Red Lips & Battlefields

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Letter to Damascus


The irony of human suffering is that it embeds a zest for life in its victims that cannot be bought, borrowed, nor sold by those who are graciously blessed. As I listen to stories of Damascus, a city I never knew nor had the fortune to love, I marvel at the ability of even its most neglected citizens to raise it up again by conjuring memories of sunny horizons, promising youth, Arabic music, and a love of freedom. The dark and brooding street corners are brought back to life by the scent of fresh bread and hummus, as children dream lost treasures found again.

Today, O sorrowful Damascus, your open wounds are written into news clippings of obituaries mourning your lost and missing children. Vibrantly coloured glass lanterns are shattered, and the merciless bombs triumph over the cheerful derbekkeh. Yet, within a heartbroken conversation between two exhausted refugees sharing a stale loaf of bread, you are brought back to life in all your glory. Neither a sip of mint tea sipped nor a puff of argileh smoked is orphaned of its love for you.

As for us, who never knew you nor reaped the suffering of love for you: we too will remember. For every breath of fresh air that you crave, we will breathe Damascus; and every prayer stolen from the lips of your ancient Churches and Mosques will be pronounced until you are returned.

If only our naïve promises meant much.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Psalm 1:4

MD 7/01/2015

City of Jasmine

Dear Damascus,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for a while, but I don’t know what to say.
It’s been so long since I walked in your streets,
seen your aging structures,
inhaled the sweet smell of jasmine that fills your air.

I am, not only, deprived of going home,
I am also deprived of seeing home.

I look at your pictures on the news;
I don’t recognize you.
I don’t know a Damascus torn apart;
I only know the one that exists in my memories.

My favorite part of Damascus is the old city,
A 15 minute walk south from my home in mazra3a,
Past the once great castle of Damascus.
I would enter the old city through Sou2 El Hamadiyeh,

A 300 meter long stone bazar.
For thousands of years, people would buy and sell goods here.
I would shop around for Shishas, perfumes and Jewellery.
After walking through the Sou2 I would reach the Ummayed Mosque:

A momument to the, once great, Ummayed Khalifa.
The entire Muslim world was ruled by this quarter in Damascus for 100’s of years.
Now, the muslim world has forgotten our influence and abandoned our people.
After starring in utter aw at this magnificent structure, I continue east to Bab Toma.

Bab Toma is a predominantly Christian area north of the Jewish Quarter,
A maze of narrow 7arat and Arabic style homes,
Filled with Christians and Muslims who have been neighbours for generations.
Getting lost in Bab Toma was a wonderful experience.

It was 3 am, I was walking through the 7arat with my sister and her fiancé.
As we passed the closed shops of the silent streets,
We talked, laughed and lost track of all time and direction.
I was taking in all the history I could,

Touching the old stone walls and wooden doors.
I broke off a small piece of stone and put it in my pocket.

Hours later, still lost, we turned a corner and saw an open door.
Peaking inside we saw a man watching TV,
He spotted us and quickly approached.
We apologized for intruding but he insisted we come in for tea and ka3ik.

After reluctantly stepping into this strangers home
We saw a tree in the middle of the living room, extending through the ceiling.
Only the trunk of this thick, aging tree was visible from the ground floor.
The man said this is a lemon tree that crowns in him bedroom.

We asked why he keeps his house door open at 4am;
“Why close my door?
I grew up with everyone who lives here; if any Shami wants to come in
we will be more than happy to greet them” he replied.

Although i didn’t realize it at the time,
This is the moment I learned the true Arabic social fabric:
Having so much trust in the people around you
That you leave your door open at night without a worry.

I don’t remember the man’s name.
I didn’t ask him about his religion, he didn’t ask me.
Through his generous Arabic spirt I realized,
He is more brother to me than stranger.

Oh Damascus,
I long to walk your streets again.
Oh Damascus,
I long for your jasmine scented air.

However much I want to visit Damascus,
I dread the day I will arrive.
When I see the destruction that has fallen on you,
The images in my head will immediately become distorted.

This letter I am writing
Doesn’t have a recipient
Because the Damascus I know
Doesn’t exist anymore.

– Anonymous
March 20, 2014.

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