Let’s Not Forget the Syria That Was Once the Country of Jasmine and Pistachio

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The moment Google images is filled with devastating pictures of your beloved country, you start to acknowledge that there is indeed a war going on. Suddenly the whole world knows where Syria is located and everybody is an expert on the matter. But when you ask what they know about Syria, they will tell you something that is related to death and destruction.

It’s one of the things that made me angry for a long time, it broke my heart that nobody understood that Syria can’t be defined by the word ‘war’. Syria was my getaway, a paradise on earth, where they speak in the language of love, so why are you using terms of hatred?

I remember myself walking through the streets of a magnificent Aleppo, with the sudden appear of the strong smell of jasmine, reminding you that you are here, in al-Sham, in the Middle-East, where caliphs and emirs have walked the same path as you.

Our evenings started at 6 p.m., the magical hour in which the city would be filled with energy. And even when the sun went down, the country wouldn’t lose its yellow color. The honking of the yellow taxis would increase and in every street corner there would be big cooking pots filled with corn. Yes, in Syria people eat corn with a bit of salt or butter while shopping. The streets were filled with families eating ice cream, couples buying golden rings and girls shopping while wearing the most beautiful headscarves.

I also remember myself visiting the citadel of Aleppo with my grandfather, not knowing it would be one of the last times I’d see him and the citadel. It’s one of the oldest and firmest citadels on earth, open to visitors and a delight for every historian’s eye.

1993, Aleppo, Syria --- Aerial view of the citadel. --- Image by © Frederic Soltan/Sygma/Corbis
1993, Aleppo, Syria — Aerial view of the citadel. — Image by © Frederic Soltan/Sygma/Corbis

Thinking back about my nights in Syria is never without heartache or nostalgia. I remember how I would lay with my cousins on the rooftops, looking at the stars and wishing a thousand things. One of them was to never lose them, to always be able to see their smiles. A few days ago I finally received a message of my cousin, after not being able to speak to her for years. Years. She was gone, somewhere in the obscure ‘no-network-place’. “But besides all the difficulties I encountered”, she said, “our moments in Syria are jewels that I will always wear with love. Nothing can take them away from us.”

And she’s right. Nothing can take away the beauty of Syria and nothing will make us forget its sweet taste. So allow me to share with you the country that comes to my mind while hearing ‘Syria’, allow me to take you with me to the country that is so diverse yet so unified. The country where there’s a small village, Ma’loula, where they still speak the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Where churches and mosques are literally built next to each other, where Fayruz still dominates radio stations, pistachio is used in every dessert and the letter ‘Qaf’ is still being ignored in the spoken language. Allow me to introduce you to the land of my grandfathers and the Ugarit-alphabet, while enjoying fragments of the poem ‘In Damascus’ by Mahmoud Darwish.

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In Damascus,
The present tense continues its Umayyad works

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And we walk toward our tomorrow, confident of the sun in our past
We and eternity are the residents of this land.

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In Damascus,
The cloud dries up in the afternoon, then digs a well,
For the summer of lovers at the foot of Mount Qasioun

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And the flute completes its habits
Longing for the present
And cries in vain.

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In Damascus,
The traveler sings silently to himself and I return from Syria
Neither dead, nor alive

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But as clouds easing the butterfly’s burden
From my fugitive soul.

Yes. I do miss Syria. A lot. There’s not a day that passes by in which I don’t think about the beautiful days I’ve spent there. In fact, it truly were the most beautiful days of my life. I hope that one day we’ll be able to return to Syria, to give our love back to the country that filled our hearts with love. And I hope that everyone will be able to see its beauty, because under the layer of war-dust, there’s a hidden treasure waiting to shine again.

Written by Mayada Srouji

Mayada Srouji

Mayada Srouji is a 22-year-old student Arabic and Islamic Studies with a minor in Political and Social sciences. She writes short stories, both fiction and non-fiction.

  • Az.

    You made me travel to your country even if I’ve never been there. When I look at those pictures, I’m realizing how this was (is and will be I hope) a very beautiful country.