It's hard to imagine a war zone being a place to become a bodybuilder - especially if you've become a victim of that war and your city is under seige, with food and medicines in desperately short supply. But the stories of Syrians today are full of surprises. This is one surprising story: the inspiring story of a young Syrian activist who, despite terrible suffering, refuses to lie down and become a victim.
In the middle of a first date, I suddenly remembered that I needed to cancel my back up plans and send a quick Facebook message notifying my friends I couldn’t catch up with them. But my homepage caught me off-guard, and I found myself giving a big, loud “wow” over the photos of a naked male chest, with some fine lines trying to grow into a six-pack! Luckily enough, I was sitting on the other side of the table where my date couldn’t see what I was seeing, so I could come up with some lame excuse for my astounded cry, as I thought my date wouldn’t have believed that what surprised me was the person in the photos, not his body. The first thing I did after going home was to chat with the guy in the photos; Mustafa* , my activist friend who lives under siege in rural Damascus.
His photos caught me by surprise, especially since I have been talking with him over Skype almost daily during the last month, trying to figure out the best way to keep what’s left of rural Damascus alive. He is one of those who would literally dodge bullets and mortar shells while trying to be one of the last civil activists standing. I wouldn’t have figured he’d have the time for a workout! Since I knew him, he’d be working day and night seeking professional advice on something he’s involved in; medical issues regarding field hospitals, journalism and online campaigns, or better ways to promote civil defiance.
Just like all those we consider superhuman, I never thought what his daily life would in reality look like. Asking him how he found the time for a six-pack quest was the first personal conversation we ever had. I didn’t know before that conversation that a mortar shell injured him a year ago. I didn’t know that his left hand and leg were randomly fixed by doctors in field hospitals with a couple of screws, knowing that it would be a while before he’d be able to receive the needed treatment. The siege in his area was starting to close in at the time and he asked his parents who were still there to leave before they were totally locked in. His parents would not have left him alone if he didn’t have a very good argument: the food they had in the house wouldn’t last long with the three of them under the siege, but it might have been enough for him alone.
“I had to crawl to eat, crawl to shit, even crawl to open the door for those who came to see how I was. I was drowning in a pit of weakness, and I needed to do something. I first started an extensive reading program, almost reading one novel every day. Then I wanted to be more useful, so I started to use the Internet to develop some strategies to make life a bit more possible under siege. But it wasn’t enough, I was powerless and my body wasn’t mine anymore. Then it hit me, I can still work out my abdomen, and maybe get its full set of muscles!”
“Bit by bit, I started to gain strength and move again, I even became a paramedic saving people’s lives with my recently repaired leg. I’m proud of my six pack even though it isn’t sculpted well yet. But you need to know that only few friends who live out of the siege could see my workout photos. People are being starved to death everyday, I was lucky to have enough food stored in my house to keep me alive, and I won’t feel comfortable if they know that my body has that much flesh on it!”
Despite what he said, the only reason he couldn’t get his six-pack even with his extensive workout was due to the lack of proteins and fat needed to build muscle. Now the six pack is the least of his worries; a couple of months ago he had a car accident, which affected the screws holding his bones together. “I needed a joint transplant, but here doctors could only try to fix my screws. Every time I went to the field hospital, though, the operation wasn’t a priority. Our field hospital suffers a shortage of fuel needed to have the necessary machines working, as the Syrian regime has cut off main electricity lines with its siege. When they get their fuel, more urgent cases are waiting. Now It’s too late to fix the screws, the calcium in my knee is decomposing, and the only option available is a new knee transplant, which is impossible inside this besieged area.”
I didn’t know any of this when I first saw his photos, all I thought of was “What a creative way to promote a cause!” Well, obviously I got the idea all wrong; he was simply posting them just like any other guy who likes to boast about his body. Only for him, it was one of the few things he could actually do while waiting either for the siege to be broken or to find a way to be smuggled where a proper hospital could give him his new knee.
*Mustafa’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
Editor K is a Syrian activist, journalist and writer. You can contact her here.