Om Kalthoum, Jasmine and Coffee

My friend explained to me today an idea he came across about cultural intelligence. In simple words, he said that humans have two levels of attributes; core and flex attributes. the core ones are the ones we believe that if we give up, we are no longer who we are, whereas the flex are the ones we are willing to negotiate or compromise.

My friend’s idea left me with some thoughts about what my core is. I left a big part of me in every house I lived in, but I was also lucky to be able carry parts of my houses everywhere I went. As an architect, think a lot of the three-dimensional space, I always check places around me and analyse how designers think when they build things. I evaluate and compose a silent opinion about everything. It is annoying sometimes, but it also makes me feel special in a way. However, I believe that the emotional and the sensual dimensions are more significant to the space. I am starting to recognise this in London, especially in evenings like this when I open my window and a breeze brings the smell of the rain into my brain, “oh God! This smells like our village” I think. then I realised that places also can travel 🙂 .. In moments like these, I play Om kalthoum and I can grow roots wherever I am.

Well, there might be three dimensions for a house and five dimensions for a home… I started to recognise the sensual dimension of our home from the moment I started to be aware of who I am. I remember that our house in Damascus smelled like a specific soap. that smell was home, until spring came, then the Jasmine blossomed, and our windows would always be wide open and our house smelled like jasmine all the time. Evenings and mornings smelled like a mixture of Jasmine, coffee, and lemon blossom.

Om kalthoum’s music takes me back to the time when I was six years old playing in the yard while my parents listened to her songs and had coffee near the Jasmine tree. Familiar music notes pile up, they hold each other to build walls and ceilings, they build a home, a womb where I hibernate. I remember that I used to dislike the music my parents listened to; Their taste made me think of them as old backward couple.  Tonight, I couldn’t spend an hour at a club with my friends. I told them I have to work tomorrow then returned home to play my parents’ “backward” music and grow my roots again. After seeking change for a long time, we then seek familiarity.

looking back now, back to my friend’s idea about cultural intelligence, I think my core is not made of big ideologies or beliefs, instead it is filled with om kalthoum (in relation to my family), jasmine, lemon blossom and coffee …

my favorite tailor

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It always impresses me how Picasso’s “La guernica” portraits me, and almost all of my close friends who have been through the same path more or less, except we look normal from the outside, the mess is only from the inside. I recognise how fragile my balance is when I can not engage in a conversation about how difficult it is to have your mother visit you over Easter while you have too much to study… my mom can’t visit me, that nice old lady will not see the beautiful red London buses or the stunning architecture. So yeah, I have more time to study; I will not have to be her tour guide in London, I will not take her to the Thames or London Eye. She will not see my room or the garden where I read my books.

My colleague was complaining how she doesn’t have time for her mom’s visit, while all I said was “Yeah, I know it must be difficult”, I showed a fake smile of sympathy and thought to myself, is it my fault that I don’t sympathise or that I get angry at this type of problems? I know that everyone is fighting their own battle, but why should my battle be this difficult? Why can’t I worry about my food not being organic enough or not having my vacation in the best island in Greece or even spending my birthday alone! These are the kind of problems my colleagues complain about on a daily basis, while I stay silent fearing if I talk about what worries me, I will hurt their feelings or ruin their evening. It worries me not to have a place to go to after I finish my masters because my country is not accommodating and is not a “pleasant” place to live in. It worries me not to ever see my mom again. It worries me that I don’t have a place to call home, the uncertainty, the loneliness, the exile of everything and everyone I love, death worries me… life too does… I wish I can just worry about global warming, then I would go every day to protest in front of Westminster with those nice people, but I am too broken to worry about the Earth. I wish I am that sane and sweet, but I am neither. If I am given the choice, I would probably choose to complain about the amount of field work I have to do, that I have to travel 70% of my time despite being paid three times more like that guy I met today, but I know I would be grateful to get a job unlike these people who would seize every opportunity to complain. I am not like them, I am broken. I would like to believe that I am unique because I left my pieces behind and tried to stitch myself nicely. I stitch myself on my own, I am not a good tailor, but I do my best. I do my best to be nice, to sympathise, to understand, and appreciate. I am not always a good tailor, but I am my favourite tailor.

I am sure that to other people in my country, I am like my colleagues who complain about spending their birthday alone. I live in London and I share nice photos on Instagram, oh God! We are all broken, but do I want to be fixed?

No, I don’t…

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

our sky knows it all…

  • Today I am sharing a post of a brave, sincere, beautiful soul from Syria. she had to stand face to face with her past and memories in the ruins of what used to be her home and her city Al-Hasakah which is located in the far north-east corner of Syria. A city where you used to find all Syrian colors and had a mixed population with the majority being Assyrians/Syriacs and Arabs , Armenians and Kurds.

    On her way back to Damascus, she only told that sky she was fascinated by about those days and how she felt…

    I am leaving you now with her words :

    It’s been a year and about three months since I’ve been here… And I can’t believe that the first thing i did the morning I woke up in Kamishli was to fix my flight reservation to go back ASAP. Today I woke up and I had plans to go home to visit nana (nana means grandma ) .. Seba and Elias (my friends) decided to join me so I don’t travel alone! They really didn’t have to, but it was so kind and generous of them to budge in. I didn’t want to go hadn’t my mom called nana and told her I was in Kamishli. When we got the station.. People started talking to us in Kurdish assuming and expecting us to answer back in Kurdish too.. I remembered that the same thing happened to us at the airport when we landed and wanted to take a cab to Seba’s office. I didn’t know what to feel or how to react. I didn’t understand what the man was trying to tell us and he refused to answer or explain in Arabic! That happened to me last time I was there too.. It still feels weird and uncomfortable.. And it feels like you’re a stranger in your own home. Seba found her way to get tickets for us to Hasake and we hopped on the bus while trying to joke about it.. When deep inside we were all puzzled with our feelings and thoughts. I was going home. I am going home; I kept repeating for myself, in a failure attempt to calm down and not be nervous about it. I knew the city was somewhat a wreck and I’ve read the news, saw the pictures and had myself ready to what I might be seeing. I had made my own expectations and tried to make them the worst. I closed my eyes. The weather was nice, a cool breezing was playing with the three clouds up in the blue sky. It was green all around. The yellow and white flowers were still shy and were gathered next to each others getting ready to fully blossom. My shuffled music system played “you can never hold back spring” a smile then started to make its way to my lips. After a little bit less than two hours ride, on a bumpy road and with exactly 11 checkpoints, only one of them for the regime and the rest were equally divided between the PYD and the YPG. Here we were 1km away from the city entrance. My heart started beating so fast and I forgot to breath for several seconds and when I sighed at the site of the kurdish flag covering what used to be the Syrian flag I noticed that I was frowning and holding my hands so tight together and pressing them against each others. The city looked so dusty, rusty, deserted.. Like an old man.. So tired of his fucked up life waiting in vain for his delayed death.. A call of mercy.. Or maybe waiting for a tender touch of a hand.. I passed by my old school.. The streets I grew up between its walls.. Here I laughed with my friends and talked endlessly.. And there I bumped my car when I was still learning to drive.. And there.. And there.. Shhhhhh stop!! I forced my self to! Seba held my hand.. She knew what I was thinking and feeling.. Our street had been mostly damaged after the last fight between the kurds and ISIS and the national defense force!! When we got to our block.. We both stopped.. And couldn’t look at each others faces for more than a second.. A couple of the people we grew up around were still there and surviving, they welcomed us and stopped to catch up.. I felt nothing!!! I got home and at the entrance I asked seba and elias to go walk around and i was suppose to see nana. I walked into the building.. It was dark.. I though i smelled my mom’s carrots cake! She used to make that every time I came home from Aleppo. I thought I heard her steps down to welcome me. I thought I felt my dad’s touch trying to carry my bag for me. I thought I heard Sara crying for me from above “allousheee my lovely what did you get me this time!!! “. I didn’t smell any cake, I heard nothing, I felt nothing.. And I didn’t even had a bag on me! I noticed that i had forgotten to breath again.. And that with each step up my heart beat faster. Nana was waiting on her door; when I saw her I felt a little better. She hugged me and cried. After sitting down with her and after seeing my aunt I asked them if I can go up another level to my home. Mom wanted shoes from her locker. The place was so cold. White sheets all over the furniture. The decoration was so different. My hands touched the walls and I pulled them back so quickly. I went into my room and didn’t find the cushions I had set with seba. I went into all the rooms. I wanted to cry and I couldn’t. I ran my fingers on the piano and It felt like touching a hand of an old friend only that friend didn’t remember me. I reached for my phone to call my mom but without thinking I called my precious. That voice was comforting and when I hanged off I closed the door and got down to eat kabab with nana and my aunt. It was the quickest lunch of my life and then I made an excuse to leave so soon saying that seba wants my help in translating few papers for the office. I decided to walk a little before I met Seba and Elias. Walking around Hasake i felt like a stranger. I knew no body and no body

    at last ... the way back to Damascus

    at last … the way back to Damascus

    knew me. I didn’t feel safe. And for a minute there I though I was walking in the set of “The Book of Eli” or “I Am Legend”. The face of the city has grown different as if it has sold its soul to the devil. I met my friends by our moms’ friend house. We had decided to visit her and have coffee with her. I live tant Entwanet she is the sweetest, but she too was tired and different. “I am not coming back soon” is all I could think of through out our visit. When we went back to the station to go to Kamishli I learned that I had dropped my wallet with my ID in it and that I am going to have to make another trip back here to get an alternative… That trip back, was even worse than the first one! Hasake for me now is a memory of a place that once made me the person I am today. For that I will always be thankful. But it is

    nothing more than that!!