As a Syrian-American, I consider myself pretty out of touch with the “mother country.” For years, I felt more American than anything else and easily hid from scrutiny behind my maternally inherited German likeness. Up until recently, I didn’t have much reason to feel Syrian. I had visited the place on only a few short occasions, and growing up, I didn’t have any Arab friends. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have had much in common with them, not even the ability to speak in our parent’s language. Funny story, it actually wasn’t until I was so overwhelmed with embarrassment at this fact that I finally threw myself into the art of speaking like a canary, or so the saying goes. Hours were spent arabicizing my tongue: memorizing vocabulary, studying grammar, practicing drills, repeating, repeating, repeating. Really, it was just two years ago that I learned to pronounce my own name properly and discovered that its very meaning ties me unmistakably to Syria itself.
But I digress…
When the situation in Syria first began to unfold, many were surprised. After all, up until then, the Syrian president had been generally well liked, and regarded by many as the hope and future of Syria. But what started out as a minor clash in a small southern village seemed to escalate into a civil war overnight. To one side, his reputation became forever tarnished. To the other, he was still the infallible leader. Myself, I felt unqualified to speak out about the sensitive subject, because although I had come to learn a lot about Syrian culture and politics, I had never lived there and thus felt inept at knowing what was best for the country.
But my silence spoke nothing of my exponentially deepening interest in Syria. The situation there became a daily fixture of my thoughts. I sat thousands of miles away, behind a computer screen constantly invested in reading news articles on the matter, but I refused to say anything out loud. Although I didn’t typically use social media to spread my thoughts, the few times I did, I felt almost guilty updating with posts expressing my happiness and the pleasantness of my situation in the US. Behind the facade was a bereaved, young woman whose dreams of finally experiencing the homeland had been crushed. My heart broke with each update I read on Syria. Every explosion over there was like a knife in my chest over here. I wanted to curse anyone I felt was responsible for barring me from the country, regardless of which side of the argument he was on. I was so distraught because finally— FINALLY I was ready to embrace the very place I had been longing for for so long, had been preparing myself for, been practicing my 3ayns and ghayns for, my 9ads and Dhads for… been learning all the polite phrases and their equally polite responses for, learning their meanings and uses for… I had been mapping out every inch I wanted to explore, every person I wanted to meet, and in a few short weeks the country had become, effectively and finitely, closed to me.
These past nights my dreams have been filled with images of myself strolling through the streets of Syria’s ancient cities, observing the people and the places but never getting close enough to distinguish the faces of its residents, the smell of its souks, the beauty of its terrain. Oddly, nothing in my dreams resembles Syria as is it in my memories, perhaps a nod from my subconscious that what awaits me there now is a far different place from what I’ve visited in the past.