In a "Facebook" page, a woman writes on the rising cost of living: "Hello. I used to write about rising prices in the various countries around the world I had visited... But believe me, there is nothing that matches our prices these days—and I am only talking about Salamiyeh."
She added with her distinct Salamiyeh accent: "People have forgotten something called meat or chicken. Anyone who used to cook with bones cannot do so any longer, as it is no longer free. Vegetables and fruits have become a dream... People will stare at any person seen on the street eating some fruits, and point their fingers at him... As for vegetables, Mahmosh [a traditional vegetable based dish] has now become the Friday meal, replacing grilled meat—That would cost around two thousand [Syrian] Pounds, now."
Thus the conditions changed in the city which had, previously, been a haven for people of limited means, as well as a Mecca of cheap food and goods of various kinds—a city that favored the poor.
It now reels from the severe cold which hit the country, poverty, lack of services, as well as fear ISIS expanding to its east, and other hard-line factions scattered to its west. Salamiyeh, located in an important strategic point, is a link between Homs and the Syrian desert in the eastern region, currently controlled by ISIS which enjoys a hegemony over wide swaths of land. This has interrupted an important food supply line, from those places towards the city.
Exorbitant Prices for the Inhabitants!
The woman's words on "Facebook" were paralleled by those of Ahmad, a Salamiyeh resident, who tells Rozana: "Electric power comes only six hours a day to homes; while water comes one day to a certain neighborhood—meaning that each neighborhood's wait to receive water again, can possibly reach up to 10 days."
The young man adds: "A bundle of bread costs 50 [Syrian] Pounds; a liter of diesel up to 200 Pounds—if available; gasoline is almost never available, and the price of a liter may reach up to 225 Pounds. As for gas, there has been none for almost a month and a half now. A handful of gas canisters arrived to the city, priced at 1,250 Pounds per canister."
According to Ahmad, about a month ago almost 100 gas canisters arrived at the distribution center in Salamiyeh's western neighborhood. None found its way into people's homes; but actually fell into the hands of the People's Committees, affiliated with the Syrian regime.
No More Enjoyable Vacations!
Rita, a student at the Tishreen University of Lattakia, used to visit Salamiyeh and her family on a weekly basis, last year. This current school year, she only visits once a month, to see her family.
The girl explains: "Road fare from Salamiyeh to Lattakia was 450-500 [Syrian] Pounds last year. Now it is 750 Pounds. From home to university, for the past two years I only go walking."
Not only so, Rita emphasizes; but there is nothing comfortable anymore in Salamiyeh. No electricity, no water, no proper mobile phone coverage, no diesel or petrol. She explains: "Depression is prevalent between people. I no longer travel frequently to Salamiyeh. Despite everything, Lattakia remains more comfortable in this situation."
"Mash." With this popular Salamiyeh expression, meaning "nothing," Karam answered Rozana's question "What are your ambitions in this situation?"
He did not graduate from his alma mater, and now resides in Salamiyeh. He worked in sand and gravel transport, and changed many professions, until only recently settling down. He achieved this after being able to open a small arcade hall, from the returns of which he and his family barely eke a living.
The young men confirms that his monthly income last year was less than this year; yet it was better. Prices, at the time, were much cheaper.
Karam tells us that the arcade hall brings him in circa 150 thousand [Syrian] Pounds a month. But he cannot save anything from this amount, as he has to cover the costs of lighting, electricity bill, petrol and gas, as well as the place's rent. He explains, in his distictive accent: "There's nothing to put aside... It's all going, anyway. People feel trapped, here in Salamiyeh, so they come here for some entertainment and fun."
The Nouveaux Riches!
Just as the everyday man in Salamiyeh is preoccupied in facing the current [snow] storm, securing living necessities, and dreaming of electricity and water ever visiting his house; there also exist in the city people with very different dreams and aspirations.
There exists a cocktail of regime-affiliated armed groups in this city lying in the eastern Hama countryside. There are the security branches; the National Defense [regime-affiliated militias]; the Whirlwind Eagles [of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party]; al-Baath Phalanges; in addition to the 47th Brigade [of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard], and another small contingency from the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Those troops' salaries are no less than about twenty thousand [Syrian Pounds] a month. Every "National Defense" fighter receives about thirty thousand each month, with the amount increasing or decreasing depending on rank. The thouands also rise, with every new area controlled by the regime, through the so-called "Ta'afeesh" [Pillage] operations—not to mention the daily invasion of citizens' purses, on one of the various roadblocks surrounding Salamiyeh.
As for foreign fighters says Omar, a Salamiyeh reisdent: "Hezbollah salaries range between 30 and 100 thousand [Syrian Pounds]. Those who receive the 100 thousand amount, are the people of the [elite] Strike Force. They are the reconnaissance force and they spearhead battles. According to my sources, they are sent out to die—meaning that they, reportedly, only receive one-time payments, most of the time."