On a cool evening in early November, in a backroom of the Damascus Opera House, a women’s choir was rehearsing an old favorite, a sunny ballad from a childhood cartoon. When they reached the chorus — “How sweet it is to live in one house, how sweet to live in one hometown” — one of the singers, Safana Baqleh, began to weep into her hands.
The song reminded her of all that she had lost. Her closest friends had either left Syria or blocked her on Facebook over political disagreements. Sometimes, the solitude felt crushing. “I want to take my baby for a walk, but I have no one to visit,” Baqleh said. “No one. Absolutely no one.”
After more than six years of war, nearly a fourth of all Syrians live in exile. The loneliness of those who remain hangs like thick fog over Damascus, the capital. Lifelong Damascenes wonder why they are still here, when so many friends and family have packed up, died or disappeared. Newcomers, displaced by the war, move cautiously, unsure about their fate, or who is who.
I traveled to Damascus recently on a rare visa issued to a U.S. journalist. I was almost always accompanied by a government-registered escort, which seemed to make some people reticent, and there were parts of the city I wasn’t allowed to visit.
Still, it was impossible not to notice how Damascus had been altered since pro-democracy protests erupted nearly seven years ago, only to be crushed by President Bashar Assad and then morph into a civil war that scattered Syrians across the world and turned their country into a chessboard for more powerful countries.
In recent months, Assad’s forces, helped by Iran and Russia, have reclaimed much of the country from insurgents. There are fewer checkpoints in Damascus than before, the streets are bustling later into the evenings and electricity has been completely restored. Still, some afternoons, government forces blast artillery into rebel enclaves on the city’s edge; in retaliation, rebels fire shells into the narrow lanes of the old section of the city, not long ago killing a shopkeeper playing backgammon with his neighbor.
In a park in the city’s center, families who fled the latest war zones sit with plastic bags and babies. A soldier sits in the bushes, keeping a close eye on everything and everyone.
On the main highway, shiny new restaurants cater to people who have enriched themselves during the war. In the middle of the workday, you walk in to find men in track suits silently smoking water pipes, watching everyone.
而文中片語morph into則指的是「演變」、「轉變」之意，意同於另個片語transform into，兩者介係詞後均加上改變後之事物。