Scrolling through art pieces online of urban Aleppo, I come across one piece which enchants me. I check the price – far too pricey for an unemployed-fundraising-for-masters individual at the moment – I favourite the piece and carry on scrolling down. My eye craves a second look at the picture, so I return. I enlarge it and gaze at it. The birds. The domes. The satellites on rooftops – a perfectly imperfect urban landscape; rusty and beautiful. Ancient, yet full of life. Which type of magic can be so powerful that a mere still picture can completely captivate me? My heart throbs.

I turn up the music playing through my headphones, Mohammed Hamadiyeh’s “Al-Turath Ensemble”, and return my focus to the picture, zooming the lens on the birds beautifully captured in the centre. The ghazal of the Syrian ensemble and the picture take me back in time to a times simpler – to market places and curled slippers slapping the cobbled pathways of Aleppo; to moustaches and shrouds; emanating athan and after-prayer remembrance; rhythm, and a sea of elegant twirling white; night gatherings; ensembles filling the night sky; a free soul enjoying the warm, sweet scented air of a majestic city – once capital of commerce, literature, and free spirits.

The swift change of melody in the ensemble compliments my focus, it speeds up slightly, and my mind stops reflecting on the distant past, swiftly moving me through pages of history. I imagine the picture in front me changing slightly as the pages of history in mind flick till they find the present – the image fades and sharpens – colours brighten and dull according to the period in question – more buildings appear – and the birds travel back and forth. My zoom hovers over the two places of worship – standing side by side – a mosque and a church – barely differing in features; the church defined by a dome, and the mosque by piercing minarets. I can almost hear the voice of worshipers rising through the bustle of streets – I can envisage the single pathway leading both respective sanctuaries to each other; the children who yet know neither of formalities nor of despise, visiting each other in the different places of worship – turning each into their own heaven of memories and tales yet to be told – on the brink of being lost.

Finally, the zoom lands on the buildings in the distance. They fill the expanse of the urban landscape. My imagination invades the privacy of the families within the buildings as it travels across the many yards and jumps through the windows. I live with the families – I see the husband entering the flat carrying a gas tank on his back, calling for his children to roll it towards the kitchen – the children saved by their father from their mothers’ wrath – angry at them for returning home drenched in mud. I see the father stifle a laugh as he watches his children try to escape their mother’s stinging ear pinch, and I see her as she catches his eye and softens for a moment, before hiding her newly-discovered bemusement with a frown lest the children see! I travel through the flats – through the walls – up and down the stairs, observing the lives of those who once inhabited the buildings, until suddenly, they vanish. Error detected. My imagination stalls momentarily. I zoom out and in – frantically – yearning to return to my observations. My mind refreshes. Diversion: it brings me to reality. The buildings. The same buildings. Destroyed. I zoom out – trying to escape this sudden radical change – but zooming out only magnifies the expanse – and the destruction – I keep zooming out in panic – until I’ve almost zoomed out of the entire country. And suddenly, I’m at loss. All I wanted was to find a canvas for my bedroom – one of my mother’s hometown, and my first love. And now – I’m amid destruction and chaos, engulfed in stillness. Absolute stillness. As if I were the only person left in the world. My eyes well up. How cruel of reality to throw me in this stillness of despair and destruction.

And as if it had heard me curse it, reality picks me up and throws me back to my seat. Manchester, 4 am.

I sit – unsettled – I glance at the picture, the root cause of my entire journey, probing – questioning – why? Why unsettle a lover in such way? Why drown a nostalgic in tears and despair? Why pull at the heartstrings of a vulnerable heart, stinging it with anguish? Why?

A moment of silence.

An anguished sob; she unleashes her response – why gaze at my beauty, and journey my pathways – why invade my privacy and taste the bitter and the sweet of my past if you wish to restrict yourself to vacant borrowed memories, and not create ones of your own? Why dwell in my past if you don’t wish to make yourself my present and future? Why settle in a loaded history, when my present is lonely and in need of company? Why reduce me to tears and imagination when I need you most? By my side? Rebuilding me. Saving me from this darkness. Bringing me back to life.

And just like that, the ensemble moves on from the slow sorrow song to a faster one – the famous song of the Qadoka al-Mayaas. The picture blurs and refocuses, it shines brightly – radiant despite its grief, I reach out to destroyed buildings and pull myself in. I stand in the middle of the rubble ‘anta ahla al-nas fi nathari’ (you are the most beautiful in my eyes) – she replies la taqta3i al-amaal w la tantathiri (do not lose hope, do not wait). I kneel down, kiss the ground, and roll my sleeves.*

I can’t wait, Aleppo. I can’t wait Syria. I can’t wait to be standing in your very centre creating my own memories and your future. I can’t wait to purify my body and soul rebuilding you. I can’t wait for the countless canvasses of dirty hands and tired eyes. Of exhausted hearts and tears. I can’t wait for my first step on your liberated soil. To see acres of land upturning before our very eyes – for your rebirth. I can’t wait for the moment we build your first pillar – the instant we root the first column into your soil: rebuilding you – as a whole nation. I can’t wait to see you flourish and rise. I can’t wait for your first smile – the smile which cracks the ice and brings warmth back into your lands. I can’t wait for your dancing fountains. Your breathtaking sunrises. Your captivating sunsets. I can’t wait to feel your embrace – your love – for the first time. Most of all Syria, I can’t wait to fill my bedroom with enchanting canvasses and art pieces of your beauty, each filled with memories and hope, dreams, heartbreak, and love.

*Qadoka al-Mayaas is a famous Syrian folklore song, often attributed to heritage and classified in traditional ensembles. The two lines are part of the song – the latter where I have underlined the ‘la’ is my addition to the lyric, changing the meaning which originally meant ‘let go of hope and wait'; ‘la’ meaning no thus implying that Aleppo is refuting the song and telling me to not lose hope and to not wait – but rather to work – and hence my obedience depicted in the kneeling down and kissing the ground.

– For Mohamed Hamadiyeh’s “Al-Turath Ensemble” tape on YouTube, click here.

– For the canvas in question which inspired this post, click here.

Upon glimpsing Aleppo for the first time


يا راحين لحلب حبي معكم راح.. يا ربي نسمت هواء ترد الولف ليا

I stood on a hill today, and overlooked Aleppo.

لاطلع على راس الجبل بشرف على الوادي، وأقول يا مرحبا نسم هواء بلادي

Everything you see in the distance to the right, beyond the houses, is mama’s hometown. As I stood I couldn’t register in my mind that I was overlooking rural Aleppo – of course, all I could see were small clusters of houses amidst vast greenery – but I still couldn’t believe it – ya jama3ah this is Halab! Syria!

An invisible magnet kept my entire body facing it – making it impossible for me to move. And I didn’t want to move, unless it the direction was forward. Eyes glazed, as I tried to find something for my eyes to latch on to – for something to satisfy my heart when it became time to turn my back and return to the car. But nothing. I couldn’t. Nothing is, and will ever be enough.
I watched the cars driving down the road – the smugglers route as 3amo explained to me – all headed towards the forbidden city.. wishing; if only.

I stood for as long as my hosts had time, before it was time to turn around; the departure tearing my heart with every step I took moving further away. It was as if my soul was being wrenched away from it’s lover after decades of waiting and heartbreak. Snatching her away once again without a promised return. Making her yearn more than ever.

يحرق قليبو الهوى يا ما شو عمل فينا

My sister’s third poem: How flowers make me feel

A few years ago I posted two poems written by my older sister, who has a condition of cerebral palsy. Since, I’ve encouraged her to write more poems but she kept shying away, so I eased down and told her that if she ever did write anything to never hesitate to send it to me – and I’ll instantly post it on my blog.

Days come and go, and naturally, I forget about her poetic tendencies and more often – that I have a blog. Recently I’ve been going through a rough patch, bogged down with my problems and hardships (which are nothing – nothing in comparison to most people’s hardships. Despite everything I’m so blessed, alhamdulilah), my sister is aware, but we don’t speak much because of the distance. Last time I saw her she was sitting down on the floor, as she can’t stand, listening to me speak to my parents from the other room – and as I walked into her room she told me to come down. I came down. And she said “Razan you need to be strong! You’re a strong woman!”. You know, she never ceases to surprise me. People expect ‘disabled’ people to not understand – to not appreciate – to no be as ‘complicated’ and ‘sophisticated’ in thought and understanding as the rest of the us ‘un-disabled’ people, but believe me when I tell you that my sister is the best most understanding, compassionate, loving, thoughtful person ever. She reminds me everyday how much of a blessing I am in, both because of her shining presence in my life and because of her situation and yet  – unfailing hope and positivity.

But that’s not the point of this blog. The point is, I just logged into my email after a long day, and saw that she had sent me an email with a beautiful poem of her making. And as promised, I will share it immediately with you all. Prayers of peace and love for Rouba, the most beautiful and appreciative soul on this planet.

How flowers make me feel

Flowers remind me of  my family and friends.
Big and small flowers.
Short and tall flowers.
Different coloured flowers still remind me of my family and friends.
This flower remind me of peace.
Spring flower loves purple.
Flowers make me smile.
Flowers make me happy.
When I see flowers I feel calm.
All the flowers remind me of my family and friends.
This flower remind me of summer.
This flower remind me of spring.
Roses remind me of friendship.
Remember my family and friends that the secret of happiness is to find something that you really like doing and do it.

Everyone’s idea is different.

by Rouba Saffour <3

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Kahlil Gibran

Disabled in War

A 35 year old disabled man from Douma died today. He died because his frail body could not handle the extreme cold, and because the siege in Ghouta has blocked all the medication he relies on from entering the city. If you see his picture, you see a frail man – who looks much older than his age, but with a malnourished tiny body.

Amidst all the chaos happening in Syria – we forget those affected most and suffering the most. We forget the disabled people. Those who cannot run out of the house when their house is being bombed. Those who cannot hide when there’s a sniper in the street. Those who cannot climb over the rubble, looking for their family when an airstrike destroys their home. Those who cannot walk for days to a refugee camp. Those who cannot wait till the morning to leave their tent, if in need of the toilet at night. Those who cannot live in a tent in the first place. Those who can barely feed themselves. Those who inherently rely on others without wanting to, and who may be seen as a burden when times are tough. Those who are aware of all of this. And yet they survive. Those who are in need of medication, extra equipment, constant care in order to live. Those who if lucky to have escaped to a refugee camp, cannot leave the tent and spend their entire days between the fabric walls of their new ‘home’. Those who are deprived of an education, because make-shift schools can just about cater for the needs of children, and do not have facilities for those with special needs. Those who suffer silently, because they knew what patience meant before we did, and because they know they’re often forgotten.

Imagine a disabled refugee living in a tent, witnessing the worst snowstorm and winter for the past 30 years. I can’t.

May He bestow His mercy upon all disabled people suffering silently, long-forgotten by the people, in war-zones all over the world.

Usually natural disasters and terror crimes make breaking news and international attention. When Syria is in the question, this rule is no longer applicable. Neither mass murdering terrorist is held to account, nor is the worst winter in 30 years, the cause of deaths in refugee camp, an international – sensational phenomenon.

Shall I speak to you of the unkind snow – the ice which slices against the faces of bare footed, thinly-wrapped, hungry, refugees, filling their plastic tents with frost and snow? Creeping up their shivering bodies, eager to take their forgotten lives, which just about survived the massacres of a mass murderer? Or shall I speak to you of him, the one whom the world refuses to condemn and label a terrorist, who kills children daily, and tortures their parents till death claims them, in bloodied dungeons to keep hold of his power?
Take your pick, in the comfort of your warm homes and fireplaces, whilst Syrians a few thousand miles away from you drop dead, one by one – by either a bullet in the chest, or a frostbite conquered body.

| Faded. A blurry speck of memory at the back of your mind. You pick at it, trying to make sense of it. It nags you. You desperately recall all files stored in the dust of a universe of impressions, to set your mind at rest. But too late. The file you’re looking for has already been despatched into an archaic doom. Scattered. Lost.