Monday, May 23, 2011

My Syria

A year ago today, we were doing this:

You know, exploring ruins in southern Syria like nobody's business. We spent 10 days in Syria last summer, enjoying the ruins in the south, the Old City in Damascus, the castle near Homs, another castle in the middle of nowhere, the beaches in Lattakia, and the fantastic food in Aleppo.

It hurts to think about what is going on in those places now, so much so that I try not to do it. What's more, Syrians are very possessive of opinions on their country, especially at times like these. So I hold on to the shred of opinion that I feel like I'm allowed to have, having lived in Syria for a year and visited it three times since, and loving that place with all my heart, beyond all reason.

It's hard to know that friends and former students are still there, and be afraid to ask them how they are doing lest they say something they shouldn't in response. It's hard to see the dream of a progressive Bashar al-Assad fall messily and oh-so-disappointingly by the wayside. It's hard to see the Syrians I follow on Twitter descend into bitter debate and divisions over and over and over again.

It's hard to not know when we'll go to Syria again, or what Syria will be like when we do.

So I tuck Syria away in a corner of my mind where Hessfeld still lurks in the basement of City Mall with his "surprise in the ball." There are local nuggles on offer at Siwar as-Sham, as usual. Charlie is still hanging out at Baramkeh, calling the American girls "blondie." Dima hasn't stopped crying. A ride in a shared minivan taxi costs 5 lira (10 cents). If you know to ask, you can get a cheap room in the unremodeled wing of the Cham Palace Hotel in Lattakia, right on the Mediterranean. The strawberry ice cream at The Barfait is still divine, and a trip to Beirut is as simple as buying up a seat in a creaky yellow land yacht of a taxi and heading over the mountains. And after any length of time spent in My Syria, you will be hard-pressed to decide what you love more: the people, the ruins, the dialect, or the food.

I hope Syria can continue to hang on. I know I'll be holding on to My Syria.


Sarah Familia said...

Amen! What a lovely and heartfelt post. I'm still missing that 10-year reunion in Syria this year that was just not to be. Here's to better times ahead someday.

Susanne said...

Enjoyed this! Beautiful! I just finished "The Road from Damascus" that I got for my birthday and the author Scott Davis from Washington (do I need to qualify this as state?) talks about his visit to Syria in late 1987 and again for a shorter visit in early 2001 when Bashar had been in power for only a few months.

It was very interesting to see how things did initially reform under him and the hope people had. I could better understand what you meant several weeks back when you spoke of him and how things changed under him for the better. The police state under his father - as told from this point in 1987 - seemed unlike what I experienced at all. (Though I realize I was there only 12 days as opposed to the 3 months he was there and the year you were there and the yearS my Syrian friends were and still are there.)

I initially found your blog because of Syria and I've enjoyed it ever since. Thanks for sharing your Syria with us. I hope in the future more Syria posts will be forthcoming as you recall living there *and* as you visit again and again.

Actually I still want to go back one day too. :)

Here is a quote from the book I mentioned above. I think it sums up my feelings although I was only there a tiny fraction of my life.

"The first 29 days of my journey had changed me. I turned instead to the people I met, the places I visited, the sounds and smells of this land. Of necessity, I made them mine. After requesting admission to the lives of Syrians, after asking them to talk with me, to remember me, to care about me, would it ever be possible for me to dismiss them or to dismiss people from other distant lands as 'foreign?' Didn't we all belong to an emerging world culture? By now I thought of myself as Syrian even though I knew I was also American."

Jill said...

There is a CityMall in Honduras too. That name must have international appeal. I've never had a chance to go the the Middle East and I love that your blog brings it to me

amber eve said...

I lived in Damascus for 8 months before leaving indefinitely last month. My stuff is still there, and I think it's still my fact, that's what I just wrote about on my blog today: I hope to go back there soon, very soon.

sarah said...

I loved the people there!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Read what Thomas Friedman has to say about Syria today.

Syria is a treasure in every way. I am sorry the Syrian people's road to more freedom may be long and rocky.

Anonymous said...

News about Syria has been breaking my heart pretty much on a daily basis. I feel so helpless. All I can do is hope that things improve in the end.


Bridget said...

Susanne, I read that book before we moved to Syria and I remember thinking that it was kind of weird that the author identified SO MUCH with Syria after such a short time there. Then we spent a year there and I totally saw how that was possible, even inevitable. Amazing.

Jill, can't you just imagine the planning committees? "Well, it's a mall...and it's in the city...OOH, I know!!"

Amber Eve, good luck to you!


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