Tour guide in Aleppo
"My name is Mahmoud, I was born in Aleppo 44 years ago. I went to school as a normal boy and studied English literature, history and tourism at the University of Aleppo. From 2000 to 2010 I worked as a tour guide in Syria. I was still living in Aleppo, but moving around from one city to another. From Damascus to Palmyra - from east to west - proudly showing the tourists the historical ruins of my country. I enjoyed my job very much.
My childhood was really good. As eldest son I was loved and taken good care of. I have great memories of growing up together with my brothers. My father worked as a tailor, close to the bazar, in the west part of Aleppo. His shop is not really destroyed but parts around his shop are really damaged.
Before the war, life was normal everywhere. We didn’t have any problems, everyone was satisfied with their life. I am not politically engaged, my interest is history, and therefore I was not really having problems with Assad and his regime. As long as my family and friends are safe, that’s all that really matters to me.
The most precious memory of Aleppo is growing up. My childhood, family, friends and study. It was a lovely place to live. And it was a free life. We didn’t judge on someone's religion or origin. It was also a safe place: you could walk around at night without having any fear. Due to the hot weather life started early in the morning; at five or six o'clock. People would walk around, have a look at the Bazaar. Sit in a café and have a coffee, play cards or backgammon.
In 2011 the war started in Syria and in 2011 the violence came to Aleppo. In the beginning, we thought, ‘it will be over soon’. So, we stayed. But the war didn’t end… it got worse every day. A lot of people were killed or got hurt. I was living with my wife and two daughters (8 and 10 years old), and I was very afraid of their lives. A lot of children were killed, including a friend of one of my daughters. He was only 8 years old. One day, the bullets were flying through our living room. Then I said to my wife, ‘we have to leave’. But also fleeing was very dangerous, so we decided that I was going to flee on my one. Once I arrived in a safe country, the rest of my family could come over. That was the plan. It was the hardest decision of my life; I left my wife and two little daughters behind in the war scene. The moment I left the house, one of my daughters stood in front of the door and was crying so hard: “Papa, please don’t leave!” But I had to leave, there was no other choice. So I left the house in the middle of the night.
The trip to The Netherlands was very dangerous and hard. I came by a rubber boat. I was very afraid that I would never see my daughters again. But I made it. And after a couple of months, my wife and daughters came over. Now we are living in safety and freedom in The Netherlands. But I do miss my country terribly.
We are living in a small village now, there is no one on the street at that time of the day. People are not so much outside. They go to work with the car and after work they go home directly. It is less lively.
In Aleppo it is a community, people are living together and life is less individual. In the big cities in Holland life looks more similar to Aleppo.
I mostly miss the Citadel of the Great Mosque and the Caravanserai. There was so much culture and history in Aleppo. And it’s all gone. Destroyed. It’s a shame."