How do wars end?

It has been eight years since the nightmare started. Does it mean we were living the dream before that? No, but ignorance is a bliss almost always. In eight years, I have changed five cities, seven homes, countless skins, two hair colours, and two souls. I lost the track of time and the sense of place, and I most importantly I lost the sense of belonging somewhere.

It has been more than a year I haven’t visited Damascus. The strange thing is that I was haunted by this city; I was in love with its old stones and narrow roads.  I thought I will always have it as my home despite the destruction and the tears I dropped there. I left my home in 2015 with a lingering wish in my heart “I will come back someday when the madness evaporates, and men come back to their senses”. This never happened… Not yet, and never will apparently.

Despite the glamourous new year’s celebrations in London, I decided to spend the holidays in Damascus. Although was not excited to visit Damascus again, However, I wanted to find solace with mom who is the only reason I would always want to go there. My mom is 63 years old, she has that smile that makes me feel safe and loved. She is the elastic bond that ties me to my country, wherever I go I find myself going back for her. Also because London with all its glamour and its nine million people still makes me feel like the loneliest person on Earth.

I travelled from London to Istanbul, then from Istanbul to Beirut, then Beirut to Damascus. The car in which I came from Beirut left me near a small shopping mall, and the other car that was supposed to drive me home was late. So, I went inside the shopping mall until the driver arrives. The shopping mall was full of goods that no body bought, because people there can’t afford to buy “luxurious” things, and by luxurious, I mean new clothes. Outside there was a checkpoint where two men check IDs. I don’t remember that I was this intimidated by guns like this before, rifles were “silly” and normal. Now is when I realized I became a “white Syrian” somehow. I learned at the age of 13 how to assemble and reassemble a gun and a rifle, but now I can’t even look at them.

As I was going through the highway that leads to my home (the picture), I saw the destruction, the dust, and ghosts of people who died there, or whose dreams died there just like me. Everything changed, only the sun still visits the place every day to show us the fiasco and disappointment we should feel for what happened.

The question in my head was; What will happen after the war to these places? This road will be built again, high rise office buildings will attract businesses, those same businesses that funded the war and destroyed these homes to forever displace the land owners and start a new era… the era of the war nouveaux riche.

For eight years we thought that war is ugly, but the realization of this trip was that post war will be uglier.

damascus

 

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What is home?

I stopped writing a while ago because the theme of my blog was meant to send my voice from Syria to the rest of the world. I moved to Turkey and had to make myself a new life in a country that was very close to home, but also very far. In Turkey, I always felt that this was not my final destination. I learnt enough Turkish to survive, buy my food, and have enough conversation while having a good pretext to not discuss politics, Syria, and what is happening there. Once I am asked about these things I smile and say “excuse me, I don’t understand Turkish well”.

This September I also have to reinvent myself, the idea of home and relationships. I was lucky to get a scholarship to continue my master’s degree in London. The process took a whole year but I got my visa very late so I had to leave Turkey in two days. I was left alone among all the things I have bought to make my house feel like a home. Around me were The small Christmas lights that I use throughout the whole year, my nice blue carpet, my pink glass light that I bought in one of my trips to Cappadocia, my sticky notes, the love letters (yes I am old fashioned), the toaster which means a lot to me because that was the first kitchen piece I bought to feel home, and etc… I had to pack one suitcase of 30kg including my winter and summer clothes in one night. I didn’t have time to think. I gave away everything and kept my warm clothes because I will need them in London. I tried not to think of the sentimental value of things and be practical otherwise.

In two days here I am, in London. Although I lived in Istanbul before, but London seems to be more daunting, colder, and less welcoming. I get into my room. It has a big window that has a view on a park and a desk near the window. I have been here for a week now, and I didn’t buy any of the essential things I need. I don’t have a mug or a plate. All the little things that we think are little, they matter in the end. The salt and pepper jar, the spoons and forks… I have to start all over again, and make this room be my new home for the next year. What will happen after this? I don’t know where my home will be.

I started with hanging the only artwork I brought with me, which is a calligraphy in Arabic that says “Love is my religion”. I hanged it and looked at the wall, but it still looks empty. Then on another thought, I decided to keep this room as it is; cold, beige and soulless. There is no room for more emotional attachment to things and places. I should focus on doing what I am here to do and think of the room as the physical space that allows me to do what I am doing… Is this right? No. Am I going to really do this? Again, NO. These are just the frustration thoughts of my first week here. In the End, I will fill this room with colors and lights, and then I will leave it with a heart break.

I think my relationship with homes and cities is like love relationships. I always want them to last forever, but they won’t and they can’t. They will break your heart and ask you to leave. There is a piece of my heart in every house I lived in, and in every city I lived in. I hope London will be nice to me when I give her its little piece…a new place to call homelove is my religion

A voice of a voiceless

An internal monologue for a refugee, a simple woman who faces discrimination, hatred, and cruelty of humans everywhere…

In this part of this city, in these 200 m2 specifically, you stand in a miniature of Syria. You move around and you can easily hear Syria in different ways and accents, smell it from the carriages of street hawkers selling beans or Sahlep, even taste it; taste the poor part of it… even the dust in the street tries to resemble that in the streets of old destroyed cities.

Wherever you look you will see women in black, Brown, or whatever dark colors they find. Yes this is who we are; we are scared of colors, we feel exposed, Black helps us disguise and keeps us as invisible as we have always been.

It is very noisy in here but I can get myself out of this noise whenever I want. I learnt this technique when I was a child; every time my father would shout or beat my mom I would sit in the corner and sing in my head a song I used to hear from those children who went to school. The song says “those chicks! How cute they are! They are turning around their mom” so that I don’t hear my mom cry, and in times like this I do the same thing but with different songs, I don’t hear any of these women complaining about waiting for several days or since the early morning, I can only hear the song in my head and think of my own problems. I have enough of them!

I hear other women saying that you have to know how to write your name in order to get your assistance. I wish my father (RIP) hears this, he always thought he was protecting us by not sending us to school. He thought I will be more useful in my husband’s house; if only he sees the look on people’s faces when I say I am forty and I don’t know how to write my name! They look at me as if I was a savage coming from some forest. I don’t have the urge to change that look they have. I can’t read or write, I wasn’t sent to school, it is not my fault but then it is my father’s my village’s my people’s fault. What change does this make! In their mind it is either I am a savage or my people are! I don’t care as long as I will find a way to convince them that whatever I write is my name, I would cry, I would beg, I would even act dead, I will not go back home empty handed.

Oh look at my toes, they look funny. I had to take off my socks because we didn’t expect it to rain while waiting. They were wet, they made me cold. I put this nail polish four weeks ago when Ahmad (my little son) slept for thirty minutes during the day. I thought of impressing my husband but he didn’t even notice. Every day when he gets back from his work in construction I feel that another part of him is dying. I hope that seeing his five children growing up creates a strong motivation for him to go on… I can’t help the idea of being alone, I was never allowed to depend on myself, it is even weird that this assistance was sent under my name! I don’t understand why they would give it to the woman while there is a man in the house… they are usually in charge of everything outside the house.

Again I wish my father was alive to see where we are now and see how different life would be if I was sent to school or learnt to do anything to make a living. Will I repeat the same mistake with my daughters? I will try not to!! Probably to a level…  For different reasons; because we are refugees, because we are poor because I can’t afford food on the table. Maybe it is our destiny to be the invisible.

The security guards are annoyed of this number of people; maybe five hundred people are waiting. They count us and give us numbers, perhaps they don’t know that each one of has a story, a life, maybe a love, and a home that were left behind … this is not something we have chosen…

Enough! I have a headache… I need to stop thinking and go back to the song in my head… to the silence there… to being someone in the crowd, someone insignificant, meanwhile I will only imagine the smile on my children’s faces when I come home full handed, this will keep my knees stronger, to stand for the next eight hours.

refugees

 

 

A little man

Is the world a good place to stay in?

I’d say Yes without hesitation, I don’t know how it works but I try to see the potentials in every situation I see. I don’t know why I was born in an educated family which believes in women rights and why other people were not. I do not understand its logic but it is our job to spread the word and change the world somehow.

Today I was with a friend in a business trip in a remote city, where there are few Syrian refugees. We were having tea after a long day in a café when he saw a boy he knew when he worked in a camp. The boy rushed to him and hugged him, he was very happy to see him. “Why don’t you come anymore!” he said “I missed you very much”. He was speaking in a very fluent Turkish with the local accent, if you hear him you would think he came from a village nearby. We invited the boy to our table to have tea with us, he was glad to join.

His name is Raafat, and he is 13. He looks like a little man and he acts like a little man as well. He was proud to tell me that he helped my friend in being his Arabic Turkish translator in the camp. He learned Turkish on his own God knows how! the waiter came and gave him a glass of tea, he added one small spoon of sugar, and explained to me that sugar is not good for health so he is trying to reduce his consumption

He told me he has two sisters who are older than he is and one brother who is taller than he is but he does not know who is older. And he is working in a car wash place to be “independent”, he earns 8$ a day which is “great”.

“And what about your school?” I asked

“I don’t want to go anymore; they beat me at school because I don’t know how to read. The teacher once shouted at me and hit me so I stood and looked in his eyes and said: no body shouts at me! Not even my father! Then I left school. I actually lied to him because my dad also beats me, like every day! Sometimes I don’t understand why, so I decided to get off his face and leave the camp so I can work and support my mom and sisters. At least now I am a king!”

“Why don’t you wash your car it is dirty?” he asked

“We don’t have enough money,” I said smiling

“I will wash it for you for free,” he offered with a very proud look. I smiled

He is a boy who loves to talk in a very hyperactive way.

“And what do you do with the money you earn?” my friend asked.

“I am trying to collect a lot of money, maybe 3000 liras (1000$) so I can get married!”

“OH REALLY!” we were both surprised and we laughed at his dream, he is just a child and he is not supposed to be thinking of this now!

“I will marry a girl I know but she is older than me, this will take me maybe two or three years or who knows how long to collect enough money. I was in love with a girl at my school but I was not able to offer her a house so we get married, someone else was. They married her off to that man, but men marry and divorce too many times, some of them even marry two or three women at the same time, but I believe that man should marry only one woman” Raafat said.

I was speechless with the issues this boy is discussing! It showed on my face.

“Aren’t you too young to talk about marriage?” I asked him.

He was too proud to admit that, so he gave me that funny big fat lie “I was older in Syria, but here I am young” I didn’t understand what is this supposed to mean.

Some boys are meant to be men too early. He was speaking openly like these are normal things in life and then suddenly smiled and said like a wise old man “hayat cok zor ya” which means “life is too hard”

The three of us burst laughing! Ironic.

I go back to my first question; is the world a good place to stay in?

I would still say yes it is.

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Raafat

Last Seen: 26/9/2012, 8:28 am – by Levantine

This is a post I wrote two years ago…
for the memory of Maya. It is 26 – Sep – 2016
September is still my favorite month, and its rain is still my ultimate joy.
unlike what I thought before; I am still alive, I can enjoy the small things in my life and I can breath from the bottom of my lungs.
We are stronger than we think we are…

The Seeker's Dungeon

Today I am honored to bring you a guest post from the courageous Batool Zalkha, also known as Levantine.  She runs the blog Levant Woman, a sincerely touching site written in the midst of war torn Syria.

View original post 895 more words

in a parallel universe

Lately, I have watched so many videos about the Syrian crisis..

Seriously that was just five years but I feel it has taken forever. I don’t remember how my life was like before war started.  I don’t remember who my friends were or how I went so easily to university.

In a 60 second film for Unicef they say

Five years is enough time to build a family

Five years is enough time to build a career

Five years is enough time to graduate from university

I wonder how my life would be like in a parallel universe where there is no war in Syria, maybe I would have been married and I would have a kid, or maybe I would have had my own design studio working in the domain I love the most. In a parallel universe I wouldn’t meet the people I know now, and I wouldn’t live where I live now.

In a parallel universe, I want to be who I am now but without the pain and loss I suffered. I want to know the people I know, but I also don’t want to lose the people I lost.

In a parallel universe I want to have this small of my own I have now, and I want to be able to cry openly  when I listen to a touching song, or when an emotional thing happen to me. I want to visit new places and meet nice people. I don’t want to waste years of my life waiting for something good to happen watching my life fall apart not able to do anything about it. I want to be a successful person.

In that parallel universe there are million possibilities for who I would be and what I would be doing. I always wanted to leave Syria even before the war, I thought I could be more free anywhere but home, and I always wanted to disappear somewhere in this world and cut all my roots, but what really happens when we have the opportunity to do that! We don’t do it, or at least I myself don’t do it.

If I can create a series of one day of my life in a parallel universe, I don’t know if I would choose to live this or not. it is hard to imagine how much you can bear until you live it.

I can’t focus on one idea related to the possibilities, because this takes me between my past and my present back and forth like the needle of a sewing machine. I feel now we are two separated people, I can’t relate to that girl.

The problem is, after five years people in my country still care who was wrong and who was right. I wish I can scream like a thunder and let them all remember it is their life they are losing. I wish I can remind them that our lives are more precious.

I was watching a great short film you must see as well, it made me think of parallel universes and me.

 

Can’t we be who we are without the pain?

I would love to answer this as yes, but that is not right.