Faced with a blank page, I have suffered to write a single word for months now, and shortly thereafter completely stopped trying. It’s better, I suppose, to keep this confusion inside, to let it ferment with one’s thoughts, than to try to pen it down and exasperate one’s self with the lack of words.
Syria. It takes a lot nowadays to infuriate me, it takes a lot to drag me to a conversation or a debate about her state of affairs, it takes a lot to even interest me. Every word uttered comes with a familiar stench. From a far, and up-close she looks but a puddle of incest, at best. I tread carefully in, and then out again.
I came to this life as a little, and in hindsight, truly insignificant, triumph for two people who were otherwise defeated in every way possible. Two people who were being chased out of life, literally and metaphorically, and I was the middle finger they put out to the world, to others, to heaven and to hell.
One day, my father accepted his defeat, stepped out voluntarily with a boisterous laugh. He sat down with a glass of Arak, a notepad and a pen, and told them that they can have everything else. My mother, on the other hand, let herself be chased until that very last second. And myself? well, I watched.
I watched, as they were buried in the “Alawite cemetary,” as my uncle liked to emphasize. I watched as they built them a grand tombstone, in the shape of an open book, no less. As they wrote verses of Quran pleading with the lord to have mercy on their souls. And then I watched them marvel at a job well-done.
I can see my father smirking at the sight of his chosen resting place. This shall be the last of their defeats, but they really couldn’t care less anymore.
However much one cursed at the time, one realized afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.
George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia
That passing moment of hope cost Spain 500,000 deaths. That is what I know.
I woke up to a generation defeated. A very small defeat, that is. One befitting our little and insignificant existence, but a defeat nonetheless. One that wasn’t of my own nor did I have a feeling it should affect me, but again, a defeat nonetheless. In fact, my generation never really tasted defeat, we just strolled along.
I read through Homage to Catalonia, and I catch myself telling Orwell, “I know what happens two years later. I know what happens after the defeat. I want to know how it feels before it. I want to breathe that air, to fire my gun once, and then you can have everything else.”
Il n’est pas de sauveurs suprêmes
Ni Dieu, ni César, ni tribun
Producteurs, sauvons-nous nous-mêmes
Décrétons le salut commun
Pour que le voleur rende gorge
Pour tirer l’esprit du cachot
Soufflons nous-mêmes notre forge
Battons le fer quand il est chaud
The agony of a lover, according to Roland Barthes, is the waiting.
“I have no sense of proportions.”
He’s trying to bring out a nonchalant attitude that he never mastered. He can’t help but feel the urgency of what’s in-front of him. Passion being tortured. He watches as it’s stabbed to death, without dying, yet with no hope of escaping either. Too much pain, too much bitterness. History? Too little or too much, he can’t make up his mind. He assumes a nonchalant face in revenge of her ineptitude. He assumes a cover of sanity to hide the inner psychosis.
Is she stupid? The answer inevitably comes back: the opposite has always been true. Then what is she? a master of manipulation? and what of him, then? is he the idiot? The psychosis grows. The discontent with feelings grows. Why the hell does he always drag himself to strange, foreign cities. He can’t even mourn properly here. He can’t celebrate his insanity nor mourn its passing.
If he can’t dream his way into this silence, then he wants to demolish it. He wants it to fall on him. To break this pathetic and comically childish sense of abandonment. He wants it to implode, and take all else with it.
He wants to walk a familiar street. He wants to escape into a familiar conversation. He can’t take it anymore. All these new people, they’re strangers in every sense. They’re so neutral, and their innocent indifference nauseates him. Why aren’t they all in awe of his agony. Why aren’t they silent and respectful. The abandonment settles back in, and little by little turns into aggressiveness. He despises them all. They’re not in love with her, they’re not waiting, and therefore, they could very well be happy. The idea enrages him.
Deception. A lover deceives himself, and everyone around him. Deception is how he survives. And in reverse, he accuses everyone of dishonesty. It’s his escape, and his entanglement. But only her dishonesty, even through her silence, breaks his soul. It discolors his hours.
“I am an amputee who still feels pain in his missing leg.”
I don’t like it when an authority feels morally, or intellectually superior to the people it represents.
I don’t like it when my government tells me what and what not to wear.
I am not writing. I am less than inspired, and less than content. But it was difficult for me to cross off the nausea this time. You learn to turn your eyes, arm yourself with that tiny bit of hope and that growing sense of detachment, and cross off the “little things.” But little things have greater meanings.
من المقرر أن يقوم مجلس الوزراء بإحالة مشروع قانون بدل الخدمة العسكرية للجامعيين داخل سورية إلى مجلس الشعب خلال وقت قصير.
وتشير المعلومات أن مشروع القانون اقترح عدة أشكال لدفع البدل استناداً إلى العمر أي حسب عدد سنوات الدراسة والتحصيل العالي إن وجد..وستكون قيمة البدل المقترحة 300- 400- 500 ألف حسب الفئة.
The government is proposing a monetary fee for those who want to avoid spending 18 months in Military Service. The proposed fee is allegedly between USD 6000-10000.
Let’s start with the obvious question to all my Syrian readers. How many fresh university graduates who have an extra USD 6000-10000 lying around, do you know? This, in a country where an engineer’s starting salary is well under USD 150. Is it plausible to ask, then, for whom exactly is this new legislation?
There are very few people who disagree about the disastrous state of our armed forces in general, let alone the absurdity and cynicism in our National Military Service program. A program that does little more than wipe off 18 months of your youth. My best friend’s brother graduated with excellence as a civil engineer, and he was shipped to the army soon after. For the next two years, the only stories we heard were of him and his friends being abused/abusing fresh recruits. It might be funny to hear the story of him ordering his infantry to search the yard, for two hours under the scorching sun, for 2 male and female ants. But, is it really?
What explanation do you have for such an outrageous legislation? The poorest people of this country are expected to send their sons to serve this army, which supposedly defends our nation, while the well-off can just buy it off? What logic, what disgustingly blatant and abhorrent discrimination is this? For anyone who still has doubts as to whom this “reform” movement benefits, that’s your answer. A spit in the face of all of them who serve, is what this is.
They used to be able to bribe someone (ironically, for almost exactly the same amount), and the government just goes and legalize it. Only in Syria, you fight corruption by systematically legalizing and sponsoring it.
And it’s not like we have no option. We do, many of them; reform it and make it mandatory (for everyone), cancel this charade, or find other ways where these qualified people can better serve this country.
It’s not rocket science. Community service programs as a replacement for military service are applied, with utmost success, in many countries around the world. We’re not asking them to split the atom.
Yes, we all enjoy a free public school system, free health care (say, what you want about the deteriorating quality, it’s free), and we have to give back. Nobody argues with that. Let us help this hapless place.
I happen to be an only child (and thus, relieved from military service), but if I was asked to spend 2 years after graduation doing volunteer community service in areas I am qualified in, I’d gladly oblige. But, this?
You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
Bob Dylan – Masters of War
When my evening was about to end, the countdown for the New Year back in Syria was about to begin. I called up my friend and we laughed heartily in the face of that dying old bitch. His plan for the turnover was to head for the bathrooms at 11:59 and take a shit that he’s been saving up all day, and then flush it down the drain with the rest of that year.
It’s absurd to think of life or time as anything but a continuum, but without these artificial breakpoints, that same life would become unbearable. The turn of a new year, a birthday, a season change or the sun rise of a new day may all be fake, but they give us the strength to dust up all the dirt and toughen up until the next breakpoint.
All I want from this next year is for Bob Dylan to stay alive until I finally get to see him live in March, and for the Azzuri to get their act together and win us another World Cup. Everything else can just make its way to hell, slowly!
May you all have a wonderful new year!
Over a drink at a friend’s backyard, Aurelie asked me to teach her an expression that I like from my language. 3younek al-7elween (عيونك الحلوين), I said, without thinking.
Back home, this would be the most obvious answer to any compliment one receives. It literally means, “Your eyes are beautiful”. But its true meaning goes beyond that to say, “Your eyes are so beautiful they can only see beautiful things.”
I’d never given it a second thought. You use it day in and day out until you barely remember what it means. But, right then, when I attempted to explain the meaning in English, it hit me. That illusive quality in how it conveys beauty in its most basic form, so subtle yet so magnificently poetic. What’s more beautiful than the Eyes?
Language, much more than God, works in subtle ways. I’d never realized how much I’d missed my mother tongue. The simplicity and warmth of familiar words, tones and images. The way laughter feels more radiating and gratifying in my mother tongue. Even your confessions of love, or your words of wrath feel more honest. That, I had always known.
That same day I learned a Russian expression for when you haven’t seen someone for a long time, Skol’ko let, skol’ko zim (Сколько лет, сколько зим). It roughly translates into, “How many summers! How many winters!”
It brought a warm smile to my face. For what more beautiful a way to say you’ve missed someone! Yet, alas, it can never be translated, nor imported. It’s exquisitely Russian, just as 3yonek al-7elween is exquisitely Arabic.
I’ve been learning Japanese for four years now. It’s a long and tiresome process, frustrating at best. The language, in a way an expression of the culture, is very frozen on the outside, yet once you dig deeper into the word; a world of subtle and hidden meanings is revealed. Nonetheless, part of the frustration is that that world is completely unfathomable for someone who’s yet to scratch the surface, much like me.
One of the most used words in the Japanese language is Ganbatte (頑張って). In its literal meaning it is asking someone to do his own best. But it’s used in all contexts as a lucky charm, a Good Luck of sorts. To do one’s best, is good luck. I can’t think of a word that is more telling of this culture. Ganbatte, is sympathetic yet unwavering, soothing yet at the same time provocative.
You barely think of these words before saying them, but I have no doubt they play times and times again in the back of your head. They bring poetry and a certain sense of intoxication to an otherwise uninspired daily existence.
Human emotions are beyond words, most of the time. But in the few instances where language catches up, it brings a thrilling feeling. Arabic’s grandest word for love is Hayam (هيام). Hayam is simply the thin line between love and insanity, where there’s no way of telling, which is which.
“Every language we learn, we become one more person,” – Abu Abu Fares.
Growing up where I did, and how I did, teaches one to remain on the silent side. It teaches you to be cautious, and skeptic. To say certain things in your head a thousand times before you put them on paper, or utter them out loud. It also turns your life into a long, and painful, cycle of passive-aggressiveness. But that’s a story for another day.
I was never as outspoken and self-confident as my parents were, or wanted me to be. It might’ve been that the chronic skepticism I grew up in had found its way back to me and turned the process of formulating an opinion, one that I would be engrossed in so far as to defend it in whatever means possible, into a recursive and never ending one.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life was to deconstruct my own complicated relationship with the place I was born in. It has been the dominating theme for most of my postings, and most of my thoughts in the last two years. I think it’s very important to run through the intricate details of that relationship, to sort out all the rational elements from those that are irrational. It’s important to go down different roads and imagine different realities, for both of you. It’s important to contextualize that relationship and to study it from a point far up in the sky in order to see how it reflects on your other relationships, with people or with ideas, and most importantly how it reflects on your bigger relationship with life.
I love that place, its people were the faces I grew used to, its language taught me how to laugh, its smells were the first to evoke my feelings of nostalgia, its sea and the mountains in the distance were my first playgrounds. This love is completely disconnected from the realities of that place, and the feeling, I suppose, would’ve been just as overwhelming had I been born in any other corner of the Earth.
Love is a perfectly irrational feeling, one that evokes and manipulates all other feelings for its own satisfaction. It is inherently irrational, and utterly personal and all I can, and want to, do is to simply embrace it as it is.
The reality, however, is always different. The place I know is a disfigured plot of land with people who are crippled by all the ailments associated with poverty, greed and fear. A place that borrows images from here and there for it has no identity of itself. The place I know defines itself by monuments left of generations long gone, for it has no monuments of its own. The place I know cries out tolerance, freedom and dignity while it has none. The place I know has more prisoners than scholars and more presidents, and monarchs than statesmen. The place I know is the embodiment of hypocrisy and the embodiment of the “scandal”. The place I know is a large and long process of self-deception. The place I know is not proud, but pompous, not angry, but hateful. It reeks of irrelevance and stinks of vanity. A bleak spot, in a bleak world in an impressive universe.
Flowers still bloom in a sea of decadent matter, and their fragrance will distract you from all other smells when you bend down to look at them. They still feed on the mould, their pollens still fly and other flowers still bloom. But who’s to say that the scent of a rose is more eternal than a septic wound, and who’s to say that the word is really stronger than the hangman’s hands.
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’,
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’,
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.