I had vowed not to leave the Syrian city until the hated black flags came down. Then a chance encounter set me on an unintended path fraught with danger

We had gathered as usual in one of the Raqqa houses for a dinner that consisted of a pot of bulgur cooked on firewood, olives and old bread. The older people shared a can of halva to maintain their level of blood sugar. The flames of the candles flickered with the breeze that came in through a hole created by shell damage to the house, and making out the details on the faces around me was difficult.

There wasn’t enough food for everyone owing to the sudden late arrival of some families driven out of their homes by Islamic State because the battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces had drawn closer to their street.

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