The bread maker of Eastern Ghouta

In Eastern Ghouta, I came across a structure with smoke rising from it. Inside, a 45-year-old woman sat with her three children and elderly husband, who was unable to move, looking out through the opening where the door should have been. Outside, a young man with a cart hurried in our direction. The children — two boys and a girl — were busy collecting plastic bags and fallen leaves for their mother to bake with.

“What are you making?” I asked her.

“When life becomes almost too much to bear, and no one but God is left to provide for you, you become an inventor to support your family,” she said before sharing her story.

Faced with the shortage of wheat flour, women of Eastern Ghouta have started using barley, corn flour and even fodder to bake bread, which is sometimes the only available food for the day.

“My husband used to work on cars, and he provided us with what we needed. But then he fell ill and became bedridden, and he could no longer work. I was left with no one to provide for me or my children.

“There was not a piece of bread in the house. There was not even a single olive. I couldn’t go to work because it would mean leaving my children alone with my husband in his situation. I sat in a room in front of the fireplace, miserable, staring at a pile of sticks. What can I make out of a pile of sticks? I thought long and hard. And in a moment of inspiration, I realized that I could turn my misery into life. I would gather up that brittle pile of sticks to bake bread, bread filled with life and coloured with hope. With that pile of sticks, I set my misery on fire and reignited the flame of life.

“I began baking bread, and eventually I baked so much that I became famous throughout my entire region. It got to the point where people were racing to get to my house so that I might bake them bread, bringing their flour with them, the varying qualities of which reflected the range of their personal wealth, from poor to poorer. Among those who brought me their flour, people who had been blessed with prosperity. It was the case not long ago that the only people who ate wheat were poor. If the wealthy are eating wheat now, what do poor people eat?

“Among the people who bring me their flour are also those with barley and some grains of wheat. By mixing these together they are able to get bread of a medium quality. These are members of the middle class. There are also those who bring barley, but they do not come often. Finally, there are those who bake with feed. They hardly ever seek out my services, because they do not have enough money to pay me. They bake their bread themselves even though they don’t have any wood for the fire. This means that they are left to go out to the garbage containers and collect plastic bags or gather leaves by the side of the road, so that they can bake their feed bread. Yes, in Ghouta human beings are turned into animals. But they preserve their dignity.

A family prepares to make a meal in a destroyed house, used as an emergency shelter, after being displaced from their home in Eastern Ghouta.

“Many of Ghouta’s people can't even afford feed or other animal food to eat. They are left with no other option than to pick the shrubs that grow by the side of the road.

“Only the luckiest of the people of Ghouta were able to prepare themselves for the conflict. They grew wheat and barley, which they stored in years past, and which they now use to bake bread, while this crippling war continues.

“Through my work, I have been able to feed myself and my children. I have been, in a way, reborn, and from my baking I have made for myself a new life.”

Learn more about how CARE is responding to the crisis facing millions of Syrians and how you can help >>