NEAR KOBANI, SYRIA —
Slowly, people are making their way back from refugee camps in Turkey and elsewhere to the Syrian city of Kobani and the surrounding countryside and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Islamic state militants overran and devastated the area in September, then were forced out last month by Kurdish fighters, backed by anti-IS-coalition airstrikes. Their retreat has not taken them far away.
Life is hardly carefree for the returning villagers as they guard against the militants' return. Keeping warm is a struggle, as is cooking. But for all of war's trauma and hardship, some are grateful.
“When our village was liberated and Islamic State fighters were just two kilometers away, we came back home," one villager said. "They're still nearby — only seven kilometers away from us. When we came back, we found our village was looted. I had a truck — worth 10 million Syrian lira — also looted.
"Anyway, thank God, we came back to our house and our country, and that's enough for us.”
Out of the rubble, life returns. People gather. Meals are made.
And while so many children in Syria have had to run for cover, the children in this village can run just for fun.