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Love for grapes prompts Raqa homecomings

JAZRA (Syria)

Since she fled her home near the rebel stronghold of Raqa in northern Syria more than a month ago, Warda Al Jassem has been impatient to return — to water her vine.

Saving their grapes has become an obsession for the 50-year-old and her husband since fighting forced them to flee.

Their house is in Jazra, a western suburb of Raqa, the Daish group’s de facto Syrian capital from which a US-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters is battling to oust the rebels.

Al Jassem and her husband, who have taken refuge in the Al Andalus area, some 25km north of Raqa, could not stop worrying about their grapes. Accompanied by neighbours, she headed home over the weekend for her first visit since the Daish was forced from the neighbourhood in early June.

Due to a heart problem, her husband could not join her.

“Since we left here, the only thing he wanted was to know what had happened to the vine,” she said.

“Every day he’d say ‘The vine is thirsty, it has to be watered’.”

So “I came back to water it,” she said. The blue-eyed woman, her head covered with a black embroidered veil, eyed a trellis hung with yellowed grapes and parched vine leaves.

“They were dying of thirst,” she said.

Much of the fruit had faded, but some grapes, still green, seemed to have survived the intense summer heat. A determined look on her face, Al Jassem turned over the earth with a shovel. Then, using a bucket, she poured water at the bottom of the trellis to try to save the rest of the vine.

Only then did she smile, her mission accomplished. She urged her friends to gather those grapes that were still edible.

Inside the house, she hastened to recover a few precious items: bags of dried mint and other seasonings.

Before leaving again, she filled a plastic bottle with heating oil from a barrel on the patio.

Jassem’s house may have been spared the violence that has descended on Raqa, but the home of her neighbour Maryam Mustafa one street away was not so fortunate.

When she got home, Maryam saw fighters of the anti-Daish Syrian Democratic Forces lounging on her patio. Inside, her washing machine was broken, the family’s clothes were scattered around and even the crockery had disappeared.

Agence France-Presse