Sunday, September 06, 2015

What Once Was

I think of the kind of upbringing I had, one that I doubt my children will ever know. There was always a confidence in knowing that you come from a country, that you have your own home and community and people who know you. Even when you travelled abroad, you knew that you were living a story that was being told by your friends and family back home, and you listened to their stories and together we all weaved that wondrous tapestry of life. My relationship to Syria has three phases. During my childhood, it was that magical, mysterious place where I would go to spend my summer holidays. The second phase had its difficulties, but being a teenager in Syria had a charm that I'm still nostalgic for. It was that quiet place I wanted to escape, where nothing ever happened, and the days were long and balmy and sunny. We would wait for the sun to go down and then watch the people flitting between the brightly lit shops of the Shaalan market area. We knew the shopkeepers, they knew us. We also knew all our neighbours, and we would constantly be saying hello to different people as we walked the five minutes to the grocer. I remember being annoyed with that, and sometimes taking a longer route to avoid having to keep saying hello. If only I could walk that same route and say hello to those same people. I'd rush up to them and give them a hug and a kiss and smile brightly as I greet them. If only.

There was the other phase, the one where I waited nine years before I came back again. I'd been away for so long that I'd given up hope of ever coming back. Memories flooded in with the sights, sounds and smells of my old neighbourhood. The home that had seen three of my family's generations grow up in opened its arms and embraced me with no questions asked and no rebuke. I was home, and I experienced a security and love that I had been without for so long that I'd forgotten how much I miss it. On the other side of that neighbourhood was my other grandparents' house. They've both passed now, but I still remember them waving to me from far off, on their second floor balcony. Their balcony had a green awning that would shelter them from the sun and also give them privacy. When I would sit on their balcony in the evening, it felt like a safe little hideout from where we could watch the world below, surrounded by dozens of plants in their little containers. In between both grandparents houses there were friends and families that we knew and visited, of all religions and backgrounds.

That was the world I inhabited. It was a little cocoon of safety, surrounded by friends and family who lived in concentric circles around Damascus which, I was later to discover when I went out into the world, is really a very small city; a small city for little people with small problems but big hearts. Yes, there was a dictator, but the bad things in the world seemed so far away, and somehow we all managed to live and get by and have a good time. Maybe I'm being naive, and maybe things weren't that rosy and it's only because I was young that I saw things that way, but I still believe that's what happened, that's what life was like. If only we'd known what was to come, we would have seen more of each other and spent more time together. All those people and places are gone now, and I know things can never be the same again, but I'm glad we all lived those moments together.


Najwa Arnouk said...

How beautiful! You genuine!

MJ said...

After two years I thought you would have a like button on your blog by now.