'In November 2012, the 31 year-old Syrian man Mohammad Hamwia left his home, in the city of Homs, Syria, for the last time.
The frequent bombings, the deafening noise of the machine guns and the blood-stained streets had already forced his mother Hana, his three brothers and three of his four sisters to seek refuge in Denmark, Dubai and the United States.
In Syria, months after the beginning of the revolution, the refugee says he witnessed the repressive forces of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime turn stray cats into victims: “The government snipers shot the cats, saying they needed to practice,” he said.
“If the police captured someone, they tortured them until they snitched about someone else. The prisoner eventually disclosed the name of some acquaintance that also opposed the government, and he got killed. That’s how they kept capturing other people. And others. And so on,” Hamwia said.
Hamwia holds a BA in English Literature and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. He says he spent his final days in western Syria delivering milk and bread to children and babies — an activity that had become incredibly difficult due to the siege.
“We had food suppliers, but they couldn’t get where we were. So we had to go to these dangerous zones, get some food, and go back,” recalls the Syrian. He reenacts the moves he used to dodge bullets, as if he were recounting a scene from an action movie. His friends were getting arrested, disappeared or killed.
He insists on showing us some pictures on his cellphone of his hometown across two different time periods. He pulled up pictures from before the war — populated with impressive and elegant buildings. The pictures of Homs today, however, are of a fallen city. “Half the population left the country. The remaining people are still there, dying gradually,” he said.
He says he would be homesick if his hometown was still intact. “My city is much prettier than Itaim Bibi [an upper class district in São Paulo]. But everything I saw when I was a little boy is now destroyed,” he says.
Besides his family, with whom he communicates over WhatsApp, he misses his old friends. But Hamwia doesn’t know if they are still alive. He says that those who stayed behind reached a point where the odds of staying alive were 50/50.
“There are people who get used to this situation and await death. How are they going to die? When are they going to die? Nobody knows,” he says.'