Monday, February 20, 2012

Syria protests

A pro-Syrian rally on Mezze Autostrad, 2005.
Over the last several years, I've considered writing a book about our time in Syria. In the back of my mind, a nebulous deadline has always existed, a sense of moderate urgency to write before "it" happened - "it" being something that would someday thrust Syria into the news limelight. I think anyone who follows politics in the Middle East had the same sense that things would not always be the same in Syria as they were in the early 2000s, during the first years of Bashar al-Assad's reign. We all knew that change would come. Of course, we all hoped it would be the positive, bloodless kind.

I think "it" is finally happening, and my book remains unwritten. I've typed out good chunks of it on an extensive Google Doc, but it's mostly strings of loosely connected anecdotes and hastily recorded, unpolished impressions of experiences, places, and people. I may never actually write the book. But recently, I took a look at the vignettes of Syria I had written down years ago and it's amazing to me how much has already changed.

Yesterday, it got even more personal as I clicked through to the most recent NYT story about Syria and saw the lead picture. The place where the people are protesting is Mezze Autostrad. The Syriatel/MTN building you can see is where we got our mobile phone SIM cards in 2004 (price: $20), and again in 2010 (price: $1). If you walked down the street and up and around the corner, you'd see our apartment building.

But it gets even closer. Last night, Jeremy and I watched this video.

Nobody should be able to watch a video of something like that happening and be able to say, "I lived there. I shopped there. You see where the grass is? It used to be a string of car-repair shops. The off-street parking is new and the internet cafe you can see behind the crowds used to be the most popular one in the neighborhood, in those early days when an at-home dial-up connection was so hard to get. Our favorite juice shop is just outside the frame and I bought my first maternity clothes next door. In 2006 and 2010 when we visited, our kids played on that grass and walked on that sidewalk and bought toys from that store and we marveled at the impression of home we continued to get from that place, even after moving away."

Nobody should be able to say that.

When we first moved to Syria I remember thinking that I was living in a bizarre CNN newscast, one of those clips you see as a kid where the traffic is chaotic and entire families squash onto single motorcycles to get around town and there's dust in the air and a call to prayer echoing in the background. I had only ever seen something so foreign on TV, and suddenly there I was, in Syria, living it. To cope, to make what I was experiencing somehow familiar, I reached to my memories of those news broadcasts because that was something I knew.

I feel that now I'm experiencing some kind of reverse phenomenon. I've lived it, and I'm now struggling to connect what I see on TV with the place that I know. And now the CNN newscasts are infinitely more foreign to me. It's not just chaotic traffic and dust and calls to prayer anymore.

It's painful enough to be an observer. I can only imagine how it would feel if Syria were actually my country, and I continue to hope and pray for their deliverance, never mind from what, or to what.


Kathy Haynie said...

Awful. Awful to watch, knowing that this scene of violence was once your home, and even more awful to live through, for the people whose home this still is. I cannot even imagine what the constant stress must be like for Syrians, no matter what their individual views are. A time of such worry and uncertainty for everyone.

Thank you for sharing your connection to the video - makes a faraway event seem more real.

Nancy said...

Oh, I totally get this. Watching the Egyptian revolution last year just about killed me. I realize it's still going on but I'm kind of as used to it now as I think I'm going to get. But, yes. I had thoughts like, "We just took Andrew's graduation pictures there!" and "We walked on that bridge for Rachel's 2nd birthday!" Things like that.

SO many emotions. All at once.

Hopefully everything ends out for the better.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Very tragic. I wonder about your neighbors there like--well, best not to mention names here. They loved Syria and were proud to be Syrian. So unfair to a country to face destruction for the benefit of a few. And the few can't keep this up forever, so what's the point?

Crys said...

While painful, I think it is an important perspective. Your experience is another reminder that this isn't just a story on CNN, but a real place with real people. I think with the constant 24 hour news cycle people are actually able to forget that. I think about Syria every day. Hope they are able to find a way out from under oppression quickly.

Susanne said...

Samer's family lives in Mezze, and he can't believe he has not been able to visit them in all these months. He last visited around Ramadan 2010 never knowing that his country would change so much. He is too fearful to go back now since some people have been arrested or detained upon arriving home. And his work is in Germany now. But he sure does miss his family, and told me only yesterday - again - how he is concerned for their safety. His mom, twin brother, two sisters, two small nephews and extended family are all there. If you think of it, please pray for them as you remember Syria.

Thanks for sharing your memories.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. I've found it very painful to be an observer, too, and I wish so much there was something I could do. At this point, I think all I can do is pray.


Sarah Familia said...

Thank you for writing this. I feel the same. In the course of moving in, I just unpacked my journals from my time in Syria, for the first time in two years. I even found some other memorabilia, like my Bashar keychain and posters of Hafez al-Assad wreathed in flowers. I still haven't sat down to read my journals. There is just such a disconnect from the Syria of then and the Syria of now.

It is hard to not be able to do anything but hope and pray.

Liz Johnson said...

Um... I have no words. Holy crap. That's gunfire, right?

(how freaking privileged am I to not even know what gunfire sounds like?!)

Watching that, never having been there, and not understanding the language - it makes me absolutely sick inside. I can't even imagine how it must make you feel. Do you have hopes that things are going to turn for the better? Or do you imagine things getting worse before they get better?

Samer said...

As a Syrian, I don't feel I have a country any more because I know this will end up in a very miserable and tragic way. I know that a genocide and mass murder will prevail and Syrians will keep hating each other for good and the country will be torn.

In principle I am against foreign intervention but in Syria this is definitely lesser of two evils because it will save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who will be murdered.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.


Bridget said...

Somehow I knew you'd understand, Nancy.

Bridget said...

Thank you for your perspective, Samer. I am so sad for your country!

Bridget said...

Liz, yes, that's gunfire. The (not so) funny thing is that we used to hear sudden, loud noises like that all the time from that exact same stretch of street - but it was from all the machinery at the car repair shops. It's so sad that now it's actually gunfire, not just something that sounds like it.

Of course I have hopes things will turn for the better. I just have no idea when/how that will happen.


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