This extract is based largely on a few true stories, with some details amended to protect privacies. It is written with the objective of reflecting the reality for millions of people in this world, and not to focus on any one single individual. It was shared with me by a beautiful soul from the Jasmine city, who wrote this with longing, affection and for the love of Sham.
‘A school in the middle of an ancient Jasmine city had witnessed the growth of generations and generations. Children with happy faces eager for streams of knowledge came scrambling towards the school yard to enjoy meals made in heritage kitchens. Children who wore rainbow coloured garments and whose laughter touched the skies. When the conflict began, the school became a refuge for many. Each classroom hosted countless families who were lucky if they could rest on a mattresses which became their bed, chair, desk and place of prayer. The children were fed one scarce meal a day by their starving mothers. On a daily basis, their ears were drowned by the sounds of gunshots and mortar explosions. Their previous life was held in suspension and they didn’t have a clue if it would be indefinitely. Once the people of this ancient civilisation were hosting their war-torn neighbours, protecting them from violence. Now the hostess needed to be hosted but by whom? For how long?
There was an old man sitting, head dangling between two tired shoulders bending towards the ground, and an old woman behind him, observing him with love and yearning for the upright posture he used to hold, the smile that could elevate her. I approached him and asked him “How are you uncle?”
A pregnant silence followed. And then, a deep moan full of the scent of Sham.
“Are you asking about me my daughter? The condition of a man who lost his space in the world? Once upon a time I had a poor house, I lived in it the first moments of my love, I wedded my shy bride in a summer night, we cooked our first meal in the our yard, the first winter, spring, summer and fall passed. My house was warmed with love, we did not have a heater…. lemon, Citrus aurantium and jasmine trees were covering us from the rain, few months passed and we received the first cry of life from my first child.
My house was small and fragile and we supported it with passion, it took me years to build this one room house with the yard, I planted each tree. A life time dream was killed with one rocket within a few seconds….
My house was poor but it was my space in this world, in this universe I had a small place, they told me that they will compensate me for my destroyed house one day. My question is: can they give me back the walls? For them they are only walls of mud and stones, but for me it was a museum of luxury echoing the laughter of my children playing in the yard, my wife’s voice welcoming them from school urging them to do their homework, the sounds of water in the afternoon, my wife used to say the same phrase every day; we have to irrigate the stones or our yard with our own water to have humidity that delight our times in the evening. My grandmother used to say that the combination of our city’s stones, Barada water and Jasmine prolongs life. How can I have my fountain back? How can I have its water sprinkling easily with a handful of Jasmine of the surface? My father used to say that Jasmine is a witness of our history, it lasts longer than our stay, and it participated to celebrate all our victories. If I ever have another house, I will not have a fountain that gathers all my family around with the scent of Jasmine, coffee and watermelon. The voices of my children splashing the water of the fountain, my wife’s voice saying do not waste the water.
Our gathering would last all night long; my wife would struggle to put the children to bed so we can share our untold stories. My house is my glory, pride and dignity, I protected my wife and daughters in it, our house was our shade and cover, it kept the stranger’s eye and night passengers away, and now I am in these dormitories with a fiery sleepless eye observing the other men, is anyone watching my treasures, my queen and princess. From where can I have the kingdom back? The only thing that would veil me is the grave, I might find in the dark hole dignity under the earth better than I might have above. A hole with two meters in dimension would be my eternal peace and in this work, the sounds of the cannons would not exasperate me anymore, children’s screams, mothers’ scared eyes, I will not feel the cold and hunger which killed me in this harsh year. In this part of Mesopotamia, we are dying one thousands death every day, one of us under shelling, one with a bullet, one with hunger, one burning, one by cold and one with a broken heart. My country is angry, they consider it a small fragile place but its anger is our pride and dignity, my country is the dawn and dew. I will have a dignity with the new kind, a cover with a new scent, what I am smelling now is the moke of war, our land is good and righteous. Cactus, lemon, olive grew from it. The land of my country is yet having the breath of the past; it would be more tender for me than this school.
My daughter, is the question about my condition still concerning your thoughts?”