A new normality in damaged Damascus

Smoke rises from the eastern Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, after what activists say was an air strike by a MIG fighter jet, 8 November 2012
The dawn chorus has been supplanted by the roar of raiding war-planes

For residents of Syria's battle-scarred capital, Damascus, life as it used to be has long since ceased, giving way to a pervading sense of fear and insecurity. Here, the BBC's Lina Sinjab describes the effect of daily conflict on her and others who live there.

Today, like many days here in Syria, I feel schizophrenic.

I wake up, drag myself out of bed - I am trying to live a "normal" life.

I listen carefully for the sound of birds, but I can't hear them… a loud "voice" is imposing itself… I try to ignore it. An image enters my mind's eye; demolished buildings, civilians being pulled from the rubble.

The voice gets louder and closer. It is a sound we are growing accustomed to here - the roar of MiG warplanes.

I close my eyes again, trying to block it out, but it persists. The planes fly closer, or so it seems.

Boom - a big explosion… another one… the bombs rain down. I can hear more warplanes flying overhead, more explosions follow.

I try not to think about where the bombs may have landed.

I make my coffee. I am silent. I feel a sense of betrayal - coffee is a luxury.

I try to sweep aside the images of dead bodies and crying children. I want to survive.

I hate myself even more because of this.

Struck dumb

There's another explosion as I take the stairs up to my terrace from where I look for traces of fire.

I find my neighbours out on their balconies, looking around. Even the old woman who can hardly walk is looking for traces of death.

We go about our lives again. I turn on the TV, it shows images of rebels executing army officers.

It sets my heart pounding again. I am struck dumb.

I turn off the TV, and put on some music. Music?!! Desperate efforts to live normally.

I think of friends who have left Damascus, of past moments of joy, of laughter and dinner parties.

All this is gone. The ones who remain are those who can't leave, or those who realise death may be around the corner but still want to live through this time.

Moments of love

Knowing that death may take us at any moment, we have learned to appreciate our time together, spending quality time whenever possible.

The bonds have become stronger.

We laugh, despite our obvious sadness. We laugh as a way of survival. We make jokes about death. We laugh to keep hold of the good memories.

We hold hands, supporting one another, telling each other we are here, standing firm together.

But soon we are overtaken again by what is happening around us. When we say our goodbyes, we leave knowing that one of us might be missing the next day.

I think of moments of love.

There are still lovers holding hands in the streets; young boys and girls standing on a side road under a tree, stealing moments of passion. I smile thinking there is hope. Every emotion becomes so intense in times of war.

Back to despair

We continue because of our deep love for life and our hatred of death and killing.

Shoppers walk in the al-Hamidieh Souk in the old city of Damascus, 8 November 2012
Some cling to the hope of sharing good times again amid the scents of spices in the old souk

We continue because we want to smell once again the spices coming out of the old souk; to hear the voices of merchants calling out to customers in the covered market; to enjoy the gum-flavoured ice-cream topped with pistachios from the famous Bagdash shop; and listen to the storyteller narrating the life of Shahrazad (Arabian Nights) at the al Noufara cafe, just behind the Umayyad mosque.

We continue because we still have hope of a better tomorrow, of a life coloured other than by the black smoke and red blood. We continue to dream of a future free of fear.

The MiG is flying again. It stirs me from my stream of thought. I give up and go back to my despair.

The sounds are not echoes, but real. The images are not cinematic but true; the bodies are not staged, but are flesh and blood.

The cries of dying children are loud in my ears.

Forgive us, we are still alive.