Abu Shadi, Syrian refugee, interior designer. He did not have a degree, but worked for sixteen years. Due to torture, he lost ability to use his right hand. He now lives in an apartment building with other wounded families, funded by a Qatari donor. (photographed 2017)
It’s not that I don’t sleep at night, but what happened to us has turned our nights into days.
I’m from Al-Midan, the heart of Damascus. Things escalated in [other cities like] Homs before they did in Damascus. The massacres and other heinous acts first took place there. The women and children of Homs started fleeing from the massacres, sleeping in the gardens of Damascus. Our traditions… when you see someone like that, what are you supposed to do? We started helping, securing housing for about twenty families.
One of the people… I still don’t know who it was… was an informant for the government. They would inform if someone were helping the families of armed fighters. The fighters who died, of course.
The phone rang. I answered. “Hello? Who is this?”
To which someone answered, “I’m Colonel Duah. Would you like to turn yourself in, or should we raid your home?”
I said, “What’s wrong? What is this about?”
He said, “There is a report indicating that you’ve been helping the families of terrorists who have been fleeing Homs and coming to Damascus. You’ve been helping them. And making money off the operation.”
I said, “I’m not coming.”
Two hours later, about sixty soldiers encircled my neighborhood and took me. They took me to the Military Intelligence in an area called Falat. I told them I help children find homes to sleep in, instead of in public gardens.
He asked me, “Who do you deal with? What party is funding you?”
I answered, “Nobody funds me. We are just a group of friends who raise money to secure milk and other things for the children.”
That’s when the beating began. It upset me that I was being beaten up savagely and unnaturally for something humanitarian that I’d done.
Then they took me to another location: Air Force Intelligence in Bab Touma. That’s when the torture got even more heinous. I lost nearly all of my teeth while there from all the beating. They used guns to beat us. One of them would say, “Open up!” and then bash my teeth with the butt of a rifle. I lost all my teeth. I suffered greatly.
They took me to another detention center, all I glimpsed was a business sign above it called “the Guest House.” They didn’t do anything to me there. Just beating up and torture to the face. After that, they took me to the Palestine Affairs Division. It’s as ugly as a place can get. From my interrogator’s accent and the sort of questions he asked, I believed him to be Lebanese and with Hezbollah.
He said, “Why don’t you make it easier for yourself and for me by just giving me the names, and I promise I won’t hurt you. Who is funding you from Qatar, who is helping you from Saudi Arabia?”
I told him nobody helps me or funds me.
He said, “You want to get yourself tortured.”
I was handcuffed to his desk, and he had a harpoon attached to a gun. Every now and then, he’d grab it and stab me in the hand. He wanted me to talk and give him information. I told him I didn’t have any information to share. I told him that I was being honest, and asked why he didn’t believe me.
This went on for about a month. Every time I bled, they brought a doctor to treat the wound because they didn’t want me to die. They needed to extract information out of me, they wouldn’t have cared if I died afterwards. In the end, they realized that having me was pointless. They kept me imprisoned for four months then released me. As soon as I got out, I took my kids, and we escaped to Jordan.
I didn’t tell my children what happened to protect their mental wellbeing, though already the area they lived in was bombed while I was in detention. I have four children, one of which has cerebral palsy.