Feature: Syrian old man guards war

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by Hummam Sheikh Ali

Khayata lives with his sick wife and his 15-year-old son in a makeshift house on the rooftop. The man has to climb a precarious ladder over the destroyed staircase to his home. One slip could cost him his life.

"When the clashes raged outside this gate, I would be inside making tea and coffee," he said.

ALEPPO, Syria, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- In the old part of Aleppo city, rubbles fill the horizon. Destroyed buildings stand witness to a war that had ripped the old city apart before it ended in December 2016 with the army defeating the rebels in the eastern part of Aleppo.

The man told Xinhua that he has spent his life working as a guard of these shops, which don't even belong to him, in the Khan al-Harir street in Aleppo's Old City.

"Everything can return to how it was. This is why I have faith that this area in old Aleppo will return to what it used to be, and even better," Khayata said.

A very few people have remained here for the sake of their unbroken attachment to homes.

"The owners told me to clean the rubble and look after the things that can be used," the old man said.

He has spent his life protecting them and making sure they stay safe. When the war shattered his life and squashed all into ruins, he remained there, guarding each memory of his with every falling rock in the old city.

"If the ship is sinking, we don't push it down but try to save what could be saved, and I am here doing that," he explained.

He said a few shop owners have started to return to fix and reopen their businesses.

During the war, he briefly moved to his relative nearby but kept on coming back to look after this place every day.

"I never left this area," Khayata said.

Maher Khayata, a 80-year-old man, sits on the rooftop of a shattered shopping compound in the Old City of Aleppo, northern Syria, on Dec. 21, 2017. Khayata is the guardian of a shopping compound. He has spent his life protecting the compound and making sure it stays safe. When the war shattered his life and squashed all into ruins, he remained there, guarding each memory of his with every falling rock in the old city. (Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalani)

"We have been here for 70 years since my deceased father. I was born here and I am 80 years old, wanting to do nothing but to remain here," he said.

But as people often say, "life goes on" and "there is hope tomorrow."

The man, however, still has a strong faith that everything can be repaired.

Maher Khayata, a 80-year-old man, is one of them.

According to Khayata, his current job is to remove the rubble and clean the shops so that when the merchants return to their shops, they will find them clean.

He said the merchants owning the place used to give him money on a weekly or monthly basis to ask him to look after their properties.

Behind the gate, a rubble-strewn yard separates the shops, which are largely destroyed.

"I can't give up on this area. I would remain here to watch this place booming and flourishing like before," he added.

"I am here guarding the ruins, guarding even the doors. I am the guardian of these ruins," said Khayata, with grey shaggy hair and shabby clothes.

He said his wife is suffering from a back disk and one of his sons is living with him, while the other two went missing during the war.

He is the guardian of a shopping compound, where a big metal gate, which is closed and locked by an old scarf, still serves as the entrance as if nothing has changed.