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I’ve questioned many times whether it’s possible to feel nostalgic about a past you never quite experienced.. I wanted to know whether it was a widespread feeling amongst those who have never been to their country of origin, or whether it was just me..
I’ve decided to give up questioning and settle with my own answer.
It is possible. Yes, it is.
20 years and 18 days I’ve been alive, and not once have I set foot or seen Syria, apart from that time when we flew above the Syrian dessert when I was travelling with my family to Saudi for Umrah, 2009.
Nostalgia, as every Syrian knows, isn’t an easy feeling to live with. It wretches your heart apart but keeps you hopeful at the same time. It starts small, and before you know it has taken over your entire life; leads you to live a double life, a real one and and ideal, what-if, content life. Which only exists in your mind.
It’s strange, my nostalgia. It has existed since I can remember.
It started as a fantasy. A simple, small fantasy of going back to the land of the Great. The land where my parents belong. The land where the children around me in reception looked like me, spoke Arabic at home, and knew what a zeit & za3tar sandwich was. The fantasy grew with the days, it grew branches. Branches which would represent an extended family – grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.. or holidays and a mystical land far away, a branch which developed later, involving beautiful mosques and minarets; huge mosques which would date back to many centuries ago, built in a different way to the ones here. Mosques with huge courtyards and a fountain. Marble floors and beautifully crafted walls, pillars and gates. Hearing the athan 5 times a day and seeing all the local people walking peacefully towards the mosque, stemmed from that branch. Leaves grew on these branches, encompassing my made up memories and daydreams of all these places and people. I would craft my very own events and live them, in my mind. When my friends went on holiday in the summer, I would spend my evenings in the garden, sorrowful in the real world, but content in the made up world in my mind. Living these events, smelling the sweet jasmine scented air, walking down the narrow cobbled streets of provincial Homs or Halab with my parents to a nearby mosque whilst listening to the athans emanating from various minarets close by, and the distant laughter and chatter of old men in coffee shops and children playing their simple yet genius games in a neighborhood nearby. I would close my eyes, dream and fantasize. Fantasize of this land which was so close yet so far away. And I’d be envious. Envious of those who were living my made up memories in that moment.
And then the revolution happened and all I was left with, was nostalgia. Nostalgic for other people’s experiences and real memories. Not mine. Nostalgic for my made up memories. Nostalgic for the summer evenings where I would sit down and listen to my parents speak of happy memories, or of someone else who would have recently got back telling us of the funny incident between them and the stall holder in sou2 il-hamidiyeh. Nostalgic for the families who would visit Syria in the summer and walk through the courtyard of Ummayyad Mosque on a warm summer evening, observing its majestic beauty and the liveliness it brought to people. Nostalgic for the old men who would sit inside the coffee shops talking or playing, or reading, or observing the ever-evolving, ever-changing life in their neighborhood. Nostalgic for the young cheeky children with their scruffy trousers and over-sized tops playing around barefooted with balls and twigs and water balloons, on the streets until dusk. Or the older children walking through the busy streets of the city, cracking jokes and sitting on the sidewalk eating their shawarma sandwiches. Nostalgic for the gatherings of women on the rooftops of buildings, sitting around making kibbeh together and discussing the latest news. Nostalgic for the weekly halaqat in the local mosque, the half run to the mosque by students who were running late, and later the slow contemplative walk back home. Nostalgic for the bakaloria days and university days, where studying meant hardcore studying in a locked up room from daybreak until nightfall. Nostalgic for everything and everyone. For the memories that aren’t mine, and experiences I didn’t live.
Nostalgic for life to go back to normal, for the people who lived my scattered fantasies, non-memories and dreams. To go back to how it was. How I pictured it in my imagination..
Nostalgic for the hopes and dreams I would have had, had the destruction and corruption and heinous massacres and murders not happened.
Nostalgic for the dreams of watching my future children splash their faces joyfully next to their father as he makes wudu and teaches them how to pray in the courtyard of Ummayyad Mosque. Before running over to me and drying their faces with the towel in my hands. Nostalgic for the dreams of another woman, or man – which could have easily turned into reality, had it not been snatched away brutally by the dark night of the oppressor.