The memory of a place is a heavy one. We Syrians are the most familiar with the burden of this heavy load. A place has its horizons, its opportunities, its exclusions, and most important of all, it has its own time, a time that is not necessarily consistent with our personal time.
For five years, my place has been outside the country, in another land. Years full of cruelty. This cruelty, in all its forms and manifestations and only in the concept of forced emigration, was not as fragile as the fragility it inflicts on you in reshaping your identity.
The cruelty is in what we survived, or more precisely, in what we thought we had survived. The horrors of war and fleeing are part of the dangers. The greatest danger lies in us feeling defeat, and in the fact that we really have been defeated. In these losses and defeats, I cross paths with all the Syrians of my generation who are scattered in this world. Some say we are like Damascene jasmine, but I think that we are bodies floating above the waters of anticipation.
For 5 years, my home has been outside my country, in another land. Years of cruelty, that, in all its forms and manifestations, was not as delicate as the fragility it inflicts on us as it reshapes our identity
Life is designed in such a way that the loss, betrayal, weariness, sickness, and death that may befall us, or our loved ones, are a part of nature. This is self-evident, but the key notion lies in what I call the escalation of cruelty. For a person to experience all these hardships throughout his entire life - which could reach up to sixty, seventy, or eighty years - is a distribution that implies fairness. But facing all of this in a time span of just ten years, that would be the escalation of cruelty I’m talking about. We had to leave our lives and our places out of most of us, but we haven’t left them, as the popular saying goes, “pulled like a hair out of dough”, but we came out with broken hearts, with dreams that are no longer our own. We are not victims, only as much as we are guilty. We are not delicate, only as much as we are tough, and we carry hope only as much as we carry despair.
I tell my friends in disbelief: Syrians are losing their kindness. And they laugh in response! What’s the value of kindness compared to everything Syrians have lost?
I tell my friends in disbelief: Syrians are losing their kindness. And they laugh in response! What’s the value of kindness compared to everything Syrians have lost? Perhaps the smallest loss of all is that they’ve lost their sweet talk, their love for strangers, their abundant generosity, their big-heartedness, their wit, and their proud humility.
My mother says, “Ever since I left Syria, my health has deteriorated. My legs cannot carry me anymore.”
My friend, whose heart compelled her to stay, says, “I get thirsty. I am drowning in a sea of calculations for the cost of drinking water, and I’m always busy counting how many bottles of water I can consume a day. My thirst must not exceed my budget. I’d like to scream, but I am afraid for my life. You probably do not understand what I mean anyway.”
I remember the twenty days I spent under a roof dripping with icy water from every corner, without electricity or heating in the dead of winter, and how many times I felt that my heart would suddenly stop under the heavy, cold blankets. Yes, I may not understand her, for being thirsty and being cold are two very different experiences.
Our first/old place is no longer available, except in our memory. Our new places are like a feverish period of time, a time that threatens our existence in other ways. We shifted from hard work and diligence to vile competitiveness, in a race towards stages of great achievements. Which of us will learn the language of the country that he first sought refuge in? Who will pass the political test, and integrate first? Who will find a job first? Who will get the new citizenship first?
In a race only for us, as if we are in a place and time that does not belong to anyone but us, outside the context of the world, we only compete with each other, and we only hurt and offend ourselves.
“I get thirsty. I am drowning in a sea of calculations for the cost of drinking water.. My thirst must not exceed my budget. I’d like to scream, but I am afraid for my life. You probably won’t understand what I mean..”
Our first/old place is no longer available even to those who stayed in it. My friends tell me about a Damascus other than the one we know. They look for its warmth, and it stings them with its frost. They say, “Blessed are they who left early, for they were able to keep a beautiful image of it in their memory. Blessed is he who pursues his own life.” Our race here is different, we only chase after livelihood, bread, fuel, water and electricity. You have your life, and we have ours. We are no longer the same.
Many of those who stayed give up contact with the ones who left. They do not want to be reminded of a life that could have been theirs. It’s as if everything that was destroyed piled up into a mountain of debris to separate us.
Outside place, I also have my own personal losses that I may not share with anyone. I did not own anything. I was floating in this world like an empty plastic ball. I needed time to rearrange myself, and the things around me, time that I do not have either way.
I wanted to grieve as would befit a woman like myself, the way my grandmothers used to grieve. They would turn into funeral tents! I wanted to raise my hands, willingly surrender to the “police” of tomorrow, to confess that I had no documents in order to pass, and to lean on the walls of the hearts of my loved ones. I wanted to lose my strength. I really wanted to fall, as if there is meaning to staying standing!
And the world wanted me to be a woman with modern qualities. A woman who postpones her sorrows, corrects her failures, and circumvents her long wait. The world wanted me to be the “daughter of modern times”, these times that wait for no one.
As for loved ones, they wanted me to be a long bridge for their desired crossing. I had to be something others could lean on, never to lean on others. I could not wilt or wither, even if I was actually withering away. It was not possible for me to “end”, the way this text just “ends” so suddenly because it has exceeded the maximum number of characters allowed to write a note.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Raseef22 is a not for profit entity. Our focus is on quality journalism. Every contribution to the NasRaseef membership goes directly towards journalism production. We stand independent, not accepting corporate sponsorships, sponsored content or political funding.
Support our mission to keep Raseef22 available to all readers by clicking here!