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 nostalgia, particularly with the news unfolding before our eyes.
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. Its been several years now and I still can not accept that this 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 detached with the situation, and decided it was best 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 me to not debate with others with different views who claim to understand the complexity and dynamic of this war.
I am ashamed to admit that growing up I was never too 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 'happening' and honestly I didn't like the chaotic traffic full of furry interior- lined taxis honking away, the bleak and grey architecture combined with the outdoor neon office 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. 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.
Where is the incredibly educated tour guide who spoke five languages fluently who showed us around beautiful Aleppo? He was determined to share all his knowledge and insight so that we too could feel proud to be Syrian. He was so detailed and saw beauty on every corner and back then there was no " East Aleppo" or West, it was just one beautiful historical city with no divide. 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. Had 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 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. 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 and was living and breathing a scene from a movie. 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 a safer Lebanon. In my mind I can hear their voices and imagine them stubbornly and proudly explain their reasons. Stating quite matter of frankly that after all they have been through, all the wars over the years if something was going to happen then they should be in their own home and no where else. These are only some of the 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 I am not sure I am optimistic about the future. For now I am only curious to know where some of these people are today, and am praying they are safe 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