Wednesday, June 27, 2007

a rose by any other name


For those who are lucky enough to have been to Syria know the feelings that cause me to declare, oh Damascus is Syria and Syria is Damascus. She is a city I have visited many occasions over the years. As I come back to her in the different stages of mental development I cannot help but fall in love with her over and over again for different reasons every time. And yes, I cannot refer to Damascus but in the pronoun she, because in Arabic it is a feminine word. But also, I think the affection refers to that of a captain to his ship. The affection between us is one that has existed through the ages, for Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city.

The first time I remember falling in love with Damascus was the summer of 8th grade. I fell in love with her beauty, her romantic charm and her incredible etiquette. My cousins used to take me on walks through the city at nights during that summer. At first the proximity of the ancient city with the modern additions took my breath away. The mixture of the two seemed to be a perfectly balanced blend of the two worlds that I was living in. The image that I fell most deeply in love with is the rise of the ancient Mt. Qasoon at the edge of the old city, littered with tiny old-fashioned cement block houses. The mountain as a part of the city, a mountain that paraded the feeling of eternity with its very presence, a mountain that lessened the division between the heavens of the almighty and the poor mortals of the ancient earth; well, that mountain proved to me the special place that Damascus has in God’s heart.

At that age all I could concentrate on was her unique beauty. I did not notice the intense poverty in the areas surrounding Damascus. The result of rapid modernization without a thought to city planning and the people’s welfare was lost to me. Looking at Damascus now I cannot help but be reminded of the favalas of Rio in Brazil (for those who haven’t experienced seeing such images, you must watch Favala Rising immediately). Walking through Damascus now, I cannot help but wonder how this incredible city used to be a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Syrian Desert. I sigh for the cut down beautiful forests that was said to be a literal paradise on Earth. When I remember that all this destruction happened in the last 50 years, I feel like collapsing in a fit of tears. My insane, incredible and persistent hope for a better future though helps me accept the torture that has been done to my lovely city as I look for ways to restore her health.

The last time I was in Damascus was last year. I graduated early from high school and a semester and a summer here before I started college. As I awaited the beauty and charm that drew me to Damascus, I knew that I could no longer look at her the same. I didn’t love her less, for it is impossible to fall out of love with her, but her faults were thrown constantly in my face. The pollution, poverty and political insanity followed me wherever I went. While I was in Damascus, the Danish cartoon incident happened. For those who didn’t hear, a parade of young, angry Prophet Muhammad loving men stormed through Damascus and burned the Danish embassy along with its neighbors just for fun. Easy to believe that a group of angry Arabs could do something as crazy as burn an embassy, but here is the catch: the embassy caught fire before the crowd was even close to it. When I realized this, it opened the bag of worms for me about Arab political affairs. Everything turned into a Kennedy assassination conspiracy. From wondering why the electricity always goes out for an hour a day (some people say that companies pay off the electric company so that appliances will break with the electric surges and people will have to buy new ones) I started to give everything I had taken for granted in Syria a deeper observation.
Despite the betrayal and hypocrisy of the country, I could not dismiss my love Damascus from my mind. She had become a part of who I was and by throwing her away; I would be throwing away a significant part of myself. The result of which caused a race for a cure for my sanity. I felt like two souls were vying for control of one body. I was Maryam, an American citizen, or Maryam, an Arab Syrian. I could not be both for each wanted to live in a different part of the world. I will save you the details of this struggle but only recently have I come to terms with this tug of war.

Coming to terms with all of her faults, and discovering my own identity, I have fallen in love with Damascus all over again. This trip has turned out to be one of healing as once again I can walk through the cobbled streets of old Damascus during the day and tour through the malls of new Damascus at night. I love the sound of the Mosques calling to prayer and I also love the shake-your-hip belly dancing music that blares from stores and passing cars.

I love watching Hummers try to navigate the narrow ancient haras or neighborhood streets.

I love hitting the cafés with my cousins then running home to catch Isha’a prayer.

I love watching the ancient etiquettes of Arabs played out in high-tech scenarios of Internet cafés and Four Season hotels.

I simply love Damascus.

I’ve never known a person who has seen her breathtaking face without falling head over feet for her.


Aisha said...

how long do you think we can keep the Shakespearean headings going ;-)

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Maryam, I can identify with "falling in love." As some of you know, I fell in love with Egypt (and concurrently with "egyptians in general"--whatever national temperment that reflects upon. Since I became a young adult I have related to places in a mode similar to relating to persons. Strong feelings, reactions, impressions, impacts, positive&negative, whatever; something almost tangible. So ... I really like your posting.