RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The civil war in Syria has generated the greatest exodus in this century. Four million people have fled the country. Millions more have fled to other parts of Syria. One man who has not been driven out of his neighborhood is Saeed al-Batal. He lives in a rebel stronghold just outside Damascus called Douma, long under siege. As a photographer and moderate activist opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, he doesn't use his real name for safety reasons, but al-Batal has been posting images of daily life in Douma to his Facebook page. And we've been talking to him when we can reach him over the last year.
Yes, hi. Saeed, it's Renee Montagne.
SAEED AL-BATAL: Hi, Renee. How are you?
MONTAGNE: And with that, the line dropped, but we were quickly able to reconnect.
Thank you for joining us again.
AL-BATAL: Well, thank you for being interested. I think the situation is the usual, and by usual I mean, like, the siege is still on. For example, the airstrikes - two times at the city of Douma at morning and killed four people. And that's what I mean by usual (laughter)...
MONTAGNE: When we last spoke, which was several months ago actually, things were not so good. You were having to move because your house was destroyed. Am I right?
AL-BATAL: Actually three days ago, I had to move again. I was out doing something and half of the house was destroyed by a missile attack. And that's how I lost my laptop and my stuff. Actually, I have been practicing to not be attached to stuff because we are losing them every time.
We are in Ramadan now. It's the feasting month of the year. And situations are really bad. We used to - before the revolution began, we used to have, like - it used to be a special month when you have a family meeting on the meal and you have a table with all kind of food. Now you are down to one type of food, if you can find one.
MONTAGNE: Well, you know, when you said Ramadan - and it's the fasting month - when people fast, there's always a feast in a way in the evening.
MONTAGNE: But that's not happening there.
AL-BATAL: There's a lot less than you can imagine. Nothing can make you less human than being hungry.
MONTAGNE: Are you seeing something now in the way people really act that is a result of this terrible hunger?
AL-BATAL: We have been under siege for, like, two and a half years. It's close to be three. Any stash that you have been hidden have been already spent, and there's almost nothing left. People have sold everything. And because we don't have electricity, we can buy a refrigerator for, like, 5,000 Syrian pounds, which is like $10. No one can use it because there's not enough electricity for that, you know? So the people are, like, selling everything. You can see it on the street - people sitting on the street, putting their house stuff for less than nothing.
MONTAGNE: Well, so to say that a family is selling its refrigerator because there's no electricity to run it, really suggests pretty vividly that people only see today - the $10 that they could get possibly get - right? - for food or something. They don't see that they will not have a refrigerator next week because there is no next week.
AL-BATAL: No one think about the next day. Maybe tomorrow, you lose your family or maybe you lose your house. Like, for example, a friend of mine just lost all of his family in one airstrike. Like, he lost his father, his mother and his sister and his younger brother, and that was, like, in a blink of an eye, you know? You have to think about what you can do in this present moment. So they say that people outside, they don't - maybe they care about the weather more than they care about them. So maybe if I say that the weather here is raining barrel bombs and high degree of dictators, maybe someone will care then.
MONTAGNE: Wow. Well, let me ask you, when we first spoke with you late last year, you were quite angry that the U.S. was paying so much, at that point, attention to ISIS. And what you said was, what about the regime? The Assad regime - more people have been killed by far by them in Syria than by ISIS. I wonder, though - it's been months now - what about ISIS? Or - are they coming into your neighborhood? Is there a threat?
AL-BATAL: Most of the population here, like, do not agree with how ISIS think or act. So they don't have any place to grow any followers here. But what I am afraid is that the more you have been feeling injustice and the more you feel that you have been left alone, that you have been pushed to maybe sometime even make a deal with the devil to get out of here. So we manage to push back those ridicules, but the more the situation get bad, no one knows what going to happen.
MONTAGNE: How are you getting news, and how much news are you getting about what is happening outside?
AL-BATAL: Most of the people get the news. They have this two hours a day of electricity, and they watch television. But they don't watch it with that much care anymore. They are more interested in the local news because they say that the news here, like, it has been the same for, like, three years. The only thing that's changed is the number of people who die. Nothing major have change. There's always an airstrike. There's always someone dying. Even this morning, we have two airstrikes. So people are walking the street. They hear the plane coming, so they just look up, wait for the bomb to fall, and after that they keep walking normally like nothing had happened. That's one side of human nature - that you can get used to anything. I told you my friend of mine lost all of his family, and he didn't even cry. He was, like, the meaning of death have been changed. And he was like, maybe they are relieved now or out of the siege in the one way that no one can stop them - up to the sky.
MONTAGNE: For you, you talk about people around you getting hungrier and hungrier and, as you put it, you know, less human. What about you? Do you see a future there?
AL-BATAL: About me, myself, I don't try to think about the future because thinking about that can really make you frustrated and put you in a more bad place. So what I do is I think about it step by step. There's a different perspective where every time before you go to bed, you say to your friend, goodbye, maybe I won't see you tomorrow. And tomorrow when you meet with him, you say, thank God, you stayed alive. And that's how we do it.
MONTAGNE: Well, please do take care of yourself. And we'll talk to you soon.
AL-BATAL: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Saeed al-Batal is a photographer and an activist against the Assad regime. He's living outside Syria's capital, Damascus, in a place called Douma that is under siege.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.