Saving the grapes of Raqa

17 July 2017 - 12:57 By afp.com
Syrian Warda al-Jassem, 50, waters her grape vine, upon returning to her home five weeks after leaving, in western of Raqa on July 15, 2017, during an offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters.
Syrian Warda al-Jassem, 50, waters her grape vine, upon returning to her home five weeks after leaving, in western of Raqa on July 15, 2017, during an offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters.
Image: BULENT KILIC / AFP

Since she fled her home near the jihadist stronghold of Raqa in northern Syria more than a month ago, Warda al-Jassem has been impatient to return -- to water her vine.

Saving their grapes has become an obsession for the 50-year-old and her husband since fighting forced them to flee.

Their house is in Jazra, a western suburb of Raqa, the Islamic State group's de facto Syrian capital from which a US-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters is battling to oust the jihadists.

Al-Jassem and her husband, who have taken refuge in the Al-Andalus area some 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Raqa, could not stop worrying about their grapes.

Accompanied by neighbours, she headed home over the weekend for her first visit since IS was forced from the neighbourhood in early June.

Due to a heart problem, her husband could not join her.

"Since we left here, the only thing he wanted was to know what had happened to the vine," she said.

"Every day he'd say 'The vine is thirsty, it has to be watered'."

So "I came back to water it," she said.

The blue-eyed woman, her head covered with a black embroidered veil, eyed a trellis hung with yellowed grapes and parched vine leaves.

"They were dying of thirst," she said.

Much of the fruit had faded, but some grapes, still green, seemed to have survived the intense summer heat.

A determined look on her face, Al-Jassem turned over the earth with a shovel. Then, using a bucket, she poured water at the bottom of the trellis to try to save the rest of the vine.

Only then did she smile, her mission accomplished. She urged her friends to gather those grapes that were still edible.

Precious items

Inside the house, she hastened to recover a few precious items: bags of dried mint and other seasonings -- and a multi-coloured bra.

Before leaving again, she filled a plastic bottle with heating oil from a barrel on the patio.

Jassem's house may have been spared the violence that has descended on Raqa, but the home of her neighbour Maryam Mustafa one street away was not so fortunate.

When she got home, Mustafa saw fighters of the anti-IS Syrian Democratic Forces lounging on her patio.

Inside, her washing machine was broken, the family's clothes were scattered around and even the crockery had disappeared.

The living room was unrecognisable: gone were the television set, her vases and the traditional Arab seating cushions on the floor.

"I came home and found only destruction," a shocked Mustafa said.

"Everything was either stolen or broken," the young woman said, the lower part of her face covered with a colourful veil.

The SDF fighters assured her that this was how they had found the house on their arrival the day before.

"I'm not accusing anyone," Mustafa said.

She too sought to retrieve what personal items she could -- blue and orange abayas and a white woollen shawl, along with a few toys and shoes belonging to her daughters.

IS jihadists forced women in Raqa to wear all black, cover their faces with a full-face niqab veil and their bodies with the traditional long robe or abaya.

Mustafa thought about the war rumbling just a few kilometres (miles) away, and was silent for a moment.

"People are dying in their homes while our children are safe," she said.

"We must thank God. Everything can be repaired."

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