women and children shredded by shelling,
shrieks of my friends wounded in combat.
The boy’s face had turned grotesque shades of red, yellow and blue. His
eyes were glassy. White froth oozed from his mouth. His throat grated as
he struggled to breathe. I took off his shirt and tried to blow air into
his mouth. I pressed against his chest and tried to pump the white
poison from his lungs. Nothing helped.
After two or three minutes, Alm Dar pulled up in the Range Rover
overflowing with injured women and children. He stared blankly at the
boy, turned to his overflowing truck, turned back to me. I sat in the
trunk with the boy. He was still struggling to breathe, that horrible
grating sound still coming from his throat. We drove past more bodies
and wailing survivors. I held him and cried.
When we pulled into the field hospital, a mile away, I lifted the boy
out of the truck. He seemed heavier than before. I could barely keep my
balance. I used all my strength to put him down. Then the world began to
shimmer and turn gray, and the ground rose up to meet me.
I woke up to find a man holding me and yelling that I was alive. He had
a long, wet black beard and reddened eyes. I knew him. Ahmad. My friend,
my housemate, Ahmad. I was in a basement with small windows. People were
crying and screaming, dousing victims with water, pumping their chests
to revive them. The floor was wet and cold and covered with blood.
A doctor holding a syringe and two men carrying buckets of water
approached me. They splashed water over my body. The doctor injected me
with a clear liquid. I was in great pain, but as the liquid coursed
through me I began to feel stronger.
I tried to push the men back when they bent down to pick me up. “Let’s
go upstairs,” they told me. “The air is starting to get poisoned in
here.” They helped me up a set of broken, rusty stairs into the open air.
The sun was rising. I shielded my eyes from a red ray of sunlight. All
around, people cried as they lay on the ground or tried to revive their
friends and relatives.
I took a few steps until I reached a burned-out bus parked in the middle
of the street. The bus seemed familiar; I had a clear memory of seeing
it on fire. I stopped and looked around. I knew this place. I was in the
field hospital in Moadhamiyeh. Many people ran to me and hugged me.
“Praise to God, you’re alive! Kassem, you’re alive!”
I began to recognize my longtime friends and neighbors. But I still
couldn’t understand what had happened to me. Why did I feel so cold? I
realized that I was wearing only my boxers. I wanted my clothes.
“They’re covered in water and sarin,” my friend Abu Malek said. “Assad
hit us with sarin gas.” He left to get me some clothes.
I remembered gasping for air, inhaling the most painful breath of my
life. I recalled the bodies on the street, the glassy stare of the
little boy. Abu Malek returned with my jacket and a blanket. “Now you
should be — ” A loud blast cut him off midsentence. The explosion shook
the ground. The regime forces began firing at us with tank shells,
mortars and heavy artillery. A desperate effort to evacuate the hospital
A group of Free Syrian Army fighters sprinted past me. Abu Jamal, a
young fighter I knew, urged the crowd to take cover, to fight. His face
turned red as he yelled louder and louder. I kept staring at him, rooted
to the ground.
The regime jets roared overhead. I craned my neck, searching for the
planes, waiting for the sound of bombs. I surveyed the ruins of my
neighborhood, hoping for something that might help me comprehend what
Alm Dar appeared and began shouting at me, trying to get me to move. I
simply stood there in my boxers and stared at him. He slapped me. “Are
they trying to invade?” I asked. “Yes!” he answered. “From where?”
I gathered myself and followed Alm Dar to the front line. A little
later, I fired my first bullet in defense of my home against the people
who had dropped poison on us.
Kassem Eid lives in Berlin, where he is working on a memoir about the
Syrian civil war.
More information about the Marxism