Saturday, September 24, 2005
On the Seventeenth Day of Exile my True Love brought to me ingredients for a traditional Syrian dish. Oh I absolutely adore my One True Love.
Indeed, this is our seventeenth day in Washington DC and exile couldn’t smell or taste any sweeter. But this is only “me” talking – I who logs my exile around like a cross, a simultaneously cherished and reviled possession.
For Khawla, too, exile is a cross. To her, I am a cross, it seems. Years ago, when we first met, I doubt she knew that one day she would have to pay this price for our love. I hope it was worth it. I hope I was worth it. I know I have to spend the rest of my life showing her that it/I was worth it. But that is not too much of a cross really. It feels more like the natural commitment that comes with marriage, especially one between fellow heretics who happen to be crazy about one other.
For Mouhanad, the exile is a welcome change from the daily routine of alienation that he felt in the Syrian schools and streets. He is happy, then, and his happiness far outweighs his anxiousness about his impending experience with the Montgomery County Public School System.
Ola, on the other and, being the one the one who had to suffer the most by the relocation, having left a boyfriend behind and all that, is not a happy camper. But her anguish is making her behave more like a child than a rebel at this stage, like all pampered twenty- year-old cutie-pies she can still afford to behave as though she were twelve. Good. There is simply plenty of time for that other form of rebelliousness that takes kids out of their parent’s warm laps and shoves them into the real world.
So, exile in DC. Well, in Silver Spring, Maryland, really. What can I say? This does indeed feel like a dream, albeit one mired with angst. In our search to settle down as rapidly as we can, and in our attempt to soften the shock of exile and separation from our mothers, brothers, and friends (for the fathers are safely dead, or, in Khawla’s case, presumed to be), we have managed to spend exactly 82.3% of our life-savings so far. But, we ended up having a rather nice apartment. Just knock neighbors.
No, there is no Van Gogh in the living anymore, but, there is still a sense of a rather befitting luxury in the air. Indeed, we might have to shop at the Giants, Safeways and Targets of the world, but, damn it, we will never comprise our lifestyle.
Ah, who am I kidding? We never had a Van Gogh, though yes, being the son of so-and-so, the famous actress, meant (more by necessity than by choice really), that we did have occasional excursions into the brand-name stores, restaurants, hotels and resorts of the world. But, believe me, I and the rest of the family, my Mom included, would rather push a shopping cart at a Giant than commiserate with the decrepit aristocracy of the fucked-up police-state that Syria has become at the hands of the Baathniks
(Too bad the mothers couldn’t come with us though. Like all 60-somethings I guess, uprootment is not an acceptable option, if it can be helped. For them, it can.)
Albeit, one has to admit, and seeing that some of our best friends happen to be members of this “decrepit” aristocracy, and that we have had taken ample advantage in our lives of this “connection” and “belonging,” a certain nostalgia will forever color our memories of life in Syria, and will, in addition to the magnet presence of family and friends, periodically drag us back there for a few weeks of refreshing flirtation, provided the country holds together of course, a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely at this stage.
Indeed, we might just have left in the nick of time. But for what? To live in safety while our friends and loved-ones perish? Oh damn, too weeks into exile and here I am already falling victim to the kind of guilt that survivors of impending mayhem have to go through. It’s too early for that. The country is still there. And so is the damn regime. Let me enjoy for a little while longer this calm before the storm.
We still have 17.7% of our life-savings left, so I am going shopping. Marshmallows anyone?
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Syrians have long believed that we are an exception to the regional rule. Stupid leaders, for instance, exist in Iraq and Somalia, but not in Syria. Oh no, "truth" be said, and certain mulish and other sordid qualities aside, our leaders tend to be smart, quite smart. So smart, in fact, they often outsmart themselves.
As for civil wars, well, they happen in places like Lebanon and the Sudan, but not in Syria. Oh no no no. Our sectarianism, tribalism, Islamism, ethnic divides and other sources of civil disorder exist only in the eye of the beholder. But as long as we choose to remain blind and stick our heads in the sand, we cannot be aware of these things and, as such, they cannot hurt us.
Indeed, this is what being smart is all about: it is all about knowing when to acknowledge the existence of certain facts and problems, and when to ignore them. Moreover, and here is the awaited catch, inherited wisdom informs us that certain facts and problems should always be ignored. Always.
For this, and while shit happens throughout the region, it always happens elsewhere. We are just too smart, and too good, or at least our leaders are, to let it happen to us. No, we are not in the habit of letting ourselves drown in shit, albeit we are willing to admit that we are surrounded by it, and that we, occasionally, tend to eat and regurgitate it, and in rather prodigious amounts too.
So, here we are, surrounded by shit, but not sunk in it, somehow surviving the stench of it, while managing to find some source of strange sustenance in it. Hell, we must be a country of human flies. This seems to be indeed the secret of our continued success and the essence of our wonderful exceptionalism.
Yet, even flies get buried in shit every now and then. For the lousy thing about exceptions is that they tend to be as ephemeral as the rules. Our inherited wisdom somehow failed to make a note of that.
Indeed, the Jasmine-scented evenings of the Damascene "of yore" have long disappeared, though we continue to live off their faded memories in our shit-covered heads.
But what else can we do really? What else can be done?
We send our deepest sighs to heaven and keep logging our shit around. That's what we can do. That's all that can be done.
For shit-farming, our inherited wisdom informs us, is simply the only profession suitable for a people who have long let themselves be transmogrified into flies. That and shit-peddling, of course.
But, will they buy our shit at the UN, I wonder?
Saturday, September 03, 2005
It's a matter of days now. Advertisement boards across the country are busy announcing the coming of a new old age that will allow Syria to "pulsate" again with humanity, culture and inadvertently even blood.*
Myriad of festivals, fairs and activities are being held everywhere in the country – a bit unusual really for this Baathist bastion, still the air remains as stale as ever, if not more so.
The country seems to have finally remembered its prisoners in Israel and its missing in Lebanon. But then, such historical grievances have always been a pretty convenient, though often effective, device to help rally the fools, the masses, God's accursed children whose sole purpose in life, it seems, is to be used as fodder in other people's wars, and war games.
War games. Games of war. Saber rattling. Folly galore. The builders of modern Syria have really outdone, not to mention outsmarted, themselves. What was made inevitable is bound to happen, and all we can do now is watch and see. Can you comprehend then the reasons for my silence? Only fools speak at a time when words have lost all meaning.
* The Syrian flag in the background was drawn in such a manner that is spelled the word blood. It is not clear whether this was intentional, but it seems quite appropriate somehow.