This story appears in the March 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.
What’s a camel doing inside a Damascus meeting hall? Photographer Andrea Bruce knows the answer. One night in the walled Old City she was taking photos of a group of five pro-government fighters. The men, part of a neighborhood guard created so the military could attend to more serious matters, had spent the evening at checkpoints inspecting cars for guns and bombs. Around midnight they headed to the hall, where they typically gather to drink tea. Eager for comic relief after the tense evening, one fighter (in foreground) stares into the eyes of a camel that has been brought in from a nearby stable, says Bruce, “as a joke.”
It’s no laughing matter for the camel. This fighter and his comrades are planning to sacrifice it. Their dear friend, the owner of the hall, was detained by Syrian authorities, who accused him of storing weapons for rebel fighters. The owner was expected to be released soon; these fighters hope to celebrate the occasion by slaughtering the young camel for a feast.
Bruce spent days persuading these men and others to let her document their lives. “Suspicions run deep,” she says. Nerves are frayed, friends are separated. Battle lines of flipped cars and stacked furniture divide the city from its own suburbs. “It is such a city in waiting.”