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It’s been three years now since the war began in Syria, and daily, we come across endless, conflicting reports about the crisis. In this post I want to keep it simple, to talk from the heart; I don’t want to write about mortar shelling or bombing, pro- or anti-government camps, who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s not about taking sides. It’s not about war and anarchy or politics.
It’s about nostalgia and a longing for authenticity, generosity and warmth, a reminiscing sentiment felt only by people who have visited or lived in Syria, walked in its vibrant streets and shared a meal in its houses. It’s about remembering the Syria that is beautiful, kind, and loving, the Syria that gives endlessly.
I grew up in the Jdeideh, Akkar district of north Lebanon I was among those who had the chance to experience those genuine Syrian qualities since childhood, when I and my sisters used to go with Mom to spend summers and holidays with our relatives at my uncle’s house in western Syria. Those were definitely the best days of my life.
Time passed, I grew up and went to college, then started work, and my visits to Syria became few and short. Today, it’s been almost four years than the last time I saw the people dearest to my heart, and I regret all the chances missed, when I could have visited and didn’t.
I miss Syria as if I always lived there. I miss my grandmother waking me and my cousins for breakfast with the best cup of tea you can ever have; I miss my uncle dragging me to his clinic to check on my teeth; I miss stealing cigarettes and smoking them with my cousin in the backyard; I miss walking in Homs’ crowded alleyways and wandering ancient streets of Damascus while thinking about all the history around me, marveling at the architecture, shopping in old souks and bartering with the sellers; I miss the grounded coffee and aroma of spices and the sweet smells of bakeries and patisseries springing from every corner, the cafes and even my cousins smoking Shisha which I completely hate; I miss the over-generosity and hospitality of the people, the Syrian-style humor; I miss hanging out with friends at any time of the night because it is so secure and safe; I miss the serenity of monasteries and mosques’ minarets, the diverse harmoniously and peacefully living community.
Now really, how did all this happen? And why? Will I ever be able to visit again? Will Mom drink coffee with her sisters any soon? Am I going to giggle with my cousins again? Are my aunties’ houses going to be built again? I have no idea.
Though I cannot yet see my relatives who still refuse to leave Syria, as part of Concern’s team, I get to be in contact with Syrian people again. I get the opportunity to listen to their problems and stories, to find that the same old-fashioned hospitality, kindness and cordiality that still exists in every one of them, despite the exhaustion and despair that arises from fleeing their homeland and scrabbling to survive under very hard conditions in a different country with no money, jobs, or houses.
Houses and buildings may crumble, casualty numbers increase every day, but memories are strong. I keep awake in my heart the hope that in years to come, Syria will rise from the ashes safe and secure again as a mosaic of cultures and faiths and a cradle of civilizations, and it will return to, as many Syrians love to call it, “janna” which means paradise.
Concern Worldwide is an international non-governmental organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty through emergency response, recovery and development programs. For information on our response to the crisis in Syria, please visit our website or follow us on Twitter (@Concern). To help Concern reach more Syrian families affected by the ongoing conflict, please visit concernusa.org/syria.