Friday, July 20, 2007

Pining for home

A while back I mentioned that I was going back to Syria for the first time in years. Well apparently that isn't happening - my paperwork is not in order and it is 'advisable' for me to sort it all out before going back down there. Everybody is telling me things are tense there. I thought about going to Lebanon for a visit, but again, things there are too "tense". Ironic that though I have the entire world open for me to visit, the only places I want to go to are off limits and that includes all the people I love and miss. How ironic that a place I thought I'd never leave and a world I thought I'd never see have now swapped places. The mundane and the exotic and then from the exotic back to the mundane. I guess there was never anything mundane about Syria, it was one of those countries where the slow everyday pace deceptively gave the impression that it was a sleepy land, a land where nothing ever happened. The beautiful calls to prayer five times a day reminded one of Syria's connection, not just to her past, but to a spiritual strength which is probably imbued in all her inhabitants. A sense of detachment from a beautiful but small world, with all its enchantments, and a reminder of something bigger and nobler which we can aspire to get to.

I remember when, as a child, I'd look outside the aeroplane window at night as we arrived at Damascus. The telltale green lights of the minarets amidst the twinkling lights of the city were always the precursor to a magical stay at a grandmothers house. That old house in the Shaalan, with the musky old smell and coolness which one finds in the entrance and stairways to such buildings giving way to the warm welcoming smell and atmosphere of my grandmothers house. In the house, the traya (chandeliers) glittered when switched on and the french style wood furniture carved in all manner of strange patterns, and always, the smell of coffee. Black strong in a small rakwe (type of pot). The things which cling on in my memory are the small things, the pattern of the floor in our house, the horrible stuffed eagles my uncle brought (which eventually fell apart but at the time we thought were the coolest things ever).

The days gently slid us into a sleepy routine. In the morning, we'd wake up to the noise of the people going about their business. The smells from the old bakery beneath us wafting up and enticing us out of bed. The grocer or mazoot guy passing by with their horse drawn cart and honking that horrid horn. I remember the attraction was always the horses, so beautifully decorated and with jingly bells and tassles and those large plumes of feathers on their heads. We always used to rush out to the balcony to see those horses or donkeys, lumbering along dutifully day in and day out. In the evening, the man with his dara (corn on the cob) wagon would pass and you'd see him moving around with a big boiling cauldron. He'd wrap them in newspapers and sprinkle salt on if you wanted, we never turned down the chance to have dara.

The sleepy afternoons would eventually rouse into an exciting carnival of light and activity. Shaalan itself always came to life at night. Once the hustle and bustle of the day ended, shops would reopen, blaring music. People would walk around and mingle or shop, cars driving past, music blasting and circling, always circling. Once, twice, three times who cared? Stopping for a bit and chatting to friends, then back on the move before going back home. In Damascus, you always run into people you know eventually. Then, we would head home exhausted and rest for another exciting day. Maybe we'd go swimming with friends or to a barbeque. I've tried barbeques in America and Britain. I've tried South African style "bries" (I think that's how you spell it) but none measure up to Arabic barbeques in flavour, texture and creativity. All these smells, sensations, sounds and memories bubble to the surface like a long suppressed memory everytime I feel I'm getting close again, only to be dashed when I realise how far I really have left to go. All those old friends of mine doing God knows what with their lives now. All those old crushes of mine, now happily married and with children, who were the objects of my longing, desires and dreams of what could have been.

All those memories are now but glowing embers, igniting with only the slightest breath of air. I do wish I could start having new memories of Syria, but for now, I'll have to be patient. It's been 9 long years and I am oh so very tired of living in the ghurbah.

7 comments:

taamarbuuta said...

What a wonderful post, thank you for sharing that! Admittedly, Syria is one Arab country I know very little about, perhaps because it's just not talked about as much in the West (or even in Morocco) as Lebanon, Jordan, etc...

Also, I agree about Arab barbecues - I don't know if it's the same, but Moroccan mechoui is just such a distinct flavor. And kefta spiced with ras al hanout and mint and mmmm...Wow, I just had a burger, but my mouth is already watering!

Wassim said...

Hello Taa,
I'm sure Morrocan mechoui is very similar and just as tasty! I'm glad you liked the post too. I'd like to visit Morroco one day as we too tend to know very little about our Westernmost cousins. As a matter of fact I have a very good friend of mine from Uni who recently gave me a CD of the Nass el Ghiwane whom I think are very cool but don't fully undersand yet!

Rime said...

I can't imagine how homesick you must be. I go there rather often and I still felt melancholic reading this wonderful post, especially the little every day things and routines, sights, sounds and smells that make a life. Thanks for sharing.

taamarbuuta said...

Nass el Ghiwane ARE fantastic! But yeah, darija is quite different the Syrian dialect, I'd imagine.

The Syrian Brit said...

I know exactly how you feel, my friend..
I, too, have to get every little detail absolutely right before I can risk going back.. and what a lot of hassle that is!..
Believe me, I know exactly how you feel.. I, too, have suffered the frustration of can-go-can't-go scenario..
That aside, the way you describe everyday activities and experiences is simply delightful, albeit full of sadness and longing..
Thank you for an amazing read.. and thank you for dropping by my blog.. (Had I known of your predicament, I would not have written with such glee!.. I wouldn't want to sound so insensitive..)

Wassim said...

Hello SyrianBrit,
I'm glad you liked it. I guess I just needed to get it off my chest. Don't worry about the glee you had in going there. I'd have written in exactly the same way. Yallah as we say in Syria - ra7 al kteer ma sifi ila al aleel.

Wassim said...

Hi Rime,
Welcome to Maysaloon! I'm so glad you liked the article and sorry to depress everyone reading it. I'll just go die quietly in a corner next time sniffle sniffle...