Remembering What It Was Like Before the War
The following is a collection of thoughts I wanted to express after watching a beautiful short titled In Damascus, and hope the interested reader will make at least some sense of my nostalgia, particularly with the news that has been unfolding before our eyes the past several years.
When the violence first broke out in Syria, (where my father is from), I never realized it would spiral to its current situation. At first I was shocked and like everyone else horrified not only with the images of war, but also the hypocrisy created by the many people interested in its demise. Its been several years now and I still can not accept that what I see and hear in the news is the Syria I had come to know and love. I’m not sure at what point it happened, but I shamefully became desensitized and decided it was best to stop watching the news all together. Once proud to share my opinions on my thoughts of a safe and developing country I grew up visiting every summer, I decided it was best to keep my opinions to myself, and what a challenge it was for me to not debate with others with different views who claimed to understand the complexity, dirty politics and dynamic of this war.
I am ashamed to admit that growing up I was never too excited on spending my summer holidays in Syria. As a teen growing up between the States and Europe, most of my friends couldn’t even place Syria on a map. Beirut was always much more fun and exciting. I didn’t like the chaos of the noisy traffic in Damascus, the old broken down taxis with faux fur lined interiors honking away, the bleak architecture combined with the outdoor neon lighting that made up most of the city’s infrastructure. A couple of road trips and adventures later though, I discovered a raw beauty in cities like Aleppo and places like Hama, Palmyra and Latakia. It was a complete discovery, the cultural value of these places the history so easily accessible and well of course the food. Now I wonder about the people I met on those journeys and what they have been through and regret not having spent more time appreciating them and exploring my father’s country more when I had the chance.
I often question what happened to the family who’s home we went to visit in Maa’loula the ancient town built on a rugged mountainside not too far from Damascus known as one of three remaining villages in the world where Western Neo-Aramaic is spoken, They invitingly opened their home to us and although they spoke a language I couldn’t understand, I enjoyed their smiles, their warm hospitality, the endless cups of black tea and sweets. Had they fallen victim to the atrocious violence that apparently wiped out and destroyed the town? How will I ever know?
What about the lady who sold wooden and pearl backgammon boards from her beautiful artisanal antique store in Old Town Damascus? I remember how she happily and so meticulously gift wrapped my purchases while sharing her excitement for a slowly developing Syria that was starting to open doors to the outside world. I wish I could visit her, and I wonder if she’s still there or fallen victim to the violence?
Then of course there is my family.
Why had my uncles and relatives decided to stay? They had the option like many others to move to Lebanon. In my mind I can hear their voices and imagine them stubbornly and proudly explain their reasons. Stating quite matter of frankly and with pride that after all they have been through, all the wars, violence, corruption, over the years if something was going to happen then they should be nowhere else but in their own homes, their roofs over their heads and there was no arguing with that.
I no longer recognize what I see and hear in the news and I am not sure I am optimistic about the future. Countries recover from wars eventually, but the spirit is broken and the raw beauty is forever impacted. Others will argue and say it paves the way for the new. The concept so many artists discuss expressing the necessity of destruction being at the core for creation and change. Only time will tell but I’m grateful I at least have the memories of a different time which will forever be a part of me.
Photos Leila Antakly
Boys Night Out a photo taken near Ummayad Mosque by photographer Olof Hoverfalt