In a concrete block apartment building in a working-class Syrian suburb, a young man who calls himself "Big Al" spends his days listening to Nine Inch Nails on his smartphone. He watches back-to-back episodes of "The Simpsons" on his laptop while he shovels a pan of brownies into his mouth.
He loves to cook. It's the only thing keeping him going.
"I'm a big guy, and I like to cook and bake," he says. "Since I've been jobless for more than a year, and there are no activities to do, I get busy baking. In fact, I made more pizzas and cookies this year than I did in the past three years."
When the electricity is on, there he'll be, in a tiny kitchen in his parents' apartment, stirring and sifting and tasting. He'll hear gunfire popping in the distance; sometimes the boom of a shell landing shakes the apartment. He is scared. Of course he is scared. Fear settles on everything. His eyelids are heavy. But what else can he do but keep on living?
It's scorching hot in Syria, but Al always keeps the windows open a little. Pressure from explosions around his Homs neighborhood can cause glass to break. This is one of the lessons he's learned from war.
He's also learned to keep his laptop plugged in so it can soak up whatever electricity might come on, if it does. Al loves the Internet. To him, it's freedom. He can say what he wants and be who he would like to be, something like the goofy, happy guy he used to be before so many people started dying in his country.
Al spends hours hunched over his keyboard, typing, working on his blog, Thoughts and Feelings of a Syrian Freedom Fighter. Its entries, thousands of words, white letters against a black background, are nothing like the usual bomb and body-count stories about Syria.
Al's blog is a detailed diary of a young man's life interrupted, days and nights existing in two states: mundane, almost zombie-like boredom and then sudden, run-for-your life terror.
He writes about sleeping through outages and waiting in lines for hours for a bit of bread. He describes venturing out to buy vegetables -- he and his parents have to get food somewhere -- and being caught in crossfire in the street. He says he drains whole days watching his collection of DVDs and peering through his window to watch young men around his age outside on his street, laughing and firing their guns into the air for no apparent reason than because they can.
It's very difficult for journalists to verify information from inside Syria because the government has restricted access by international press. Media rely many times on video and other materials posted online to have an insight into what is happening there. Some have been proved to be fake, but CNN has carefully examined Al and his blog. He has given information that only someone inside Homs, a Syrian city in the center of much of the violence, would know.
CNN believes these are his experiences.
A friend dies; a blog is born
"The big bad wolf is coming/ No one knows what he looks like."
That is a line from Al's first post in September, nearly six months into a violent rebellion in Syria. Young people about his age had begun protesting in March 2011, chanting that they'd had enough of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held power for 42 years.
He joined them. He thought it would work. Why wouldn't the result of their demonstrations in Syria be like the uprisings that sank dictators in Tunisia or Egypt? But weeks became months; summer came and went. More and more Syrians protesting al-Assad's rule died, typically in increasingly vicious clashes with the regime's military forces.
By fall, Al realized his country was becoming a place he didn't recognize. He was worried. Things were really bad.
Then they got worse, and very personal.
In September, one of Al's good friends was killed in street violence.
He wrote a poem about it in the voice of what he imagined his friend's killers thought. He wanted other activists to read it.
We don't care if you're young or old
We don't care if you're big or small
We don't care if you're black or white, rich or poor
You're all the same in our eyes
You're all.. Nothing
After he published it, he was shocked when people not only saw it but wrote to him. He decided to keep writing, "to tell the story from the beginning," he explained.