The Arab Spring ignited a fire of long overdue revolt fueled by years of oppression in all of its forms. It first pressed its embers into the hearts of the Tunisians; from there, many other countries followed. However, most unforeseen was the Syrian Revolution of 2011, sparked by a few schoolboys who painted anti-government phrases on their school walls. Any uprising in Syria was highly unexpected, simply because the ruling Assad regime had suppressed all forms of political pluralism with utmost brutality, while maintaining a facade of progressivism to the outside world. Two years and two months later, the Syrian struggle to exist and resist continues. Syrian Stories is a new series focused on sharing the personal narratives of Syrians affected by the violence in their homeland.
Spring here only lasts for a few weeks.
Naturally, we try to spend every minute outside before the pleasant weather becomes a sticky, humid summer.
Spring nights are especially my favorite. The feeling is mutual with my mom. She makes us some tea and carries it outside to the porch. I follow.
Something about the cool breeze on these nights brings back memories of my visits to Syria. Reminisces that always return during this time of the year; passing late hours of the evening on the rooftop of my favorite aunt’s home as she and my cousins spoil us with love, attention, and tea. The air, cool and refreshing, brought along distinct scents of late-night barbecuing and fragrant flowers. The only light emanated from the glowing, green minaret of the mosque next door.
My mom’s voice interrupts my thoughts, but not abruptly: I am not surprised to hear that she is re-living similar memories. Yet, the melancholy reality of today has infringed upon her delightful recollections of the past. She says exactly what is on my mind.
“This weather reminds me so much of Syria. The cool breeze, especially . . .
Do you remember how we used to sit in your tay-tay’s small courtyard, the whole family cramped around the food? Do you remember her flowers, and all the kids running around? It was far from luxurious . . . but it was definitely comforting to know safety, to have everyone around you.”
I remember all right. Tay-Tay, my paternal grandmother, is now far from that comfort. A few months into the uprising, her movement was paralyzed by a stroke. It is disheartening to see her displaced in her own country, having to leave her home several times to flee the violence, especially in the state she is in.
And being that her home was completely burned, what was there to return to anyway?
Around the same time my Tay-Tay suffered a stroke, my maternal grandmother, Sitti, also fell ill. Sitti was always known to be a strong and healthy woman for her age; within a few months into the uprising, she died. Jiddo soon followed her. My aunts told us that he could not live without her; he would talk to her picture every night and visit her grave as often as he could.
For safety reasons, we were unable to attend their funerals. It pains me to know that my mother lost both of her parents in one year, but was prevented from saying goodbye, or having any type of closure…
“I am sitting here and I all I can think of is how secure our family used to be.
Here we are, privileged to be safe and settled. I can’t stop worrying about them and their living conditions. Multiple families housed together in small apartments, like a bunch of chickens in a roost. The simplest of their needs cannot be met because they are unable take a step outside for fear of snipers or armed soldiers…”
When my mother says this, I think of my cousin Ahmad. Sometimes regime forces would send empty buses into our hometown and fill them with young detainees. Ali, my other cousin, slept in the factory where he worked all day. He would sleep there for ten days in a row sometimes in an effort to evade “imprisonment”, because it was often much more than what the general term implies.
Likewise, my uncle Hasan fled his home and moved to a less dangerous area in the suburbs of Damascus. A few days later, he returned to shower and collect some of his family’s belongings that they had forgotten in the hassle of things. A few hours after leaving his home, the apartment building was hit by scud missiles.
I wonder who is better off: the family members who chose to remain in Syria, or those who have become refugees.
“And the ones who fled – look at them now, in a foreign country with nothing but a few changes of clothes. They have left everything behind. Who knows what their homes look like, or if they still even exist? Are their walls still standing?”
I am not quite sure of the answer, Mama. But I know that the walls of my cousins who fled to new homes in foreign countries are completely bare. No history, no family memories there. Nothing to reminisce about, as I do now.
“Syria was beautiful. They ruined her, may God bring ruin upon them.”
Her words drag through my mind a film of painful images of the last two years, leaving me teary-eyed and heavy-hearted.
My mind contemplates one question: When will this nightmare end…?
I look up to the dark sky and make a prayer.