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Syrian Teacher Explains Why He Still Lives In The Besieged City Of Aleppo

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're going to listen now to a voice from the rebel-held eastern side of Aleppo. Last week, the Syrian regime and its Russian allies resumed airstrikes on that part of the city. Witnesses are reporting that hospitals and schools have been hit. Wissam Zarqa is a schoolteacher who lives in eastern Aleppo with his wife. And we reached him via Skype. I asked him if this increased bombing has brought daily life to a halt in the Syrian city.

WISSAM ZARQA: No, no, like, even when a street is targeted, like, five minutes later, life would go back to normal somehow. People who live day by day can't stay at home. They have to work.

GREENE: And are you still going to work?

ZARQA: I'm a teacher. Because of the heavy shelling, we stopped this week. Hopefully, we can start again next week.

GREENE: How old are your students?

ZARQA: The youngest are 11.

GREENE: What have you been telling these young kids about the situation?

ZARQA: In fact, they are telling me - not I am telling them. They know better. Most of them spent all of their life - most of their life in this situation. So usually, they would, like, start - at class, they would tell me what happened, who died and how.

GREENE: Wow, they actually just tell you who died, like, in a very straightforward manner, like this is just - that they're used to this life.

ZARQA: The other day, a little girl in the seventh grade, she told me that she couldn't finish her homework because her brother was killed. It was in the same day, so I was surprised that her brother passed away but she came to school. So yeah, it's strange a bit. But this is how it's happening here.

GREENE: And you are living with your wife in eastern Aleppo right now. Is that right?

ZARQA: Right.

GREENE: And she's pregnant?

ZARQA: She was pregnant. And we lost our unborn baby about a month ago or less.

GREENE: Oh, I'm so sorry.

ZARQA: Yeah, we don't know why exactly, maybe because of the terror around - like, it happens many times that we wake up terrified, especially when they started using bunker buster bombs - maybe because of the lack of the food she needs. I'm not sure why, exactly. Maybe, like, even if we were, like, in a normal life, maybe that would happen. But you never can tell.

GREENE: Why are you in eastern Aleppo right now? I know you wrote an article saying that many of your family members - your parents and your brother and friends - live in Turkey. Why have you and your wife decided to stay in eastern Aleppo?

ZARQA: It's a duty. There are children here. There are young people who need education to go on. If all people who, like, have already finished their study run away, there would be no more life here - only death, only war. So I was in Saudi Arabia. I used to teach at university. It was comfortable there. But I didn't feel OK. I felt that there is something I should be doing, and I wasn't.

GREENE: Mr. Zarqa, let me just ask you - you know, our listeners hear day after day of how bleak and terrible the situation is in your part of Aleppo. I mean, what is your best hope at this point?

ZARQA: No idea - like, as for me, I wanted to be here no matter what. Maybe we will be killed today, tomorrow - no big difference. So I prefer to die here, doing my duty. So I don't, like, have a lot of hopes about future. What I care about is the present. That all what matters.

GREENE: OK, Mr. Zarqa, all the best to you and your wife. And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate it.

ZARQA: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.