Four million (plus) reasons to observe, to pray, and to give.
World Food Programme
UNHCR – UN Refugee Agency
Human Relief Foundation
Muslims for Humanity: HHRD
International Medical Corps
Syrian Relief and Development Org.
Ramadan Kareem! xo
It’s been more than a year that I’ve sought sanctuary in this little place of mine. It feels a little strange being here to be honest. I’m sure if any of my once regular readers comes by to read what I have to say, they may find it somewhat familiar and yet strange as well. Everything looks the same but so many things have changed. I certainly can’t waltz in and create one of my simple musings. After so long it seems very unfitting. So what do I say to someone with whom I haven’t spoken in so long? What do I say to you? Well, what would you like to know? “Where have you been?”, you might ask, or “What have you been doing?” Well, the simple answer is…I’ve been trying to fit it. This seems to have become a life-long quest.
Those of you who read me from the beginning, back in 2008, might remember that I was filled with mixed emotions about returning back to my homeland, Syria. The most dominant emotion, however, was joy. I couldn’t wait to feel home after being away so many years. I did feel it, to some extent, but never as much as I had dreamed I would. I had been away in Canada almost as long as I had lived in Syria from birth. To my…annoyance almost…I could feel Canada more strongly although at the time, I wanted to reject it completely so I could absorb the full impact of my return home. It was as if Canada was standing in the way.
I was in my beloved Damascus for almost 2 1/2 years before the revolution began. Even with occasional trips back to Canada, I was slowly starting to adapt to life as I had known it. I was starting to feel it again. Of course, as an adult, life is always different from what you knew as a child. Every view, every sound, every scent, is coloured and shaped by experience. So you can never expect anything to be exactly the same, ever, but sometimes you just so desperately need it to be the same. You need Abu Khaled to still be selling shoes at the store down the street where your mother took you every time you needed new shoes. You need your favourite sweets shop to still sell the same ballouryieh as they did in 1980; the kind that was Baba’s favourite. You need the front door of your childhood home to creak as it did when you left the last time. But of course…this is not to be.
Now I am in Bolzano, Italy. I’ve been here for almost a year. I can’t touch it, let alone feel it. Certainly, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The city is steeped in history and is almost entirely surrounded by mountains and has no less than three rivers flowing into it. I am very fortunate to be able to be in this beautiful place of refuge. But that’s what it is. A refuge. My heart and soul are elsewhere. They are invested in Syria, in its fight for freedom and in a certainty that eventually it will rise again from the ashes. It won’t be the same but it will be Syria. I will have to learn all over again how to feel it. But I know I can and I know I will. For now, being here, in Bolzano, has allowed me to return to my writing and a hope that each small blessing will pave the way home again.
I waited for you in the garden. I didn’t know how long it would be before you would arrive but I knew you’d be there. We both needed the sanctuary from the world; a place of quiet contemplation, a place of peace, a place to be together. But for now I kept company with the birds and the flowers and the ornaments which adorned the beds. The angel was nearly covered in ivy. Only her face and outstretched wings were partially revealed. She neither smiled nor frowned but to me she appeared a little bit sad. If it were possible to breathe life into her she may have shed a tear. As I walked toward her, I could see how the ivy leaves subtly followed the curves of her stone body and I wondered how long she had been there. It was almost as if she were begging to be freed from the bounds of the entwining branches. I thought about how she, when first carefully placed here by a loving owner, must have been an ethereal presence in this microcosm of nature and beauty.
The area wasn’t large but was dominated by a magnificent Laurel tree. Its branches reached upward and outward as if it were calling to the heavens. Large, voluminous clouds hung above the tree, so low it seemed one might catch on the tallest branches. The blue of the sky and the warmth of the sun gave the day a purity I have not experienced in so long. A mourning dove settled in the tree’s branches and another on the stone wall behind the angel. They called to one another sorrowfully in a way, but in another way, it was if they were glad they had one another to share their sorrow. They flitted their wings and blinked their large doe-like eyes. I wondered what they had seen when they were up in the skies with the clouds and circling above the earth before lighting here. Perhaps it was a perspective we all needed to refresh our love for the world. Perhaps it was a view which would only sadden us and make us sing sorrowfully as well. I asked them but they gave me no answer and continued about their business of gathering food as if I did not exist. Maybe you would be able to tell me when you arrived. If I remembered to ask.
A soft, warm breeze blew rustling the leaves and altering the tranquility of the entire place. It was still peaceful but was different than it had been moments before. The iron gate creaked slightly and I turned quickly to see if it was you but it was just the wind calling. If only it had brought you with it. Maybe next time, I hoped, maybe with the next gust. I longed to see your tall figure and your inimitable smile. My hands moved over the rough surface of the painted metal table and I held my breath for a moment. What if I was wrong? What if you weren’t going to arrive? No. You would. You always did. A small lady bug crawled out from underneath a peeled piece of paint and lingered in the dappled shade. I leaned my chin on my hands and watched the insect closely. Everything about it indicated that it would flee at the slightest provocation and yet it seemed determined to stay in what had become its home. How could I blame it? I longed for my home.
Suddenly you were there. Without a word our lips met and I breathed again. The scent of the flowers mixed with your cologne overpowered my senses. I felt a tear push a path down my cheek and, as you brushed it away with another kiss, I thought of the angel. You held me tight, so strong were your arms that I felt as though they would shield me forever from the world; here in this garden, here away from it all, here with you. Over your shoulder I spotted the doves standing side by side on the fence seemingly unaware of the presence of each other and yet somehow needing the proximity. How did you find this heavenly place, you asked. I don’t think I found it, I think it found me. I looked up again into the laurel and your eyes followed mine. The leaves were iridescent with the sun’s rays, a beautiful golden green…or were those your eyes? Bhebak nour eyouni. As my hand traced your temple, your cheek and then your jaw, you pulled me in close to you. The rest of the world was gone. I glanced again at the stone angel and I could swear she was smiling but I had no chance to dwell as your lips caught mine again and I was lost in you forever.
You were the first to respond. Your words were simple and direct but heartwarming to someone like me who had just come in out of the cold. I couldn’t explain it, but I was suddenly hooked. I came back, week after week looking for more. Over the years and across the miles no one had spoken so gently but left me feeling so secure. Shukran. I was warm and comfortable in this new little garden of mine even though, back in those days, everything felt strange everywhere else. Life seemed lost between two worlds.
I often thought of you as I sat in the courtyard. The first time you were away, and your words never came, I felt the void. It was surprising to me but that’s when I knew. Meshta’etlak. The water in the fountain sang the same song it always had but the tune was different. I splashed in it, like a child, and watched as the jubilant droplets formed endless ripples. I watched the ripples merge, separate into new ripples, and then merge again. This would be our story.
Paperless letters fluttered through my dreams. Penned opuses of love and life, addressed to you and to me. You extended your hand and we walked through the pages, admiring the verses, breathing the poetry. You carried me over the broken edges, the rough patches that needed mending. I caressed the songs in your soul. Whispered to them to join mine. It was those lyrics, words like black, silken ribbons of emotion, memory, and hope that fluttered, care-free in the breezes. Banners of our hearts. Pennants of devotion. Bhebak.