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The salty tears of the Mediterranean: A tale of love, loss, and redemption

The salty tears of the Mediterranean: A tale of love, loss, and redemption

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Opinion Homeless Marginalized Groups Arab Migrants

Monday 25 September 202304:58 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

عن البحر الذي ابتلعنا بصمت...


The Mediterranean Sea has always held a special place in my heart, symbolizing happiness and tranquility. As soon as the school holidays kicked in, we would head straight for the coast. My mother used to let us wear our swimsuits right from home in Damascus because she knew that the moment we arrived in Latakia, we simply couldn't wait to plunge into the sea. No time for changing, we'd jump right in, and we'd only emerge when bedtime called or when, regrettably, it was time to bid farewell to Latakia and return to Damascus at the end of the vacation.

I remember how, in my younger years, I often envied the children of my parents' friends who lived along the coast. I thought their lives were like our summer vacations, spending the whole year swimming while we had to return to school and the chilly winter. In my childlike imagination, Latakia wasn't just a city; it was a perpetual summer on the shores of the sea.

Many memories flood my mind of late-night evenings with family and friends on the Mediterranean beach, filled with singing and dancing until dawn.

In my childlike imagination, Latakia wasn't just a city; it was a never-ending summer on the sea shore.

Among my memories are my constant suffering from sunburn because I didn't stay out of the sun when I should have and my endless love for swimming. Perhaps the first sign of my independence was when I traveled with friends for a seaside vacation during my teenage years. And when I was a student in the ballet department at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts, the Al Mahaba Festival presented the perfect opportunity for us to travel to Latakia with the shows we were taking part in, spending enjoyable days with our classmates and the beginnings of our creative ventures.

Mesmerizing sunsets over the Mediterranean Sea became a recurring scene in Syrian television dramas, and when I directed my first series, I didn't deviate from this tradition. Not a single one of my productions was without scenes depicting the sunset over the sea. I filmed sunsets in Banias, Tartus, and Latakia, as if the scene was sometimes in Syria, other times Lebanon, and even on occasion, Palestine.

After the revolution, my main refuge from the initial shock of leaving Syria was the corniche along Beirut's Mediterranean coast. I would walk along the shoreline, comforted by the approaching waves that assured me I was still close. I spent most of my days by the sea, its moist air easing the pain I felt from the daily news of loss and the continuous killings coming relentlessly from Syria. I would gaze at the sun setting into the sea, my emotions overwhelmed by its beauty, and shed tears for our loneliness, solitude and abandonment.

Scenes of Mediterranean sunsets filled Syrian TV dramas for as long as I could remember, and when I directed my first series, I didn't deviate from this tradition. Not a single one of my productions was without scenes depicting the sun setting over the sea

After arriving in my European exile, my first visit to the Mediterranean was exceedingly disorienting because the sun had shifted its position; it no longer set over the sea. I felt genuinely lost, and I didn't grasp the full meaning of uprooting until I had to choose between watching the sun set away from the sea's horizon or the waves crashing on the shore, painted in the hues of dusk.

My relationship with the sea that I once loved grew complicated when it became the only means of escape for my fellow countrymen to flee from the hell of the homeland. The more the sea swallowed individuals, stories, families, and dreams, the more I felt betrayed by my friend the sea. My anger towards the Syrian regime intensified because it had stripped us of everything we loved, stripped everything of its meaning, and reduced it all to associations with death, even our sea.

I began avoiding vacations that would lead me to the Mediterranean, instead opting for the compromise of heading to the French Atlantic coast, where the sun set on "the right side", its glowing disk disappearing directly into the sea waters. Although this ocean didn't resemble our sea, I chose the tempestuous ocean over a sea that appears calm as it silently swallows us.

My relationship with the sea that I once loved grew complicated when it became the only means of escape for my fellow countrymen to flee the hell of home. The more the sea swallowed people, stories and dreams, the more I felt my friend the sea had betrayed me

After years of avoidance, I decided to visit the south of France. With hesitation, I finally made my way to the Mediterranean shore. The moment I submerged myself in the water, sweet memories flooded back all at once. The saltiness of the water felt familiar, the glimmer of its surface jogged my memory of shores I knew so well, and the water's temperature was what I was accustomed to. I began swimming just as I always had, as if I were in another life. For a fleeting moment, I was almost back home, but then while swimming, I spotted a tourist boat, but there were slightly more people aboard than usual due to the tourist season. Panic gripped me as questions swirled in my head: What if this is a refugee boat? What if my fellow countrymen had reached the shores of salvation while I swam as a tourist? What would they say? How would they feel? Would they blame me? Should I approach the boat? After a moment, I realized that it wasn't a refugee boat, so I turned around and swam back to the shore. Then I hastily gathered my belongings and left.

In the evening, I returned to walk along the edge of the sea. I gazed at it with a hint of reproach: Even you, my beloved sea, have changed. You're not the same as you once were. You've become cruel, much like the world around us. I attempted to focus on the rhythmic sounds of the waves, hoping that their cadence might rekindle the sense of tranquility that once accompanied me whenever I gazed upon the sea. But I only tried in vain, for my connection with the sea was no longer attainable. The bitterness I felt upon merely laying eyes on it now accompanied me.

As I gaze towards the horizon, the lump in my throat returns. What happened, my beloved sea? The sea is no longer what it was; it's no longer a symbol of peace and serenity. It's become a symbol of one of the many forms of our demise, a symbol of our death

After an absence of nine years, I returned to Beirut this year as a visitor. Despite the joys of reuniting with old friends, the sea remained distant. I requested that everyone I met arrange to meet me at a seaside café, but I noticed that I avoided gazing at the horizon. I look at the sea before me and question myself, why couldn't I recapture that old feeling of closeness and familiarity? Here, the sun sets into the sea, and the sea stretches out before me, and the Arabic language being spoken fills my ears, and everything smells and tastes familiar – bread, labneh, za'atar, tea, and the voices of friends. I extend my gaze towards the horizon, and the lump in my throat returns to choke me.

What happened, my beloved sea? Why can't we be friends as we once were? The sea is no longer what it was; it's no longer a symbol of peace and serenity. It's become a symbol of one of the many forms of our demise, a symbol of our death, and within its depths lie the sons and daughters of my homeland, those who sought refuge but were denied by a global system that deprived them of dignified refuge and barred them from entry visas.

In its depths lie the sons and daughters of my homeland, those who sought refuge but were denied by a global system that deprived them of dignified refuge and barred them from entry visas.

The voices of hardline European protests grow louder after the arrival of 11 thousand refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Seminars and televised discussions are filled with debates about the feasibility of hosting them. As for me, I smile to myself, for the survival of 11 thousand is almost like a message from the sea, to restore our friendship.

My beloved sea, try to be compassionate and merciful to those who are stranded and have no other way. Don't be against them like the world is. Try, perhaps one day we can be friends again. Until then, I entrust you with those desperate souls, as I curse the world's endless cruelty.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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