MEMORIES OF SYRIA
Lately at that crucial point between being awake and falling asleep I find myself beginning to think about things that I barely have time for and which I always tend to forget by the time I wake up. So a few days ago I made a promise to myself and decided no matter how tired I am, I will start writing them down. The following is a collection of these thoughts I wanted to express after watching a beautiful little short titled In Damascus, and hope the interested reader will make at least some sense of my writing or nostalgia.
When the violence first broke out in Syria, (where my father is from), I never realized it would spiral to its current situation years later. At first I was shocked and like everyone else horrified with the images in the news. I could not accept this was the Syria I had come to know and love. Then at some point one shamefully becomes desensitized and detached so I decided to stop watching the news. Once proud to share my opinions on the politics of the region, I decided it was best to keep them to myself, a challenge for sometimes outspoken me to not debate or judge others with shockingly different views. But for the first time last night in a long time I began to wonder what happened to some of those people I knew and met on all those summers and breaks and I felt like writing about it.
I am ashamed to admit that growing up I was never too keen or excited on spending my 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 Western and honestly I just hated the chaotic traffic full of furry interior- lined taxis honking away, the bleak grey architecture combined with the outdoor neon office lighting that made up most of the city’s infrastructure. A couple of road trips later though, I discovered a raw beauty in cities like Aleppo and places like Hama, Palmyra and Latakia. Now I wonder about the people I met on those journeys, where are they now, what have they lived through and are they even alive?
What happened to my father’s gardener who rarely spoke a word but had the sensitivity and gesture on his own to bring me fresh juices that he saw I loved so much and fresh flowers every morning when I was home recovering from an operation? What about the incredibly educated tour guide who spoke 5 languages fluently we hired in beautiful Aleppo? He was determined to share all his knowledge and insight so that we too could feel proud to be Syrian. Was he still alive? How I wish I could see him again and ask him so many things.
What happened to the family who’s home we went to visit in Ma’loula the ancient town built on a rugged mountainside not too far from Damascus? They invitingly opened their home to us and although they spoke only in Aramaic I enjoyed the endless cups of black tea and sweets and knew this was an experience I would appreciate one day. Have they fallen victim to the sickening violence that has apparently wiped out and destroyed the entire town?
What about the beautiful lady who sold wooden backgammon boards from her store close to Umayyad mosque in Old Town? I remember how she happily and so meticulously gift wrapped my purchases and shared her excitement for a slowly developing Syria that was starting to open doors to the outside world. And now where is she, does her shop even still exist? Although I always felt like an outsider being that I am only half Syrian, I always felt like I was being taken back in time walking around Old Town Damascus avoiding eye contact with shop keepers and was living and breathing a scene from a book or movie.
Then of course there is my family. Why had my uncles decided to stay? They had the option like many others to get out and move to a safer Lebanon. In my mind I can hear their voices and imagine them stubbornly and proudly explain their reason for staying is because they are at that age that if they are going to die anywhere then it should be in their own home. Simple and plain as that. The list goes on and on of these amazing people and characters that make up the Syria that I grew up visiting every summer. I no longer recognize what I see and hear in the news and although there are those that are still optimistic about the future, I am only curious to know where these people are today and wish I could thank them for being part of my memories.
Photos Leila Antakly
Boys Night Out a photo taken near Ummayad Mosque by photographer Olof Hoverfalt